Sept. 19, 2019

‘Keep calm and love cows’

Vet Med's Karin Orsel featured as ‘Inspiring Albertan’ after winning national award

Karin Orsel

Karin Orsel has received a Canadian Veterinary Medical Association award.

Rahil Tarique, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Karin Orsel has a sign on her office door that reads “Keep calm and love cows,” and it’s a motto that has served her well through her 11 years at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). Dr. Orsel, DVM, PhD, a veterinary epidemiologist and one of the faculty’s original members, is the head of the UCVM’s Cattle Health Research Group where she studies herd-level infectious diseases in both beef and dairy cattle.

Over the summer, Orsel received a Canadian Veterinary Medical Association award for her work in animal health and welfare and sustainability of animal production. “It is beyond words to explain what that means to me,” she says. “Being an immigrant that moved here to join UCVM, you try to come here and do something good, and it’s super special that it’s appreciated and awarded.”

On the heels of that national honour, she is being recognized by local television host Darrel Janz as an Inspiring Albertan. “That made me very proud,” says Orsel, of the brief segment that will run on CTV Sept. 17. But she is quick to point out she is just one part of big multidisciplinary team.

“Really there is nothing that I can do without colleagues that have different expertise,” she says. “My research is all about an infectious disease that causes lameness in cows. I have amazing collaborations with a welfare and behaviour expert that looks at the lameness, a microbiologist that takes skin samples from the infections to the lab, and an immunologist that looks at how the cow is responding to the infection.”

She credits a number of mentors in UCVM and the wider veterinary community in Alberta and across Canada for welcoming her in 2008 from the Netherlands and helping her learn and grow as a veterinarian and an academic. “People have just been amazing,” she says. “Now I feel amazingly at home with all the cows here in the west and amazing colleagues across the county.”

And her students feel very much at home in her lab. “Our lab is a very tight-knit group,” says Kajal Devani, who is four years into her PhD with Orsel as supervisor. “(Orsel and her husband) always have an annual barbecue for students and a Christmas dinner and she makes us feel like family. She makes it a really fun environment.”

Orsel also makes sure her students graduate knowing how to give an elevator pitch and network to find the right collaborators for research. “Karin really believes in a broad definition of education and wants me to graduate not just as an expert in genetics, but as a well-rounded professional,” says Devani.

As for what inspires the ever-inspiring Orsel, the answer is simple; her students. “I have been in academia now since 1997 and students keep you going,” she says. “They have more questions than you can answer. They're keen to learn. They feel you have something to offer that can help their careers and you see them being successful in their dreams. That is my inspiration.”

Karin Orsel in front of the TV camera

Karin Orsel in front of the TV camera.

Rahil Tarique, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine