Alumni Profile: Katie Cronin, PhD’09

Alumni Profile: Katie Cronin
Degree(s): BS’01 Zoology – UW-Madison, PhD’09 Psychology – UW-Madison
Current Occupation: Director, Animal Welfare Science, Lincoln Park Zoo

What are some of the benefits of your psychology degree?
Psychology is the study of behavior, human and animal. Psychology degrees also train us to think objectively about emotions. This training provides a unique vantage point from which to try to understand the psychological wellbeing (or welfare) of animals in human care. That is what I do for a living: apply my training in psychology to evaluate and enhance the welfare of animals living in zoos and other settings. A psychology degree (combined with great mentorship at UW) set the stage to make that possible.

How did you find your way to your current profession?
I received a B.S. in Zoology (2001) and a Ph.D. in Psychology (2009) from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I am the Director of the Animal Welfare Science Program at Lincoln Park Zoo, the vice-Chair of the Animal Welfare Committee of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), am on the Animal Welfare Working Group of the European Association for Zoos and Aquaria, and have been a faculty member of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. I apply my training in psychology to understand the experience of animals living in non-wild settings, and research practical ways to improve the quality of life of animals in human care. My research into animal welfare integrates the study of behavioral and psychological changes that occur in animals, and is increasingly geared toward practical, actionable insights that influence how we care for animals. Prior to my arrival at Lincoln Park Zoo, I was a Staff Scientist at the Max Planck Institute in the Netherlands, conducted research in European zoos, and developed a long-term program monitoring the behavior of chimpanzees in a African sanctuary. Currently, I dedicate time to strategic development of research programs, scientific and public lectures, mentoring young scientists, writing, and consulting to advance welfare.

What advice would you give to students graduating with a psychology degree?
If you’re interested in animal behavior or welfare, know that psychologists are prepared to make meaningful contributions to the field. The predominant approaches to studying behavior and welfare, and improving animal lives, are centered on the psychological wellbeing of animals (and the humans that rely on them). So, if you’ve been studying the brain, animal behavior, or human behavior… you are well on your way. My advice for anyone interested in this field (or any field) is to look at job postings for your dream positions and read down to the section that outlines the necessary qualifications and experiences. Then start working backwards to prepare yourself.

If interested, please list an identity or group membership of which you are particularly proud:
First-Generation College Student

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