Anna Dilger, meat scientist at the University of Illinois, is one of the voices of Meat Matters, a new column, in Farm Journal’s PORK. She shares her thoughts on educating students, her interest in efficiency of meat production research, and what readers can expect from her column in 2019.
Q. Tell us about your background.
A. I am originally from the north side of Indianapolis and got my start in agriculture through 4-H – sheep to be exact. My parents knew they wanted my brothers and I to have livestock in 4-H. Cattle were too big. My mom holds a grudge against pigs for preventing her dream of a wedding in a front yard. So sheep it was! Throughout high school I was involved in 4-H and FFA before attending Purdue University to major in animal science with the goal of becoming a college professor. Fast forward several years to now…I am an associate professor at the University of Illinois in the Department of Animal Sciences. Meat Science is my specialty. My husband, Ryan, is also an associate professor in animal science specializing in non-ruminant nutrition. We have two children who, unfortunately, do not want to follow in our footsteps.
Q. What’s a typical day on the job like for you?
On a typical day, I am engaged with students either in the classroom or in my laboratory. I teach courses in growth and development, meat science and contemporary issues. In my lab, I employ several graduate students who are working on advanced degrees. Together, we conduct research that spans most aspects of meat science. I am interested in improving the efficiency and sustainability of meat production while also improving the quality of meat we consume. Being in the Midwest, the bulk of my work focuses on pigs, but sometimes we branch out into cattle or poultry. I am also passionate about public outreach in terms of helping the everyday person understand animal agriculture.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Hands down, it is the students I enjoy most about being a professor. I really love to teach and often, I am happiest in the classroom. It is awesome to see on someone’s face that moment when they truly “get” something and to be part of helping them understand new things. With my graduate students, I get to be that behind-the-scenes person who pushes them to achieve great things. Their success is my success. Without them, nothing gets done and my work would be a lonely place.
Q. What can PORK readers expect out of your columns this year?
I don’t take myself too seriously, so readers should expect the facts with a smile. I hope that I can help people understand a bit more about the meat side of the pork industry. I want to arm them with facts and explanations that they can use when they are ambassadors in their communities for the pork industry.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My mentor likes to tell me to “turn loose of the coconut” to remind me to let go of the things that I cannot control. My Type A personality often makes this very hard for me.
Q. When you aren’t at work, what do you enjoy doing for fun?
For fun, I like to hang out with my family, make crafts and read. I wish I could say that I read great works of fiction, but for me, a book is a way to unwind so I enjoy light-hearted fiction. I have also been doing counted cross-stitch since I was 10 (another 4-H project), and right now I am working on a large Christmas-themed piece for my mom.