David Dayan
March 26, 2024

A Research Technician: David Dayan

As a former undergraduate researcher and now postgraduate research technician with the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab, I have mostly worked on a study of environmental contaminants in hunter-harvested waterfowl. As a student, I would run up to the Animal Health Diagnostic Center between classes to take tissues from waterfowl on the necropsy floor for contaminant testing. As a technician, I have participated in other projects, such as extracting environmental DNA from water filters in a satellite lab space in the Baker Institute for Animal Health and conducting husbandry and sample collection tasks for a colony of wood frog tadpoles in the Cornell Veterinary Medical Center Aquatics Facility. I also continue to work on the waterfowl contaminant project, analyzing the laboratory data at my office desk.

7:45 am: Alarm goes off. Get up, get dressed, and make breakfast. While eating, watch a show or read (sometimes a fun novel, sometimes a new article from my Google Scholar alerts for canine distemper virus or pollutants in wildlife). 

8:50 am: Pack my lunch and backpack and head out the door. The 10-minute commute is just enough time to listen to a few songs (if my car’s Bluetooth decides to cooperate).

9:00 am: Arrive at the office and head to my desk. Say a quick hello to folks in the office, make coffee, and fill my water bottle. Make a quick inquiry to one of CWHL’s wildlife veterinarians, Dr. Jennifer Bloodgood, about potential opportunities to tag along for fieldwork (no fieldwork today: bummer).

9:10 am: Check emails, update my to-do list, and start on the highest priority tasks. These might be working on a wildlife health fact sheet about an environmental contaminant for the CWHL website, reviewing edits to the analysis code and/or manuscript drafts for the waterfowl contaminant study, or preparing a presentation for an upcoming conference or workshop.

David in the aquatics lab filtering water for the Ranavirus eRNA project.

10:00 am: Hop on Zoom for a biweekly (twice a week, not every other: biweekly is not the most useful word) CWHL team meeting. Our team meetings are a great way to learn how we can help each other and stay informed about scientific and administrative updates from around the lab and from CWHL’s partners in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

11:00 am: Stay on the Zoom meeting for a few extra minutes to discuss the figures for the waterfowl contaminants manuscript with Dr. Brenda Hanley, CWHL Research Associate and resident mathematics and statistics wizard.

11: 15 am: Armed with Brenda’s expert advice, I work on my R code to update figures for the waterfowl manuscript and continue writing the draft.

12:00 pm: Head over to the office’s shared lunch space to heat up my lunch and take a quick break. I’ll often resume whatever I was reading or watching that morning while I eat.

12:30 pm: Settle back down at my desk. As I am about to resume working on my code and manuscript draft, one of my office neighbors, CWHL Research Support Specialist Melissa Fadden, asks if I could pull some serum samples for surveillance of two hemorrhagic disease viruses in white-tailed deer: Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease virus and bluetongue virus. I print out the spreadsheet with the sample information and head over to the lab to pull tubes of serum from the freezer.

David in the wildlife lab pulling serum samples from the freezer for diagnostic testing.

1:00 pm: After finding serum samples for Melissa, I settle back down at my desk and hop on another Zoom meeting. Today, I am meeting with collaborators from DEC and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to discuss the risk assessment methods we are using to understand how hunters may be exposed to contaminants by eating wild waterfowl.

2:00 pm: Continue working on the waterfowl project. My conversation with DEC and NYSDOH gave me a new idea for how to explain more clearly some of the assumptions and thought processes behind our contaminant exposure risk assessment.

3:00 pm: Walk over to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine (or hop on Zoom again if I am feeling lazy) to participate in a weekly epidemiology journal club focusing on environmental epidemiology. Today, we are discussing an article on the links between kidney cancer and pesticide exposure. Working for the CWHL and at Cornell provides amazing access to journal clubs, seminars, and workshops on disease ecology, toxicology, conservation medicine, and more, and I am always grateful when one of my CWHL coworkers invites me to listen to an interesting talk!

David reviewing chain of custody forms for our waterfowl contaminant research project.

4:00 pm: After the journal club ends, I return to the office, check my emails, and continue working through the tasks on my to-do list.

5:15 pm: I wrap up my tasks for the day, take a last look at my emails, and head to my car to go home.

5:30 pm: Home! If the weather is nice, I’ll take a stroll around campus or a nearby park. Watching the sunset while overlooking Cayuga Lake is always a great way to spend an evening.

6:30 pm: Make dinner. While eating, I’ll either watch something, read, or work on whatever non-work life tasks I have (i.e., looking for an apartment for graduate school next year).

David pulling tissue samples from the lab freezer for research testing.

9:00 pm: I play soccer (indoor or outdoor) several nights a week, often with veterinary students or other graduate students and undergraduates. Today, my team has our penultimate regular season match in the Ithaca Premier Soccer League (the name makes it seem more serious than it is).

10:30 pm: Get back home, shower, and get ready for bed.

11:00 pm: After some light reading (no more science for the day), hopefully, sleep!

Overall, I consider my experience working with the CWHL to be something of a “grab-bag” of wildlife health and One Health. My job has given me the opportunity to collect samples in the field, work with veterinary pathologists, attend conferences, and hone various research skills, from project ideation and data analysis to scientific writing and public outreach. I especially enjoy that I can participate in and learn about cutting-edge wildlife health research while staying grounded in applied wildlife management questions. Whether a day is spent in the field, office, lab, or at home, I am grateful for the opportunities to study wildlife health and the issues that link environmental, human, and animal health.