Meet Dr. Subhashinie Kariyawasam, college’s newest academic department chair

Dr. Kariyawasam

Dr. Subashinie Kariyawasam

Dr. Subhashinie Kariyawasam, professor and chair of the department of comparative, diagnostic and population medicine, the college’s newest department, began her position at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine on Sept. 1, 2018. She previously served as a clinical professor in the department of veterinary and biomedical science and microbiology section head of the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at the Pennsylvania State University, where she had been a faculty member since 2008.  Kariyawasam is board-certified in three separate specialty colleges: The American College of Veterinary Microbiologists, with specialties in bacteriology/mycology and immunology; The American College of Poultry Veterinarians; and the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. Kariyawasam previously held faculty appointments at Iowa State University and at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. She shares in this interview with the Veterinary Page how things are going in her new job, as well as some of her short- and long-term goals.

VP: It’s a year now since you started, but welcome to the college! How has this first year been for you, and have you adjusted to life in Gainesville and at UF?

SK: As the chair of CDPM, I definitely now have a much fuller grasp of the activities and accomplishments that define the department and the faculty members associated with it. And, as someone new to UF and to Gainesville, I settled in pretty quickly to the place, as well as to the job, thanks to the warm welcome and cooperation I received from various constituencies. I do want to say that when I started, the new department was in very good shape under the leadership of Dr. Michael Schaer, the interim department chair; all departmental guidelines and policies were in place, and while some needed a little tweak here and there, there were no major issues.

There were some situations that I had to wrestle with, but it has been an incredibly exciting year for me. All in all, I think the experience I’ve gained in just this short time has already made me an even better administrator and colleague.

VP: What were some of the things that attracted you to this position when you applied for it?

SK: I was aware that the new department was created to fulfill two strategic priorities: to establish an American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians-accredited lab within the UFCVM, and to enhance research and clinical activities related to the One Health initiative. I had actually come to the college previously for another interview, and was invited then to apply for the chair position, so I was familiar with the services and expertise available here at the college from that first visit. I felt that my experience and interests were in line with the priorities and interests of the department, and I still feel that way.

In addition, I was particularly attracted to UF due to the collegiality of faculty here, and their diverse experiences. CDPM is truly a unique department that consists of a community of engaged faculty, residents, trainees, staff and students who have diverse expertise and are passionate about continuing to impact the service, teaching and research missions of the college. I enjoy that diversity, and took the job because I realized that I can help the department to become a pacesetter on many fronts. 

VP: Could you say a bit more about how you approached your first year here?

SK: During my first month, I met with all constituencies in the department, including faculty, staff, residents and graduate students, individually or in small groups, to get to know each of them. These meetings helped me to understand their needs, concerns and desires as well as their expectations of me as their department chair. I spent time with many clinical services within the UF Veterinary Hospitals to get to know people outside of the department. I shadowed nearly every service within the Small Animal Hospital.

As a first-time department chair, I was aware that I was equipped with only limited leadership experience, so I attended many leadership training sessions and department chair workshops, both here at UF and outside of UF. I learned a lot. I learned how the department budget worked, and how much money I had to work with, which was something I needed to understand as a chair. I also developed a network of support within and outside of the college; for example, I made it a point to learn more about fiscal administration, human resources, and our office of research and graduate studies, as well as about the advancement and communications team. We also hired six new talented faculty and are in the process of filling another line. I finally feel like my feet are on the ground, but I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. You can’t always anticipate the needs of faculty.

VP: What have you set as priorities for yourself and for the department, short-term and long-term?

SK: I cannot have my priorities; I have to give mine over to the college’s priorities. My priorities have become departmental priorities. As department chair, my perspectives are bounded by the department’s needs and interests. I want to lead by example, so that whatever the goals I set out for my faculty might be, they will be my own scholarly goals as well. An example of what I mean, is: If I tell my faculty to write grants, I have to do it too; I can’t just ask them to do it and not do it, too. And when setting our departmental priorities, I have to consult my faculty, as this needs to be a team effort and a consensus-building task. The short- and long-term priorities should match those of the department.

