Months of preparation and student research culminated in a trip to Worcester, Massachusetts, for 13 MU College of Veterinary Medicine students, three Mizzou students in the Pre-Vet Scholars Program, and three scholars visiting Mizzou from other universities. The group comprised this year’s Veterinary Research Scholars Program, also called the VRSP.
“Our gang knocked it out of the park!” said CVM Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology Craig Franklin, DVM, PhD, DACLAM. “I heard all of our scholars either at the practice session or at the symposium, and all were so engaged and well prepared. The bar has again been raised.”
The journey to the National NIH-Boehringer Ingelheim Symposium, held July 25-28, began last fall as prospective participants began working on their applications for the program and seeking mentors to guide them through their hypothesis-based research projects.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of VRSP when applying to Mizzou, so when I got accepted I immediately applied to be a part of the program during my first year,” said Emily Lemoine, a member of the CVM Class of 2022. “I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in research during undergrad, so I was so eager to begin during vet school. I wanted to experience research and see if I would want it to be a part of my future career one day,” she said.
Students who were selected for the VRSP, began attending the “Foundations in Veterinary Research and Discovery” course, meeting for one to three hours each week from March until August.
Full-time work in the labs of mentors commenced June 30, although many students were working part time on their projects earlier.
“Since minoring in microbiology during undergrad, I got to learn a lot about different pathogenic bacteria as well as zoonotic diseases,” Lemoine said. “Those classes started my interest into zoonotic diseases, so when I saw that there was a project that involved just that, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I love the idea that animal research can not only benefit the health of animals, but humans as well,” she added.
CVM scholars received a stipend of $3,600 for the eight-week program. Out-of-state and Pre-Vet Scholars received $4,500 for 10 weeks of participation.
The main objectives of VRSP are to expose veterinary students to research career opportunities and develop a community of veterinary research scientists. In addition to gaining hands-on research experience and exposure to biomedical science topics, the scholars are afforded the chance to participate in social events, field trips to research institutions, and the opportunity to present their results at the national symposium, as well as during CVM Research Day the following spring.
“This is the 15th year we have been able to offer the VRSP,” Franklin said. “It’s an intensive experience. I’m always impressed by the level of commitment from our students and the dedication of our mentors, especially given the additional time our students put in beyond the already demanding veterinary curriculum. I’ve seen many past participants go on to pursue careers in research that they were exposed to through the VRSP.”
Among the research topics the students pursued this year were examination of the canine microbiome, the microbiota of shelter cats, the effect of cats on children with autism, the transmission of Brucella suis in feral swine, motor neuron disease in rats, determining causes of intramammary infection in dairy cattle, and developing a new tool for detecting laryngeal neuropathy in horses.
“There were so many amazing benefits that I did not anticipate,” Lemoine said. “First, I met two amazing researchers, my mentor Dr. (Jeffrey) Adamovicz and a postdoc, Mostafa Ateya. Since I knew absolutely nothing about research, the lessons and techniques learned from them have basically shaped the research foundation that I have established,” she said. “Attending the VRSP symposium allows all the participants to present their research to fellow peers and veterinarians. I not only built up my confidence and public speaking skills, but had the chance to network and meet some amazing veterinarians and veterinary students.”
Up next for the VRSP is a data blitz session where scholars will present their research in short snippets to the students, staff and faculty of the CVM, and potentially help recruit an equally energetic group of scholars from the class of 2023 for next year’s VRSP.