Research Program cultivates
students’ interest in science

Students grab a bite to eat during a lunch break held mid-day at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Students are shown having lunch during their trip to the Sanford-Burnham Research Institute in July.

Thirteen sophomore veterinary students who participated in the Merial Summer Research Scholarship program spent a full day at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute July 21, learning more about scientists’ work in the areas of obesity-related diabetes and its complications and coming home with food for thought about how veterinary medicine can contribute to human as well as animal health. Another group of  students visited the Whitney Marine Laboratory earlier in the summer.

Dr. Linda Hayward, an associate professor of physiological sciences, coordinates the program, which supports student research projects through funding from Merial, faculty matching grants and the college’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies. Also attending the trip were Dr. Maureen Long, an associate professor in the department of infectious diseases and pathology, and Dr. Charles Courtney, associate dean for research and graduate studies.

“Visiting the Sanford-Burnham Institute was a new opportunity for the summer program,” Hayward said. “The Burnham Institute opened in 2009 and is a medical research facility that is highly focused on translational research associated with metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease.”

She pointed out that two of the primary investigators, Dr. Phillip A. Wood and Dr. Devanjan Sikder, are D.V.M./Ph.D. researchers.

“Thus, touring a state-of-the-art facility and hearing about the research and career paths of these veterinarians provided the students with insight for pursuing a successful career in research,” Hayward said.

“I was very inspired by the whole experience, especially by Dr. Greg Roth, who spoke to us at lunch,” said student Kirsten Burg. “I have always felt that I want to have a career in veterinary medicine that helps to further our knowledge and understanding of medicine and health in both humans and animal arenas. I thought Dr. Roth gave some really practical and helpful advice.”

CVM students gather for this group shot after a tour of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Burg said Roth made the path he has traveled seem “much more attainable than I had really ever thought” and added that since returning from the trip, she has already begun looking into opportunities within the college that would help her to become the clinician/scientist/researcher she would like to be.

Roth, who was one of five speakers the students listened to, offered some general advice to students. He suggested that they find a mentor, or two; that they ask for opportunities rather than waiting to be asked; that they not become emotionally attached to a problem or a project; that they keep an even demeanor and a high energy level; that they not just hang out with other veterinarians at the lunch table. He also suggested students pay attention to the “soft side” of peoples’ personalities, beat their egos into sub mission, stay current, as jobs and companies are not secure, and that they be prepared for change.

He also listed several attributes that contribute to a “successful researcher phenotype” –being a team player; having warm interpersonal skills; maintaining a focused but relaxed attitude; maintaining well-developed peer relationships and strong external networks.

“All of those skills require continual development and practice throughout your career,” Roth said.

Gina Zambrano, another student, said the highlight of the day at Sanford-Burnham was the tour the group received at mid-day.

“The facility is state-of-the-art, and the robotic pipetting device was amazing to see,” Zambrano said. “It was the first time I had seen a research facility outside of a university setting, so it definitely broadened my knowledge of potential career opportunities in research. The talks were also very interesting and everyone who worked there was very welcoming.”

Jason Pearsall said the trip gave him a greater appreciation of the role that animals and veterinarians play in human medicine and public health.

“I had always had a strong interest in human health, and my experience at Burnham will cause me to give more consideration to going into research as a career path,” he said. “I think the trip reinforced just how important such research is in society.”

He added that the most interesting part of the trip for him was seeing what the institute is doing with robotics.

“I have always been strongly interested in engineering, and these robots provided a nice coherence of engineering and biomedical science,” he said.


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August 2011

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Program cultivates students’ interest in science

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