Like many students with an interest in animals, Jordan Thomas came to the University of Missouri intending to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. When he got more involved with the Division of Animal Sciences, however, Thomas quickly found a new passion – research.
That passion, and the stellar faculty and staff in the Division of Animal Sciences, kept Thomas at Mizzou for not only his undergraduate degree, but his master’s and Ph.D. degrees as well, with the latter two both in the area of reproductive physiology. Thomas is currently a senior research associate in animal sciences, a position he has held since 2014 while also completing his Ph.D. program.
“Coming in as an undergraduate, most students have a general idea of who they are as a person and what they’re interested in,” Thomas said. “You may have a specific idea of what that means career-wise. I thought my animal interest would lead to veterinary medicine. CAFNR is really good at giving you a lot of opportunities to try out some different things, though. Many of my classmates found interests in wildlife, natural resources, production agriculture, industry and commodities. I think it’s great and shows that CAFNR allows you to see the world and where you fit into the mix.
“Within CAFNR, we have several programs where undergraduates can get involved in research, too. That’s a really great opportunity, and huge if you want to be in academics. It also forces you to get outside of your comfort zone and get experiences you wouldn’t normally get.”
Thomas grew up in Boone County and was drawn to livestock production through his grandparents’ cow-calf operation. While students with similar upbringings often show cattle or join FFA, Thomas was more interested in the day-to-day activities on the farm.
“My grandparents really sparked my interest in all of this,” Thomas said. “I was able to see how the entire farm operation ran when I spent time with them.”
When it came time to pick a college, Mizzou was the easy choice. His parents and sister are all alums.
“We’re a Mizzou family,” Thomas said. “Going to MU was the natural choice.”“As a scientist you might spend your entire career studying one specific enzyme, in one specific process, in one specific species. It might be hard to see how that benefits the whole. It does, though. It contributes to knowledge, for one, and there is value just in that. But it also has the potential to have a real impact on real people’s lives. That’s really what I get excited about, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do in every research program in CAFNR.”
It was during Thomas’ sophomore year that he began working in research labs in the College of Veterinary Medicine and in the Division of Animal Sciences, working in a toxicology program and doing genetic and nutrition work. With his continued interest in beef cattle, Thomas began an internship with Select Sires his junior year through the F.B. Miller Reproductive Management Internship Program. The internship provided high-level training in reproductive technology. Thomas was hooked.
“That experience helped keep me at Mizzou,” Thomas said. “Our Division of Animal Sciences is so strong overall – especially in the area of reproduction. They’re extremely productive from a research standpoint. Reproduction was an area of interest for me pretty early on, so it was a perfect fit and the logical place to do my master’s and Ph.D. work.”
The broad focus of Thomas’ research is on reproductive management of cattle. His research is tied to helping producers make better management decisions, which, in turn, can lead to more profitability.
In more specific terms, Thomas is researching strategies to better control the estrous cycle of cattle.
“If you can have cattle conceive, and therefore calve, in a timelier manner, which can have a lot of practical implications, such as higher pregnancy rates and heavier calves, both of which are tangible impacts,” Thomas said. “We want to see technology that benefits the farmers we grew up with. That’s the science I get passionate about – applied research where you can see the end result.
“But how do we control the cycle so precisely that we can use technologies that are really sensitive to timing of insemination? One example is sex-sorted semen, where you sort sperm cells based on their X or Y chromosome content. It’s a complicated process, but I want to help develop strategies that actually allow producers to take advantage of that technology and use it successfully.”
Thomas has worked closely with animal sciences faculty throughout his time at Mizzou, many of whom have MU Extension appointments as well. David Patterson, professor of reproductive physiology and state beef Extension specialist, served as Thomas’ graduate advisor.
“Working with Dr. Patterson was a really big selling point for me in terms of staying at MU for my graduate work,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of nationally recognized research programs out there. It’s tougher to find one of those programs that are translational in nature. His work is translational – it has direct implications to industry or producers.
“Dr. Patterson is nationally recognized for Extension as well. Having the opportunity to be involved with MU Extension has been so important in terms of training and communication. I’m a big champion of Missouri’s entire Extension network. If you look nationally, I would put MU Extension up against anybody.”
Thomas has also taken advantage of the CAFNR Agricultural Research Centers across the state. Thomas has done extensive work at the Thompson Research Center, in Spickard, and the South Farm Research Center in Columbia. He has spent time at the Greenley Research Center, in Novelty, as well. He has presented at numerous field days across the state, bringing his research to producers.
“If you’re a Columbia resident and all you’ve done is drive by the South Farm Research Center, you might wonder why MU would need a farm in the first place,” Thomas said. “People don’t realize how important all of our Research Centers are. They’re trying to address, not only from a demonstration perspective but from a research perspective, what the needs of that agricultural community are.
“A lot of graduate students spend most of their time in lab settings, but having the opportunity to do research at a Research Center broadens your perspective. You see the specific area of interest you have but also the entire management of the facility. You start to realize how your work fits into the system.”
Thomas, who calls himself a “Triple Tiger” due to his three MU degrees, continues to conduct research – and bring that research to producers through field days and other communication.
“As a scientist you might spend your entire career studying one specific enzyme, in one specific process, in one specific species,” Thomas said. “It might be hard to see how that benefits the whole. It does, though. It contributes to knowledge, for one, and there is value just in that. But it also has the potential to have a real impact on real people’s lives. That’s really what I get excited about, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do in every research program in CAFNR.”