Graduate student profile: Frances Shepherd

April 1, 2019

Name: Frances Shepherd
Hometown: Madison, Wisc.
Degree pursuing: PhD in Veterinary Medicine
Advisors: Cheryl Dvorak, PhD, and Douglas Marthaler, PhD (at Kansas State University)
Thesis:  Elucidating neutralizing epitopes in porcine rotavirus A, B, and C to enhance genotype-specific immunity

Why are you passionate about the research you are doing? 
I study swine rotavirus, which causes diarrheal disease and mortality in piglets. My research aims to discover where antibodies produced by pigs during an infection will bind to a rotavirus particle. Knowing these sites will help us develop vaccines that more effectively target and neutralize rotavirus.

I knew nothing about pigs before coming to the University of Minnesota, but over the years I’ve gotten the chance to meet swine veterinarians and producers who care deeply about the health of their animals, and I’m proud to be supporting their efforts with my research. I’m interested in larger questions surrounding food security and food production, and studying infectious disease is one way to support a strong food production system in Minnesota. I also hope that many of the methods I’m using to study porcine rotavirus can be applied to human rotavirus, which would improve human and public health, as well. Knowing that my efforts as a graduate student are part of something larger is what keeps me motivated. 

What are your aspirations after you defend your thesis? 
My goals are to continue working in animal health and disease surveillance in some capacity. I’d also love to use my science background and passion for science communication to inform and draft policy related to infectious disease.

Why did you choose UMN CVM?
The University of Minnesota’s strong research reputation drew my attention when I was looking for graduate schools. I wanted to study animal disease, and I liked the fact that the Veterinary Medicine graduate program was housed within the CVM. The partnerships between scientists and veterinarians have been very useful to me as a graduate student, and I’m so happy to be a part of this research community. 

This feature is a part of a series for Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week (April 1-7), a national event that seeks to emphasize the contributions, impact, and value of graduate and professional students on campuses throughout the United States.