Nov. 16, 2022

UCalgary Veterinary Medicine animal welfare researcher wins prestigious award

Maria Camila Ceballos receives New Investigator Award from International Society for Applied Ethology
Dr. Maria Camila Ceballos standing in a field with cows.
The award to Maria Camila Ceballos recognizes scientific excellence in carrying out research in applied ethology early in their career. Beth Ventura

While finishing her PhD in animal behavior at São Paulo State University in Brazil, Maria Camila Ceballos attended the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE) conference in Denmark and was impressed with that year’s winner of the society’s annual New Investigator Award.

“I was a student from South America. It was the first time I went to a European conference. I thought to myself I want to get that award, but I never thought that I was going to be able to. The winner had all these papers published and so on and I thought ‘Oh, it’s too much, it will be difficult to do it.’”

But five years later, Dr. Ceballos, PhD, was back in Europe for the annual ISAE conference where she was recognized with the 2022 ISAE New Investigator Award. “I was very happy,” says the assistant professor in beef cattle welfare and behaviour at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. 

ISAE gives the award to “a candidate who has demonstrated scientific excellence and/or an exceptional aptitude for carrying out research in applied ethology early in their career.” In presenting Ceballos the prestigious award in September, ISAE pointed to her excellent mentorship supervising graduate students, her independent research with a diverse list of co-authors and for her work with a range of different species in different countries.

Collaborating with colleagues around the world, including Canada, Brazil and Colombia, Ceballos’ main fields of research include evaluating animal welfare and behaviour, mostly in animal production systems, human-animal interaction and animal personality.

“In general, I focus on finding strategies to improve the welfare of animals.” says Ceballos. “I am working in different research lines, one of them is looking for strategies to improve human-animal interaction in animal production systems, which has a direct effect on animal welfare.”

One of her collaborative research projects, in Colombia, is studying using music as an environmental enrichment to improve the welfare of animals. In another project, she’s developing a grimace scale to identify and measure pain in calves. “We’re looking at the facial expressions of the animals as related to pain with the objective of using the scale as a tool to identify pain in calves. If we can identify pain earlier, we can treat the animals earlier.”

The ISAE New Investigator Award is the latest in a long line of Ceballos’ achievements. She has received seven major scholarships and awards over the years, and since finishing her PhD in 2017, her work has been published in 24 peer review journals, she has written five book chapters, one book and given dozens of presentations. She was also awarded an NSERC Discovery Grant.

Ceballos completed her undergraduate studies in animal science at the National University of Colombia and worked as a researcher at the Center for Research in Sustainable Systems of Agricultural Production in Colombia. She completed both her master's and PhD at São Paulo State University in Brazil. She came to the UCalgary in 2020 after an internship at the Animal Welfare Science Centre at University of Melbourne and a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Ceballos shaking hands with a man as she receives her New Investigator Award.

Dr. Ceballos receives her New Investigator Award from an ISAE member.

Christian Nawroth