VGSA: Building a community and advancing research

VGSA members

Members of the Veterinary Graduate Student Association gathered for a photo after a recent meeting. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Koda)

Although fewer in number than the college’s more visible D.V.M. students, graduate students at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine are helping each other succeed in a variety of important ways.

The glue for efforts that range from networking to advocacy for scientific ethics, research and idea exchange is the Veterinary Graduate Student Association, or VGSA. The organization consists of all of the college’s graduate students pursuing M.S. or Ph.D. degrees now approximately 70 students spread across five college departments.

“Our main purpose is to increase the awareness of our organization to the college, as well as to the graduate students,” said Samantha Koda, a Ph.D. student in the college’s department of infectious disease and immunology, who serves as the group’s secretary. “We are dedicated to serving the graduate students in as many ways as possible.”

The VGSA also serves as a collective voice for the graduate students in communication with the college’s administration.

“We want to provide a community and resources for graduate students through travel grant funding for research conferences, publishing grants and inviting speakers to our monthly meetings, among other things,” Koda said.

This past year, the group invited Susan Schuld, M.F.A., an assistant professor in UF’s College of Arts and Sciences and an acting/vocal coach, to hold a workshop on non-verbal communication to help students learn how to give more effective oral presentations. Later this year, they plan to invite a speaker from the UF police department to discuss campus safety, as well as someone from the university’s wellness center to discuss how to manage stress as a graduate student.

The group has its largest turnout of members during its monthly meetings, which are held the first Thursday of each month at noon in Banfield B, located on the third floor of the UF Small Animal Hospital.

“We do hope to continue to gain more interest and participation,” Koda said. “In the spring, we help organize two major events for professional development.”

The “View from the Top,” one of the two events, is an opportunity for graduate students to network with established professionals who have excelled in diverse areas of the field. The association organizes a panel discussion with professionals at various stages of their careers, traditionally focusing on areas such as academia, industry and small business entrepreneurship. After the event, the group holds an informal social gathering, allowing the graduate students and panel participants the opportunity to interact.

During the college’s traditional Phi Zeta Research Emphasis Day, the VGSA works with college administration to organize the “Best in Show” competition, which fosters friendly competition among graduate students while providing them an opportunity to practice oral presentation skills and share their research with the college.

“Both of these events provide great opportunities to network with other graduate students, professors and working professionals while sharing our ongoing research with the community,” she added.

The group also helps its members financially. Travel grants of up to $500 are available to help with expenses to attend conferences both nationally and internationally, Koda said. Students who are awarded a travel grant are asked to give a short presentation at a monthly meeting so that other VGSA members can learn more about their work and the conference.

Publication grants of up to $1,000 are also offered to help students pay for any publishing costs associated with research conducted as part of their UF graduate program, she added.

“The VGSA is a great support system, allowing students to get to know people they might not otherwise get to meet,” Koda said. “It’s great for new students looking to find their community. And of course we always have free drinks and pizza at every monthly meeting for those who attend.”

In addition to Koda, other current VGSA officers include Maite De Maria, president; Zakia Goodwin, D.V.M., vice president; Jeffrey Gruntmeier, treasurer; and Elizabeth Scherbatskoy, social chair.


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