Meet Visiting International Research Student Malina Suchon

The UBC Animal Welfare Program hosts visiting international research students through the VIRS program. This collaboration with researchers and students from across the globe fosters an environment of knowledge sharing which further promotes improving the welfare of animals across the world.  Many VIRS students reach out to the Animal Welfare program because their program requirements at their home university require some form of internship or on-farm experience.  Meet Malina, from France, who came to the program to complete an on-farm internship related to the welfare of dairy cattle.

My name is Malina Suchon, I come from France where I did a Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a specialization in Ecology and Biology of organisms. To validate my Master’s degree in Ethology at the Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, I joined the Animal Welfare Program as a Visiting International Research Student (VIRS) to participate in research activities at the Dairy Education and Research Centre (DERC) for 6 months.

I grew up on a farm and have always been fascinated by animal behavior. Choosing between farming and research is difficult for me, but studying farm animals lets me be connected to both sides. When researching programs to complete my internship, I looked for an opportunity in a foreign country to improve my English, as it is the main global language used when communicating research. I applied for an internship with the UBC Animal Welfare Program which led me to the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre located in Agassiz, BC where the Program undertakes much of the dairy cattle welfare research!

Since January 2022, I have been conducting a research project under the supervision of Dr. Marina (Nina) von Keyserlingk and in collaboration with one of the Animal Welfare Program post-doctoral fellows, Dr. Thomas Ede and incoming Ph.D. student Bianca Vandresen. On many dairy farms across the world, dairy calves are housed individually during the milk feeding period until they are weaned. Numerous studies have shown the welfare and performance costs of depriving milk fed calves of an early social environment. However, when the calves are weaned, they are housed in environments that require them to be socially competitive. Although social competition has been widely studied in dairy cows, few studies have focused on how the early rearing environment affects a calf’s ability to compete for access to food. My project therefore focuses on the effects of early social housing on the ability to compete for access to food when placed in a social setting.

Working at UBC as an international student is a great experience. I have been supervised in a balanced way that makes me feel supported but also allows me to work with autonomy. This research experience has taught me a lot about research methods, writing, and collaboration. Since I arrived at UBC, I have been surrounded by so many talented people, all passionate about their work, but who come from diverse backgrounds, and represent many cultures. I have learned so much, professionally speaking as well as personally. At the end of my 6 months Visiting International Research Student experience, I was able to extend my stay a few more months and am now working as a Research Assistant. In the long term, I want to continue research on farm animal behavior and welfare and learn more about farm practices around the world, maybe as a Ph.D. student or in some other way – the goal being to help improve the lives of farm animals!