Kelly Lane is a Senior Animal Technician and Technical Trainer at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Melbourne, Australia. Kelly is part of the WEHI Bioservices Team which won the inaugural Research Support Award from the Biochemical Society. Kelly and the team of technicians are trained to provide highly regulated animal welfare, to identify a range of phenotypes and illnesses in mice and to perform complex experimental procedures while ensuring animals are treated with compassion and respect. The team works collaboratively with researchers in over 50 laboratories!
Kelly gives us an insight into life as an animal technician and trainer within the WEHI.
What has your education and career journey involved so far?
I studied a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Melbourne from 2000 to 2004. During my time at the university, I held positions as a Programming Manager at a local radio station, worked at a pet store and enjoyed playing and watching live music in my spare time.
After completing my undergraduate studies, I became aware of the Animal Technology program offered at Box Hill Institute of Technology, thanks to a colleague’s recommendation. Recognizing the alignment between the program and my personal interests, I enrolled for the following semester pursuing my passion for animal-related sciences (Figure 1).
What is a typical day like in this role?
I am fortunate to work between two campuses at WEHI, which includes a research facility, Specific Pathogen-Free barrier and a Germ-Free Unit (GFU). Given this, my working week can be varied depending on the research project being run or prepared for and the associated tasks involved.
The day in a research facility is planned according to any time-sensitive requirements requested by the researchers. I work closely with the scientists to ensure that the animals are treated with the utmost care and respect, and their welfare is always the top priority.
The day starts with morning routine animal welfare checks, including ensuring adequate food and water, and recording temperature and humidity readings. The list of specific tasks required from researchers is then checked for, such as blood collections, genetic sampling, administering treatments, providing specialized diets, etc.
Working in the GFU is a unique experience: it is a specialized area where mice are free of all microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. These mice are used in research to study the effects of specific microbes on the body and their role in disease. Much of the day in the GFU involves health checks, animal husbandry and sterilizing of equipment.
Working in the Specific Pathogen-Free barrier begins with rigorous biosecurity measures including gowning up in sterile clothing and following strict protocols to prevent the introduction of unwanted pathogens. We assist researchers with maintaining animals according to specific research protocols, which may include breeding specific genotypes for research projects. Additionally, accurate recording of data is crucial for research purposes, which may include animal behaviour, health, responses to treatments, weights, pup counts or anomalies.
If there is any time left in my day, I will work on documentation such as standard operating procedures (SOPs) that need to be written or revised, clean the room or get organized for the following day.
What got you interested in science and research?
I have always been interested in the way things work, from small particles to complex biological systems. Science and research to me is an artform as much as a science, as it teaches you to think creatively through a process to answer complex problems. As an animal technician, I aim to make meaningful contributions to research discoveries, while ensuring the well-being and compassionate care of the animals entrusted to my supervision.
What motivated you to become an animal technician?
I possess a deep love for animals and an unwavering commitment to their welfare and well-being and have a profound passion for science. I am motivated by the opportunity to make a positive impact on the welfare of the animals I work with and to be part of many exciting scientific endeavours. This role involves both hands-on, practical tasks and meaningful engagement in impactful work.
What are the key skills needed for your role?
Attention to detail, organizational skills, communication skills, love and compassion for animals. It’s also a physically demanding role, so being fit and able to stand for long periods of the day is essential.
What might people not realize about your job?
Many people don’t realize how many common medications that people rely on in their everyday lives only exist thanks to research on animal models, such as pain relief, antibiotics, cancer treatments and insulin. Surgical techniques such as organ transplants are only possible due to animal research. This also extends to veterinary treatments and medications for our beloved pets.
It’s a crucial part of medical research that has and will continue to contribute to great medical findings until suitable alternatives are readily available.
Specifically, people may not know that research at WEHI involving animals complies with the strict guidelines and enforceable legislation that exists to protect the welfare of animals used in research and to ensure that animals are used and cared for in an ethical and humane way.
Our use of animals is overseen by WEHI’s Animal Ethics Committee (AEC), which has members representing animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, the wider community and people who care for the animals on a day-to-day basis. No research involving animals is allowed to proceed at WEHI unless it has gained approval from the AEC.
What is your advice for someone wanting to pursue a career as an animal technician?
Go for it! A career as an animal technician is deeply rewarding. You'll find job satisfaction in making a positive impact on the community and working alongside passionate individuals. Expect continuous learning, development and a chance to advocate for animal welfare in science.
In particular, I would
Advise you to explore educational programs in relevant fields.
Seek opportunities for hands-on experience, at animal care facilities, laboratories or research institutions.
Connect with professionals in the field, attend industry events and consider joining associations related to animal technology.
Develop a strong understanding of ethical considerations in animal care and research.
Are there any obstacles you have faced in your career?
In my career, I've encountered several obstacles, including the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, many training programs were halted due to restrictions, causing a setback in career development. Additionally, the current staff shortages across the industry have led to a heavier workload, leaving less available time to provide training in new techniques. Despite these challenges, I've been proactive in seeking alternative learning opportunities and adapting to the evolving work environment, which has helped me continue to grow professionally.
What are the potential next steps from your current role?
The potential next steps from my current role include opportunities such as team leader or supervisor positions, research assistant roles, collaborating with different labs in Australia and overseas and even teaching positions. ■