A notable poultry behaviorist decided to retire in 2016 – Joy Mench, University of California-Davis animal science professor and director of the Center for Animal Welfare. During her thirty plus years of service as a teacher and researcher, she has worked with the egg industry and helped to shape the minds of students, colleagues and the public regarding animal behavior, animal welfare and the ethics of animal use worldwide.
Mench counts her greatest research achievement to be the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply because it was able to bring together so many researchers and stakeholders to look at the sustainability of the egg industry. But overall, she cherishes her time working with her graduate students and postdoctoral associates. “They have all done so well for themselves, and I am extremely proud of them.”
“I always tell my grad students, your life is going to take you on paths that you never would have anticipated,” states Mench, as she recalled that the road to her success was far from straight and narrow. With an initial interest in studying wild bird behavior, she traveled to England to obtain her Ph.D. at the University of Sussex. “It didn’t take me very long to realize that I am not a very outdoors kind of girl, at least not if it involves sitting in the rain, mud, and cold; so I switched Ph.D. projects and wound up looking at a research model focused on learning in young [chickens].” This specific research model, along with growing concern regarding welfare of farm animals throughout England, sparked Mench’s interest in poultry behavior and animal welfare.
“If someone told me that I would be working in poultry welfare my whole life once I started graduate school, I never would have believed it.” Following the completion of Mench’s postdoctoral research position (postdoc) at Cornell University, the first poultry welfare faculty position in the United States became available in 1985. Located at the University of Maryland, this opportunity kick-started her career. Mench spent ten years in the University of Maryland’s poultry science department before moving to the University of California-Davis.
Mench works with her students to understand that doing research can be the easy part, but being mindful of the different ethical and political perspectives people may have on various issues when you publicly share your scientific data tends to be more difficult. “Researchers must really learn how to communicate about their research and learn how to interact with people who have vastly different perspectives regarding the issue.” She credits a great deal of her success, as a researcher and mentor, to her Cornell postdoc advisor, Ari vanTienhoven, who served as a role model.
Mench’s years of experience in front of audiences have taught her a great deal, “I think that people who are not scientists get frustrated with science because they want a clear answer and it often takes a really long time to get to that point.” As a result, she instills in her students the ability to think critically about animal ethics and gain skills to communicate their research. She also encourages them to refine their beliefs as they learn new information. “If I could give one piece of advice to young researchers, I would say to follow your passion through your research. Do everything you can to connect with stakeholders who are interested in your research and make it relevant to them.”
Mench is the very deserving recipient of prestigious awards such as the Poultry Science Association Poultry Welfare Research Award and the UC-Davis Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award. In 2016, she was named a Fellow of the Poultry Science Association. As if serving as a mentor for young professionals while conducting various research projects isn’t enough, Mench also travels extensively to serve on various committees. These have included the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, the World Animal Health Organization in Paris, the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, the United Egg Producers, and various other food system stakeholder committees.
Though Mench is “retired” she is still keeping herself busy consulting, editing a series of books on animal welfare, writing a book on poultry behavior and welfare and overseeing her remaining graduate students as they finish up their research projects. While she still has a lab at the university, she plans to spend a lot of her spare time traveling.
The Egg Industry Center would like to thank Joy for all that she has done and continues to do for the egg industry. We wish her the very best on this new chapter in her life.
By Kylie Peterson