Temple Grandin talks animal behaviour at Douglas
By Anasuya Kesavan, Communications Coordinator
At 71, she is a bundle of energy flying between cities and post-secondary campuses, giving talks on animal behaviour and autism. In between, she is reading business and science magazines and answering questions. Meet Dr. Temple Grandin – author, professor, scientist and biologist, who smirks at the idea of retirement and is now dedicating her time to motivating veterinary students to think and be open to new ideas in their field.
The Douglas College community was fortunate to hear Dr. Grandin’s words of wisdom on Jan 10, 2019, as she held discussions with our Veterinary Technology students and spoke to a packed audience at the New Westminster Campus. Her humour, practicality, dedication to animal care and sheer energy had the audience hanging on to her every word.
Grandin’s achievements did not happen by chance. A high-functioning autistic child, she had to break through several personal and social barriers to succeed. Revealing her secret as “perseverance,” she says, “As a young girl, I had a lot of things going on at the same time. At high school I learned how to work. I was running a horse farm, and learning how to work hard was important.”
She began a career in the cattle industry in the 1970s, an area that was, at that time, dominated by men. But Grandin was not deterred. “The thing I have learned is to get very good at what I do,” she says. “I had a very strong motivation to prove that I was not stupid, and that I could do it.”
Grandin’s mantra for success is three-fold: Get really good at what you do, write about your work, and find doors to opportunity and go through them.
“A lot of students do not see that door of opportunity,” she says. “I wrote in the cattle press and scientific press. Lot of people don’t recognize when there is a door. It’s only open for a few seconds, and you have got to walk through it.”
Grandin strongly believes that theoretical knowledge has to be supplemented with the practical. Doing internships and finding opportunities to try out different careers is her second piece of advice. “Find out what you like and also find out what you hate,” she says. Emphasizing the importance of understanding what is going on in the field, she advises the younger generation to travel and keep grounded in reality.
Owing a major part of her success to being a visual thinker, she believes the world needs both visual thinkers and mathematicians. She encourages parents to motivate autistic children with images of where they can work and what they can be doing. “The person who can do math cannot do what the visual thinkers can do,” she says. “They complement each other. Your iPhone is easy to use because the interface is by an artist and the inside is designed by engineer.
“Show the 10-year old with behaviour problems the inside of the Google data centre to find out where he could be working.” Similarily, Grandin encouraged Veterinary Technology students to expose themselves to livestock. “Animal behaviour class can only explain half of it,” she said. Animals, like autistic people, understand images and it’s important to find out what makes an animal calm and what makes it agitated.
From the behavior of cows to dogs, horses, birds and rabbits, to their treatment at the vets, airports, public places and houses, Grandin has a piece of practical advice for everyone. The Veterinary Technology students at Douglas College were immensely pleased with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that opened their minds to opportunities beyond their classroom.