Summer Research: Ten Weeks in a Lab, Three Days at a Conference

Aug 5, 2016 / Research News / Student Blogs

[Danielle Engel - summer research]

Research is frustrating, tiresome—and incredibly rewarding

Recently, I and 10 fellow veterinary students from the University of Illinois attended the three-day Merial-NIH National Veterinary Scholars Symposium at The Ohio State University.

When our program coordinator, Dr. Lois Hoyer, told us that we should pack business attire and act professionally throughout the course of the weekend, I knew we were in for it. Veterinary students spend most of their existence wearing scrubs or studying in quiet, anti-social environments. Nothing in vet school prepared us for a weekend of socializing with hundreds of other people, holding intellectual conversations with distinguished guests, or wearing professional clothes that are the polar opposite of our normal scrub attire.

Despite feeling like fish out of water, my colleagues and I had a blast and returned to Illinois with lots of good memories and new friends.

Ten Weeks in the Lab

In order to arrive at this climactic and rewarding finish line, we spent 10 weeks of our summer conducting research at the University of Illinois under the supervision of faculty mentors engaged in research across the campus. The Summer Research Training Program was generously funded through Merial and NIH, a major animal health company and the world’s largest biomedical research agency, respectively. Each student was assigned a small research project by her or his mentor. Research topics varied from nutrition to animal behavior and extended into a world of biochemistry that I barely understand.

“I had a lot of fun during this program,” said Abby Reising, a second-year veterinary student whose research involved microbiology and botulism, a disease that causes muscle weakness and death in humans and animals. “It was an excellent learning experience. I discovered how interested in research I am and I plan to continue with it.”

[summer research students from Illinois at Ohio symposium]

Here’s Illinois! The summer research contingent from the University of Illinois takes a break to pose while attending the symposium at Ohio State. That’s me second from the left in the back row, and at the top of this page, that’s me with my poster at the symposium.

I worked with Dr. Justin Rhodes and graduate student Kristy Du from the Department of Psychology to study the effects of animal protein vs. plant protein in the diets of rats. Despite long hours, I enjoyed my experience immensely and learned a lot about nutrition and research.

The summer research program was not just available to veterinary students in the United States. Students from Europe were able to travel to America to participate in their own research projects. The University of Illinois hosted Marion Dellinger, a veterinary student from France, and one of my co-pilots to Ohio and back.

Marion agreed that the program was a little overwhelming at first. “I had to get used to different American accents and I had to learn a lot of English behavioral terms and expressions,” she explained. “However, I adjusted fast and it quickly became more comfortable.”

Now that I know how hard it is to learn research techniques and protocols in my native language, I have profound respect for Marion for challenging herself and learning it all in a second language.

On top of learning these research skills and methods, we created scientific posters illustrating our research and our results. We had the opportunity to present these posters at a local poster session and at the symposium in Ohio.

“I was more nervous for the Wednesday prior to the symposium,” admitted Caitlin Ondera, another second-year veterinary student participant. Wednesday was the day we presented our scientific posters for University of Illinois faculty. “That was pretty intimidating. Luckily in Ohio we were mainly presenting to fellow students, which made it less stressful.”

Three Days at Ohio State

In Ohio we joined over 400 other research students, presenting research posters to colleagues, faculty from various veterinary schools, as well as representatives from major research corporations and animal health companies, such as Merial.

[summer research conga line]

The summer research symposium wasn’t all science and networking, as you can see.

The poster sessions were only a small part of the symposium. And I’m not talking about the delicious food or the Comic Con that was taking place in the same convention center. More importantly, distinguished researchers delivered keynote speeches with topics including virology, cancer research, and mountain gorillas. Yes. Mountain gorillas.

The main focus of this symposium was how research can overlap between different fields, especially between animal and human medicine. Keynote speaker Dr. Jan Ramer emphasized the idea of One Health, which is the interaction of animal, human, and environmental health. Dr. Ramer is one of the primary veterinarians who oversee the health of mountain gorillas in certain parts of Africa.

“Dr. Jan Ramer’s presentation on mountain gorillas and One Health was my favorite talk of the whole weekend,” Ondera said. “It was so unique and really engaging.”

[summer research symposium poster session]

Abby Reising, Class of 2019, got to know a veterinary student from Michigan State University during the poster session at the symposium.

In short, the symposium encouraged researchers to collaborate with one another and to not shut themselves away in their individual laboratories.

“This weekend taught us that we truly are all connected and an advancement made in one area of expertise has a ripple effect that expands to all human, environmental, and animal health,” Reising reflected.

Throughout the summer and during my weekend at Ohio State, I learned a lot about myself and about scientific research. I learned that I can, in fact, stare at an Excel spreadsheet for 5 hours without realizing my butt has fallen asleep. I can hold a conversation with distinguished researchers and doctors without sounding like an idiot. And finally, I learned that research is a frustrating, tiresome, and incredibly rewarding career path that I hope to pursue in my future.

By Danielle Engel, Class of 2019