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Summer Research

So I thought I would use my first post to talk a little bit about what I did this summer.  Because, really, the best part of vet school are the opportunities and experiences it provides outside the classroom.  During my first year, I applied and ultimately was accepted to participate in the Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program, a program available here at A&M that allows first and second year vet students, guided by a faculty mentor, to conduct their own research projects for 12 weeks during the summer.

Now, you might be asking yourself a couple of questions.  First, you might ask, "Why exactly would you want to spend your summer in a lab pipetting solutions into test tubes?"  And, in fact, that's an excellent question.  Who would want to do that?  I wouldn't, and so I didn't.  The best part of this program is that I got to choose my mentor Dr. Chuck Long and my project, both of which exposed me to a variety of activities and challenges I didn't expect when I applied to the program.  Sure, I had to pipette every once in a while, but I also worked with disease-resistant cattle, helped with surgery on research pigs, and killed bacteria with genetically modified milk.  Research isn't constant monotony in a fluorescently lit laboratory.

Another question you might have is, "What does veterinary medicine have to do with research?"  That is the question that the other half of the program aimed to answer.  Once a week, Dr. Roger Smith, the program coordinator, gathered us, the 14 participating students, for lunch as he or a guest explained the innumerable opportunities for veterinarians in research.  We also took field trips to different labs and facilities to meet veterinarians either treating research animals or conducting their own research.  We went to the Center for Biodefense & Emerging Infectious Disease in Galveston and met Dr. Frederick Murphy, the veterinarian who helped discover the agent behind Ebola.  At the Texas Heart Institute, we saw the pristine facilities where livestock are kept in the hospital basement in the middle of Houston.   Finally for our symposium hosted by the University of Florida at the end of the summer, we went to Disney World where, besides having fun at the parks, we met other students from across the nation and learned about the newest research in both animal and human health.

Which brings me to the point that stands out among all the lessons I've learned this summer.  Sure, I learned about cloning and genetic modification and bacteria and that if you give anything the right hormones, you can make it lactate.  The main idea, though, that this program brought to my attention is that veterinarians provide a unique viewpoint to research.  Not only do they have the training and compassion to provide the medical care for research animals so that studies can be performed humanely, but veterinarians also have insight to animal health and physiology required for the success of biomedical research as a whole.  Although all of us who participated in the program this summer may not go on to careers devoted to research, we all have a greater appreciation for the roles we can all play.  If you'd like to learn more about the program, head over to /vmsrtp/.