I am planning to have a retreat to refine the department strategic plan, during which we will set our priorities as a team. But I can point out a couple of things here since you asked. First and foremost, most faculty in our department are junior faculty with young families and young children. I understand that they have to face many demands at work and at home. Therefore, a constant ongoing priority is to maintain a caring and inclusive environment that will ensure happiness and well-being of faculty, staff and students. We can come up with many formulas and benchmarks to measure academic productivity, but I believe a positive workplace environment is essential for productivity and to perpetuate long-lasting returns.

VP: What are some of your short-term goals?

SK: As to specific short term priorities, those would include enhancing our department’s visibility locally, nationally and internationally by accelerating departmental research programs, engaging more with professional organizations and offering certificates or training programs. While I encourage both intramural and extramural funding, I specifically want to see a substantial increase in our efforts to receive extramural funding, because it is my goal to increase the funding such that our department ranks among the top research departments within the college. This may sound unrealistic, considering the ratio of tenure track and clinical track faculty lines in the department, but I am very optimistic. My faculty are already making good progress to this end. Greater efforts to generate extramural funding will not only generate resources, but also will help faculty to rise through the ranks. I have already initiated action toward this goal by providing a grant writer and by purchasing equipment for shared use.

Our departmental faculty are involved in very specialized services, such as anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, forensic pathology, dermatopathology, ophthalmic pathology and aquatic, amphibian and reptile pathology, as well as in services such as anesthesiology, zoo and wildlife medicine, integrative medicine, bacteriology, virology, and parasitology. These faculty members all have unique skill sets and have invested in innovations in their respective specializations. I want to encourage all of those faculty to develop certificate programs or training programs. I’m ready to provide limited fiscal support and other resources to that end, in order to develop department visibility locally and beyond — within and outside of the college. I’d also like to start a department seminar series. As a new department, it’s too early right now to bring in external speakers, but we can rely on our own faculty to share about the research they are involved in. That would be a good starting point for further discussion of research grant possibilities and collaborations. I want to see more graduate courses offered by our department; some of our faculty have already developed courses, and there are more in the pipeline.

VP: What about long-term priorities?

SK: Our department name includes diagnostic medicine and population medicine, I’d like to develop our diagnostic and population medicine faculty strengths over time, in order for us to play a role in the AAVLD accreditation that the college now aspires to. I hope our new dean will support the initiatives that our former dean, Jim Lloyd, set forth in order to take the new department to the next level. Our strengths in population medicine definitely need to be enhanced, so I will be looking at ways to do that.  We have seven outstanding microbiology faculty and I’d also like to develop a residency program in clinical microbiology. I hope to build a long-term relationship with the college’s advancement team in order to develop opportunities for individuals to support our unique and varied programs.

VP: What about some of the key challenges your department faces, and how do you see yourself navigating those challenges?

SK: We’ve hired many new faculty to develop new programs, some of which are growing at a very high pace. That demands resources, including personnel, but may or may not directly correlate with revenue generation. The department needs continued support from college administration to keep up with those programs.

In addition, although the college is making progress toward establishing an AAVLD-accredited lab, it is important to identify the benchmarks for evaluating the diagnostic service efforts of respective faculty. Currently there are no such guidelines in the college promotion and tenure process, although there is an ad-hoc committee, headed by Drs. Chris Adin and Chris Vulpe, which is working toward refining the benchmarks for clinical service. I am providing feedback to that committee on the needs of my faculty, because diagnostic medicine is unique to our department, and will be a separate service, so we will need criteria for how we give credit to those efforts. Clinical faculty have guidelines for promotion and tenure, but we must come up with some new guidelines for the diagnostic aspect, as it’s a new area of focus.

VP: Is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you about?

SK: My door is always open. I’m interested in others’ ideas and input, and, in particular, I want to hear input from the emeritus faculty in our department. I am highly optimistic about the future of the department, because UF is a terrific institution, and day to day, I work with many talented colleagues and members of administration.  Also, we have a phenomenal department staff. Our staff are always willing to go the extra mile to make sure whatever the departmental needs are, are fulfilled. They do a phenomenal job and I want to make sure to acknowledge their efforts.

When I came on board, there were several new department chairs just coming on board, and we all learned together. We meet every month, and those meetings have always been very helpful.






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