The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused many people to become more aware of infectious diseases and the threat they pose to public health. As people are looking to researchers for answers, career fields in infectious disease research are gaining a lot of attention.
There are many areas of focus within infectious disease research. Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Recent examples of zoonotic diseases include Ebola, swine flu and bird flu. Zoonotic diseases also include families of coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19; severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS; and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.
Researchers in this field study animal health diagnostics, treatment and vaccines for emerging and known diseases. These experts protect public health and animal welfare.
If you’re interested in making a difference around the world, a career in zoonotic disease research could be a fulfilling path. Here are some things to consider as you explore this field.
Interests: Explore related subjects and passions
Many people start down an academic or career path because they’re interested in or gifted at a particular subject. People who like animals often think of becoming veterinarians. People who like math might become engineers. But what if you’re interested in a variety of subjects? This is where niche programs like zoonotic disease research, a specialty within epidemiology, come in.
Zoonotic disease research is a rewarding and challenging field for people interested in animals, health, science, math, technology and various combinations of those topics. Even an interest in political science, natural resources or communications could factor into a successful career in zoonotic disease research.
Explore your interests.
Academic majors and programs: What to study
Zoonotic disease researchers come from a variety of fields like public health or veterinary medicine. At the graduate level, Kansas State University’s Master of Public Health Program offers an emphasis in zoonoses and the College of Veterinary Medicine, which houses departments of anatomy and physiology, clinical sciences and diagnostic medicine/pathobiology, is ranked in the Top 20 schools for veterinary medicine by U.S. News & World Report.
At K-State, a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs can shape your trajectory, including:
- Veterinary biomedical science
- Agricultural biosecurity research
- Stem cell biotechnology
- Public health
In addition to offering numerous degree and certification programs, K-State houses state-of-the-art facilities dedicated to animal health, sciences and biomedicine. Its award-winning faculty are renowned experts in the field and exceptional teachers. K-State also provides a variety of student support services and guidance on numerous fellowship, grant, award, training, research and career resources and opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Research and training: Access, resources and opportunities
K-State’s location in Manhattan, Kansas is near numerous organizations and companies specializing in animal health and biosecurity research and has earned it the nickname “the Silicon Valley for biodefense,” coined by former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle.
K-State is home to the Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, known as CEEZAD. CEEZAD was founded in 2010 as a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence dedicated to developing vaccines, pathogen detectors, sophisticated modeling for outbreak control, and education and training programs. CEEZAD offers a Workforce Development Program that includes a summer program for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a fellowship option for doctorate students.
Learn more about CEEZAD.
The Center on Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at K-State is also dedicated to the effort of zoonotic disease research. CEZID will comprise four primary research projects, as well as fund smaller projects throughout the state of Kansas. CEZID will also encompass programs fostering faculty mentorship and recruitment, and a regional scientific network.
Learn more about CEZID.
The Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI is also located at K-State. This facility is dedicated to comprehensive infectious disease research on threats to human, animal and plant health in biosafety level-3 labs. The BRI is also committed to education and training. It houses training labs, lecture halls and even conference spaces where outside industry leaders can come together.
Learn more about BRI.
Manhattan is home to the $1.25 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF. Built by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and managed and run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this world-leading laboratory will help protect the nation’s agriculture, farmers and citizens against the threat and impact of serious zoonotic diseases. USDA NBAF will be the first U.S. facility to offer biosafety level 4, or BSL-4, laboratories. A Scientist Training Program Fellowship at NBAF is open to K-State graduate students. The program supports the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and is made possible through the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Learn more about NBAF.
With these powerhouses centrally located in Manhattan, businesses focused on animal health and biodefense are moving to the area. This concentration of companies and organizations devoted to the field makes Manhattan a great place to explore educational, internship, research and other training opportunities.
Selecting a school
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in zoonotic disease, where you study is just as important as what you study. With renowned programs and faculty, convenient access to numerous companies and a great atmosphere — ranked No. 2 in best quality of life and No. 3 for happiest students — K-State is an outstanding choice for studying zoonotic disease research.
To get a more in depth look at research being conducted in this field at K-State, read “Kansas State University zoonotic disease research fights viruses in the hot zone.” For more information on academics and to apply, visit k-state.edu.