Doing a research project as an undergraduate gives you experiences and skills that will benefit you as a vet or as a scientist, says third-year veterinary student Myfanwy Hill
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LOOKING at the list of the BVA's specialist divisions, you realise what a wide range of jobs a veterinary degree gives you access to. If you wanted to, you could treat it like any other BSc degree and become a teacher or a banker, but I guess most vet students want to go into practice. That is part of my plan, although I've always known that I want to do more.
Maybe I've just got a short attention span and get bored easily, but I like to think it's because I'm a bit adventurous. I'm interested in spending at least some of my career in science and research. As far as I can see, we are all the products of veterinary research. Research is about finding out answers to questions that interest us, which is not a world away from working up a case to reach a diagnosis.⇓
With this in mind, I applied to the Veterinary Sciences Summer School at Cam-bridge. The summer school offers vet students the opportunity to do a research project in one of the school's departments, and gives career guidance through workshops, seminars and trips to other institutes, which opens students' eyes to the different career paths available to veterinary graduates.
I spent 10 weeks in Cambridge with other undergraduates from all over the world – from as far away as Australia to just up the road in Glasgow, and pretty much every-where in between. My project was in the neurology department, but there were people working with viruses, bacteria, and even frogspawn. I spent most of my time looking for the genetic cause of a polyneuropathy in a family of pedigree dogs. But I also got to see the work that other people in the lab were doing on multiple sclerosis in human beings and on spinal regeneration in dogs with spinal cord injuries.
I doubt my project will earn me a Nobel prize (in fact, I think it would probably be a good idea if I never went near another PCR again), but it's amazing to think that the work I was doing might contribute a tiny amount to knowledge – not just about animal disease, but human disease as well. It's a cliché, but research doesn't have to happen in a lab – clinical audits are research as well. Being in research doesn't make you any less a vet: you can do PhDs and residencies with the aim of becoming a better clinician.
As students, we have inquiring minds; that's why we're at vet school. I know a career in research isn't for everyone, but we shouldn't forget that we've got a good 40 years of our lives to fill after we graduate. I want to cram as many experiences into that time as possible so I'm not going to shut any career doors on the way.
The Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work offers free student membership for those interested in working in science and research, and the Association of Veterinarians in Industry can advise on other not quite so ‘vetty’ career paths. The Wellcome Trust funds summer research placements across the vet schools, most of which can be counted towards extramural studies.
Doing a research project doesn't tie you into a lifetime in a lab coat, but it will open doors for you and give you experience and skills that will benefit you as a vet or as a scientist or both. The two are not mutually exclusive!
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