Author Spotlight: Rita Couto Serrenho on Postpartum Inflammation, Transition Health Must-Reads, and Why “No Results” Are Results

Today’s trailblazing dairy science innovations are built on the incredible work being done by a diverse, interconnected, global scientific community. Get to know a member of our community via an ongoing Author Spotlight series.

Rita Couto Serrenho, DVM, MSc, DVSc.
(Credit: Katherine Perry)

Rita Couto Serrenho, DVM, MSc, DVSc, is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and the author of a recent Editor’s Choice article in JDS Communications. We caught up with Rita to learn more about her work in dairy science, her path to the profession, and the advice she has for students and colleagues in the field.

Connect with Rita on LinkedIn and Twitter/X, and check out what her lab is up to on Instagram.

What dairy science questions are you puzzling out in your work, and where can we find you outside of work hours?
My lab is currently dedicated to exploring management solutions to enhance transition health, addressing issues such as hypocalcemia and hyperketonemia, and farm efficiency.

Understanding the complex relationship between transition disease and inflammation is one of the key areas we are investigating.

Our primary objective is to develop preventive strategies aimed at mitigating the onset of diseases by reducing the overall disease risk of the herd. We are committed to developing applied protocols that respond to the unique needs of different cow cohorts, ensuring targeted, practical, and effective interventions.

Outside of veterinary medicine and dairy science, I prioritize physical activity to unwind and (re)connect. Tennis, table tennis, volleyball, and Peloton workouts keep me grounded and in touch with others and myself. My daily walks with my Saint Berdoodle, Maple, are part of my meditation practice. I enjoy reading materials and books on interpersonal relationships and psychology, as they help me tremendously in understanding both myself and the ones around me.

What brought you into the dairy science field?
I grew up in a small city in Portugal, and my family had no ties to the dairy industry or agriculture in general. It was not until I was pursuing my veterinary degree that I discovered the world of dairy science. What initially captivated me was the opportunity to view herds through the lens of population and preventive medicine. Witnessing how adjustments in management practices could enhance both herd productivity and individual animal health sparked my interest.

Toward the end of my DVM program, I decided to pursue a career as a farm-animal veterinarian. My focus shifted from small-animal individual medicine to herd health, the farm staff, and the overall profitability of dairy operations. My interest in data analysis and veterinary medicine led me back to school to pursue my doctorate.

The ability to implement and adapt management strategies to improve the health and profitability of the entire herd became the center of my passion for this field. The blend of prevention, management, monitoring, and data analysis in dairy science continually fascinates me.

Do you have any advice for navigating the world of scientific publishing?
Sharing knowledge is crucial for the scientific community to progress and optimize the dairy industry. Publication bias is one of my largest concerns; studies with statistically significant and strong associations tend to be published more than studies with “no results.” In fact, “no results” are results.

I encourage all members of the scientific community to share their findings and discuss them with other scientists working on the same topic. Published work sets the pace and direction of future research and discoveries. Even if the concept is not novel, data from different populations and herds exposed to different management will make interpretations, external validity, and conclusions more powerful. As per the Bradford Hill criteria, consistency in results brings us closer to inferring causation.

For students currently working on or starting their research projects, I suggest consulting the reporting guidelines developed for their specific type of study. This will guarantee that all critical steps and considerations were taken from the beginning of the project and improve the likelihood of acceptance in a highly cited journal.

While manuscript discussions can always be adapted and elaborated on during the review process, a poorly designed study is rarely possible to change afterward.

Rita (left) during her favorite day
on the job with her students (left to right):
Hillary Schramm, Ruth Bowman, and
Madison McArthur after a farm visit during
the Ontario Veterinary College Ruminant
Field Services rotation.
(Credit: Rita Couto Serrenho)

Collaboration and mentorship often shape a scientist’s journey in the profession. Do you have mentors or colleagues who have positively impacted your career?

While our values, principles, goals, and ambitions lay the foundation for our journeys, it is the guidance and support of mentors and colleagues that shape and refine our path. In 2016, fresh out of completing my DVM degree, I came to North America to participate in the Summer Dairy Institute program at Cornell University.

Beyond learning about cows and the dairy industry, I experienced the profound impact of being surrounded by inspiring professionals who can help propel your future. It was in Ithaca where I met two individuals who would become the pillars of my career as a researcher and educator: Stephen LeBlanc, DVM, DVSc, and Mark Thomas, DVM.

Under LeBlanc’s mentorship as my advisor during my doctoral program at Guelph and Thomas’s guidance as my colleague and supervisor at Dairy Health & Management Services, I embraced the values of “people first.” This principle resonated deeply with me and continues to shape my mentorship approach. The lessons learned from both academia and industry have molded my vision as an academic, driving me to pursue high-quality research that seamlessly integrates into real-world applications.

I am committed to pursuing solutions that not only benefit the health and well-being of dairy cows but also strengthen the sustainability and profitability of dairy businesses. I am grateful to my mentors for instilling in me a holistic perspective that emphasizes the vital connection between academia and industry for impactful and meaningful outcomes.

In your experience, what specific challenges within the field do you hope to see better solutions for?
Although not directly related to my field of research, the existing gap between consumer perception and the reality of dairy production represents a pressing concern. It is frightening to encounter misconceptions, such as the notion that cows on a dairy farm are still milked by hand. This disconnect highlights the need for greater openness and education regarding the industry.

We know authors have many options for which journals they submit to. What benefits do you see to publishing in a society journal, such as JDS Communications?
As researchers, our primary objective is to publish our work in a journal that can profoundly influence the industry. We aim to disseminate our findings as much as possible within the targeted audience.

In our fast-paced lives, time is a scarce commodity. JDS Communications offers an open-access format that presents trustworthy work in a practical and concise manner.

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