Animal science doctoral student’s determination and love for horses drives impactful research

Lauren Wesolowski was determined to keep horses at the forefront of her life from an early age. Wesolowski, PhD student at Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal SciencesShe had to convince her parents, who had no background with horses, to sign her up for riding lessons at the age of 10. Now, as a graduate research assistant, she is pushing the boundaries of exploration into equine health and performance.

Paving the way for a research career

A sudden shift in her intended path to veterinary school led Wesolowski to discover a passion for research. She now credits her time in the Department of Animal Science with playing a crucial role in preparing her for a career in equine research. Through a high-impact learning experience as a graduate research assistant, Wesolowski immerses herself in research directly related to her field of interest and develops skills that will transition seamlessly into her career.

Wesolowski earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in equine pre-veterinary science and a minor in biology from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Late in her undergraduate studies, she discovered an interest in the research side of horses and decided to pursue graduate studies.

Animal science doctoral student’s determination and love for horses drives impactful research

Lauren Wesolowski is a doctoral student in the Department of Animal Sciences pursuing research into equine exercise physiology. (courtesy photo)

To maximize her graduate experience, Wesolowski sought a research assistant position. I have connected with professors doing equine research, and I have been fascinated by the work being done in the Department of Animal Sciences, particularly under the supervision of Sarah White Springer, Ph.D., associate professor of equine physiology.

Find your research focus

In the fall of 2020, Wesolowski made Aggieland her next home and began a master’s program in animal science, with a focus on equine exercise physiology.

“From elite competition horses to elderly metabolic horses, appropriate immune responses are essential to overall health,” Wesolowski said. “I want to learn how to treat and manage horses to promote optimal immune system and inflammatory responses.”

Under the supervision of Wyatt Springer, Wesolowski studied the effects of nutrition on alleviating chronic inflammation in Thoroughbred horses in early race training. Wesolowski’s work was motivated by the need to combat the range of health problems that arise from this condition.

Understanding how the immune system plays a role during the inflammatory response has been an important part of the research.

Immune systems are complex, Wesolowski explained. On the one hand, the inflammatory response signals the immune system to remove harmful pathogens from the horse’s body. However, chronic or widespread inflammatory responses can harm the body because they interfere with normal cellular functions and prevent the body from returning to homeostasis. This can lead to increased risk of injury and decreased athletic performance.

Based on research that vitamins and other nutritional supplements benefit inflammatory responses in humans, Wesolowski’s research examined how a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can reduce inflammation in racehorses. The results showed a positive reduction in inflammation in horses that received the supplements.

Animal science doctoral student’s determination and love for horses drives impactful research

Lauren Wesolowski will present the results of her research on equine physiology and performance at the International Congress on Equine Exercise Physiology in Sweden in 2022. (courtesy photo)

White Springer described Weslowski’s research as “pioneering.”

“Her master’s research underscores her dedication to pushing the boundaries of our understanding of equine physiology and performance,” White-Springer said. “Most of the research procedures in this project have not been used in horses before. Therefore, not only has Lauren conducted a relevant and impactful study, but her findings could also shape the future of equine training and nutrition programs.”

Since she began the graduate program as a master’s student, Wesolowski has presented research at eight conferences around the world, including conferences focused on animal science, equine science, and human health. The scope of her research does not begin and end with horses; Wesolowski’s work includes multiple species, including cattle, sheep, pigs and rodents.

“The data and insights Lauren produced have advanced our understanding of animal health, nutrition and performance,” White-Springer said. “Furthermore, her research findings have practical applications in the fields of horse and cattle management, providing valuable information to an exceptional group of stakeholders.”

In her doctoral studies, Wesolowski continues to study the immune system, but is now looking at how to promote healthy immune systems by managing circadian rhythms through exposure to blue light.

Support from the department provides inspiration and growth

Wesolowski said the search did not come naturally at first. However, with a strong desire and desire to learn, I welcomed the challenge of putting on the researcher’s hat. The new learning environment has taught Wesolowski the importance of being able to adapt, learn from mistakes, and move forward.

Animal science doctoral student’s determination and love for horses drives impactful research

Lauren Wesolowski (second from left) at the 2023 Equine Science Society Conference with Graduate Chair Sarah White Springer, Ph.D. (third from left) and her fellow graduate students. Wesolowski placed third in the graduate student oral presentation competition held during the conference. (courtesy photo)

Wesolowski certainly faced challenges along the way, but she wasn’t alone. She credits faculty and departmental mentors for helping her overcome obstacles.

“I learned and grew a lot by working with my zoology teachers and professors,” she said. “As an undergraduate entering graduate school and research, I had no idea what I was getting into. The biggest lesson I learned from my professors was how to think, work, and write like a scholar and scientist.

She believes that the people in the department, especially the graduate students she learns with, make the department a special place to learn and do research.

“One thing I enjoyed most about my work as a research assistant was the other graduate students I met along the way,” Wesolowski said. “Working with other graduate research assistants who share my passion for animal science is incredibly fun and inspiring.”

When asked what advice she would give to a newly graduated research assistant, Wesolowski said taking initiative is important.

“Professors and researchers will appreciate it when you spend time delving into scientific literature, preparing charts before a meeting, or preparing supplies for sample collection without being asked,” she said. “Once you understand what needs to be done in the lab, take the initiative to get it done and go the extra mile when you can.”

Emerging leader and mentor

In addition to her research endeavors, Wesolowski expands her student experience through extracurricular activities, serving as a teaching assistant, mentoring undergraduate and master’s students, and participating in numerous professional organizations in the animal sciences and equine industry.

Animal science doctoral student’s determination and love for horses drives impactful research

Lauren Wesolowski demonstrates the use of heart rate monitors on horses to a group of Texas 4-H Youth Development Program students in 2023. (courtesy photo)

Wesolowski advocates for his fellow students as the graduate student representative for the International Equine Research Organization Equine Science Society, ESS. This role allows her to bring a student perspective to the ESS Board of Directors to shape meaningful programs and resources for students. Through her leadership and guidance, Wesolowski coordinated and hosted five webinars for students in her first four months.

“Lauren’s role as a teacher, mentor and lecturer has fostered the academic growth of countless students, demonstrating her commitment to knowledge sharing and education in the life sciences,” White-Springer said.

Wesolowski plans to graduate in May 2026 and hopes to pursue a career as a research manager in the equine pharmaceutical or nutritional industries.

“I am passionate about studying the immune system because I believe this research can improve the health of horses at many different life stages,” Wesolowski said.

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