Postgraduate study: Helping me enjoy my diverse role and career

Johanna Forsyth

I work for Avacta Animal Heath, a veterinary diagnostic company that specialises in allergy testing. We provide veterinary laboratory services and diagnostic testing to vets, laboratories and commercial and research organisations worldwide.

There is a strong company ethos to provide peer-reviewed publications, in collaboration with eminent dermatologists, to support the testing services offered and advance knowledge in the field of companion animal and equine allergy.

What does your job involve?

My role is really diverse which I love. I get involved with everything from assisting in resolving technical veterinary queries, representing the company at conferences and providing technical veterinary training and support to our sales, marketing and technical support teams, to contributing to assessing the viability of future developments within the company.

Although I am home-based, I routinely travel to head office a couple of times a month and also go wherever I am needed in the UK and occasionally abroad.

What do you like about your job?

We’re a small enough company to genuinely care, both about each  other and our customers, which matters hugely to me. I like that it’s the norm to follow things through and offer additional support as standard.

Working directly with our research and development team is exciting and provides a totally different perspective from my previous roles. It provides an opportunity to learn from our great in-house immunologists and data scientists as well as consultant dermatologists.


"We provide veterinary laboratory services and diagnostic testing to vets, laboratories and commercial and research organisations worldwide"


The company has hugely supported me personally, both through the recent British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) masters in clinical veterinary research (MRes) and now a postgraduate certificate in dermatology. It makes such a difference when you feel genuinely valued in the workplace.

What do you not like?

The diversity of my role is a doubleedged sword!

There is certainly no danger of getting bored, but sometimes juggling all the different areas I am involved with is tricky.

Good time management and communication is critical (when it goes wrong it can be stressful). I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, which is helpful to some aspects of my job, but sometimes just adds to the pressure. There is invariably a lot of travel involved too.

I definitely work at least as many hours as I did in practice, but they are predictable and there is flexibility around my home life. As with everything, it’s a trade-off.

Why is your job important?

We help veterinary teams in practice deal with complicated cases and queries. This really matters as I know how time-short practitioners can be. If our efforts make life a little easier for them, that’s a great achievement.

We also work hard to help practices raise awareness of allergies in a responsible and credible way, which ultimately leads to better management of these cases. Finally, the research side is important for progressing knowledge in this area of veterinary science.

What made you embark on this masters degree?

Before enrolling, I had recently finished a certificate in equine science and had really enjoyed learning in a more structured way again – in particular the research element, which in many ways took me by surprise.

The BSAVA MRes provided the next step to consolidate this and I liked the idea of designing and writing up my own study. It fitted well with what was then a new role for me (I had started with Avacta six months earlier) but the MRes is equally, or possibly even better, suited to those in practice. To be honest, I think postgraduate study can be a bit addictive.

How did you fit your studies alongside your day job?

It was difficult and there were certainly some sacrifices, especially when it got the write-up stage. I did enjoy doing it though, which definitely helped, but it was only really possible due to a lot of support (and tolerance) from my lovely work colleagues and my long-suffering husband, who perfected the art of leaving tea on my desk without disturbing my train of thought.


"The BSAVA MRes provided the next step to consolidate this and I liked the idea of designing and writing up my own study"


I learned to use the evenings I was staying away with work to study so it impinged less on time at home.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

I watched a great TED talk called ‘The happy secret to better work’ by psychologist Shawn Achor, in which he looked at the evidence behind creating lasting positive change.

He advises training your brain to become more positive by doing five things daily – writing three new things you are grateful for, writing down one positive experience, taking exercise, practising meditation and doing random acts of kindness. His advice has definitely helped me both within work and outside it.

What was your proudest moment?

When my two kids (aged six and nine at the time) made it to the top of their first mountain last summer with minimal bribery (the promise of melted marshmallows in a sheltered spot at the top).

...and your most embarrassing?

As a member of Young Farmers, I was one of the fundraising group to make headlines when we crashed a bed (on wheels) into a wall after not making a downhill turn on a Shropshire country road. We were pushing it back from a county dinner dance to raise money for charity. I still have a dent in my leg to prove it!

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