Dr. Haley Oliver is an Associate Professor of Food Science at Purdue University, as well as an Adjunct Professor at Texas Tech University. She received her B.S. in Microbiology and Molecular Biology from the University of Wyoming, and she was awarded her PhD in Food Science from Cornell University. Next, Haley received a postdoctoral fellowship to conduct research in food science at Cornell University. Haley is the recipient of the New Teacher Award and the National Early Career Teaching Award from the United States Department of Agriculture, as well as the Outstanding Academic Counseling and Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Awards from Purdue University. In this interview, Haley discusses her journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:18)
One thing Haley loves to do in her spare time is hit the road to visit the important people in her life.
The Scientific Side (3:07)
The overall goal of Haley’s research is to reduce foodborne disease. She studies bacteria that make people sick and is working to understand where these bacteria may be introduced to food and how they persist on food at every stage of the food system, including in places like grocery stores. Her research aims to improve the safety of foods before they reach consumers.
A Dose of Motivation (4:14)
“Bring me solutions, not problems.”
What Got You Hooked on Science? (7:26)
As a kid growing up on a farm in Wyoming, she never dreamed of going to graduate school, becoming a professor, or doing research that would have a big impact in the world. In college, Haley planned on majoring in agriculture communications, but didn’t enjoy the early coursework in her major. She happened to take a course on microbiology to fulfil her science requirement, and she loved it. It was the hardest class Haley ever took, but she was really motivated by the challenge. She soon switched her major and began her research career.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (15:00)
Running a lab is like running a small business, and getting grants is critical to the lab’s success. Currently, only about 5-10% of grants are funded. Constantly getting grants rejected is frustrating. This is particularly difficult when you know you have students and staff working in the lab who depend on you for their livelihood. It is hard to keep work-life balance when it comes to grant-writing because it seems like you can never pass on an opportunity to submit something because this could be the one that gets funded.
A Shining Success! (18:50)
Any time one of Haley’s students graduates and gets a good job, it is a big success. So much hard work goes into students’ projects, and it is wonderful to see them go on to positively contribute to the food industry, government, and academic research. It is amazing to have people calling her to ask when her students will be graduating so they can hire them.
Most Treasured Travel (25:20)
Traverse City, Michigan is one of Haley’s favorite places. She loves the cherries that are grown there, and it is such a peaceful city in the wine region in Michigan. Haley has also really enjoyed her travels to Turkey. Her last trip was a few years ago, and she remembers the food was excellent, the culture was amazing, and the people were so welcoming. It was fun to travel to Turkey with a good friend who was from there and knew all the best places to visit, including the remarkable region where agriculture began.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (28:07)
Sometimes there are molds that you feel like you are expected to fit into as a scientist, but Haley decided early on in her career that there were some things she wasn’t going to compromise on. One of these was wearing her favorite bright orange lipstick. Haley also loves sports cars, and she drives a Corvette which she knows doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a scientist.
Advice For Us All (32:37)
It is important to listen when people ask you questions. Sometimes a question someone asks you can change the way you think about your life and open your mind to possibilities you may have never considered. Also, there is no substitute for working hard for achieving success.
Haley received her PhD in Food Science, with minors in Epidemiology and Microbiology, at Cornell University under Dr. Kathryn Boor and Bachelor of Science degrees in Molecular Biology and in Microbiology at the University of Wyoming. Her dissertation focused on the ability of Listeria monocytogenes to survive stress and subsequently cause disease in humans and animals. Prior to joining the Department of Food Science at Purdue University as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2010, she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University with Dr. Martin Wiedmann where she began investigating L. monocytogenes contamination patterns in retail deli environments. Dr. Oliver’s current research focuses on prevalence, persistence, and transmission of L. monocytogenes and Salmonella in retail food systems as well as development of practical and feasible control strategies aimed to reduce cross-contamination. She has been working to develop food safety capacity in Afghanistan since 2012. Dr. OIiver and her Purdue colleagues are developing a food technology program at Herat University in Afghanistan aimed to improve food safety, quality, and security sponsored by USAID. In addition to her research program, Dr. Oliver teaches Food Microbiology, Food Plant Sanitation, and Graduate Food Microbiology courses at Purdue University. She received the USDA Food and Agriculture Science Excellence in Teaching Award for New Teachers in 2014 and the International Association for Food Protection Larry Beuchat Young Researcher Award in 2016.
Photo by Mark Simmons, Purdue University
*This episode was originally published August 8, 2016.