The MU College of Veterinary Medicine recently completed its fourth annual Veterinary Research Scholars Program (VRSP). Sponsored by Merck, Merial, Pfizer and the MU CVM, the VRSP gives students in the Pre-Veterinary Medical Scholars Program and first- and second-year veterinary students the opportunity to spend their summer break exploring research.
As outlined in several publications, including “National Need and Priorities for Veterinarians in Biomedical Research” and “National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science,” veterinarians, with their broad knowledge of animal biology, have a tremendous and unique potential to contribute to numerous scientific disciplines. These publications have also identified a critical shortage of veterinarians who pursue research-oriented careers.
MU’s vibrant research community is an ideal setting for the development of veterinarians as biomedical researchers. The VRSP provides a foundation in research methodology through an intensive research experience that includes experimental methodology, seminars and discussions that give a broad exposure to biomedical sciences, and social events that foster interaction and a sense of community.
The 2008 VRSP scholars began designing and implementing research projects with their faculty mentor in February. When the summer break began, scholars hit the lab full time. Almost immediately, they began preparing for the focal point of the program, the National Merck-Merial Symposium, which this year was held at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
The symposium provides a forum where scholars from summer research programs across the country gather to network and share their science. Attending scholars prepare research posters and present their data to peers and faculty from other programs. They also attend seminars and mini-symposia led by prominent scientists and learn about post-DVM training programs in biomedical research. In 2008, more than 330 scholars from 25 programs from the United States and Canada participated. VRSP posters were well received and can be viewed at the VRSP Web page (http://www.cvm.missouri.edu/vrs/).
Social and networking activities are also a critical component of summer research programs, as they facilitate development of a research community among veterinary students. In addition to the national symposium, MU scholars participated in several activities, including tours of Bayer and the Stowers Institute in Kansas City, Mo., a trip to the University of Oklahoma Heath Sciences Center’s BSL2 and baboon breeding facilities in Oklahoma City, and a trip to Pfizer in St. Louis, Mo. One highlight of the program was meeting scholars from Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University at Kansas City’s Worlds of Fun amusement park. Participants got to know each other during the ‘Lab Olympics,’ where four mixed teams of MU, KSU and OSU scholars competed in events such as the pipette race, the gel toss, and the biohazard sack race. The national symposium also featured social activities including a barbecue at the Potter Zoo, where a few lucky MU scholars actually assisted in a wound repair of a gray fox.
The 2008 VRSP attracted 14 students from MU, as well as two students from the University of Tennessee. Moreover, one of the 2007 MU scholars, Rachael Cohen, ventured off to Kansas State University to further explore research as part of the KSU VRSP. The program has been well received by scholars and mentors alike.