Spring 2022 grad: Gaelan Combs discovered passion for dairy research

Photo of Gaelan Combs.
Photo courtesy of Gaelan Combs.

Gaelan Combs, who grew up near Verona, Wisconsin, will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in dairy science in May 2022. In this Q&A, Combs talks about his family’s connection to the dairy industry, his research and internship experiences during college, and his future plans.

Q: Where did you grow up?
I grew up outside of Verona, Wisconsin, about 25 minutes south of Madison. The University of Wisconsin–Madison always felt like it was in my backyard, so coming to UW became an easy choice after graduating from high school.

Q: How did you decide on your major? Why did you choose it?
I chose to pursue dairy science once coming to college because I loved embracing the family connection I had to the dairy industry. While I didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, my grandpa, uncle, and dad all took on roles in the dairy industry, either living and working on a dairy farm or through dairy nutrition research. My motivation to continue that family tradition set me up to pursue dairy as my area of study in college.

Q: What were the most meaningful college experiences you had?
One of the most meaningful college experiences that I had was interning in the dairy industry and homing in on my passion for dairy cows. During college I spent time interning on a 1,300-cow commercial dairy and as a dairy nutrition intern for Cargill. These experiences allowed me to apply what I learned in class to the real world and build connections in the dairy industry to use once I graduate.

Q: When you think about your time here as student, what are you proud of?
I’m proud of my growth through my time working for Dr. Heather White in her dairy nutrition lab. During my two and a half years working for her lab group I learned so much about research and answering scientific questions by working with a talented team of graduate students. Overall, I’m proud that I found my passion for dairy cow health by working in her group and now have the chance to apply that on my own in graduate school.

Q: What are your future academic / career plans?
I realized from a young age that I wanted to work with dairy cows. Once in the workforce I now hope to be a dairy nutrition consultant for farm businesses, helping to create rations for cows and optimize revenue through best management practices. With the consolidation of the dairy industry and my passion for research, I’ll be starting a graduate program at Iowa State University this fall to learn more about cattle health and prepare for a role as a consultant.

Q: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students?
It’s not easy to recognize, but the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is full of world-renowned researchers and lecturers that are there to help you learn. With that, don’t be afraid to be curious and ask these people questions, even if your questions may seem naïve. Asking questions and exploring what you’re curious about will not only help you learn coursework but also help you learn what you’re passionate about. At the end of the day, using those resources to your advantage will only help you maximize your time in college.