Veterinary Student Research Blog

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The Lab - Day One

“First day?” she asked. I guess I was not as discreet as I would have liked, being that this was the sixth or seventh person to have approached me and ask the same question.

If asked, I would not be able to give a reasonable answer as to why being the new employee is inevitably uncomfortable. Sure you may not know anyone when you first arrive, but it is an opportunity to meet new people who will teach you something about life, whether they knew that they were able to give you a fresh piece of knowledge or not. No one really knows what to expect of you because they have never met you, so they try not to give you an impossibly large load of work to do. Everyone wants to know your name, where you come from; you’re a novel addition to the regular work flow.

This moment in particular however, might have been one of the more awkward greetings I experienced in quite a long time, seeing as the process of entering biocontainment areas requires one to take off all clothing material and jewelry before going into another changing area, in which a fresh pair of scrubs and shoes are provided. I was not yet used to the idea of being around a majority of my co-workers in such a manner, much less shaking their hands to introduce myself.

Nevertheless, after hearing what seemed like a million different names, and given what seemed like a million different laboratory protocols and biosecurity rules, I finally realized what my answer was to the question I had been asking myself all day. I understood that it was not the naked co-worker greeting experience, nor the fact that I had gotten lost in the corridor earlier that day attempting to find the restroom, nor the feeling that my Spanish-speaking skills were slightly deteriorating, as I spoke with a Peruvian co-worker and greatly desired to bang my head against a wall after mistakenly calling myself pregnant rather than embarrassed (embarazada is and always has been a false cognate). Instead, it was the sudden realization after entering the real world, how quickly you know nothing.

Sure, college provides you with a great education as long as you utilize all of the resources given, but it does not compare to the experience that a real job, one that you would want to lead to a career, can offer. As frightening as it was to accept such a concept, I knew that it was necessary to embrace it in order to move forward; I was ready to embark on this new adventure called Plum Island.

Name: Serena Nayee

Bio: Serena Nayee is a third-year undergraduate student at The Ohio State University with a major in Honors Microbiology and a minor in Spanish; she is originally from Fishers, Indiana. After graduating, Serena plans to attend veterinary school to pursue a career in veterinary pharmacology.

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First Day in the Lab

Having no prior research experience, I was nervous about working in a research lab. A lot of time and energy had already been put into collecting and preparing our samples so I didn't want to make any mistakes that would ruin any work that had already been done. I spill coffee on myself almost everyday so I was worried about dropping and/or spilling anything important. Fortunately, the lab manager turned out to be very patient and very helpful so when I make mistakes, she is right there to make everything better.

Micro-pipetting is one of the new skills I had to learn and it turns out I'm not very good at it. It involves measuring tiny amounts of liquids with a special, accurate pipette and I don't know if it's because I don't have strong hand muscles or good hand coordination but I seem to have a hard time with it. My project doesn't involve a lot of accurate pipetting so it doesn't really matter that I'm terrible at it.

Aside from blundering through new technical skills, learning to work in a research lab hasn't been as overwhelming as I expected it to be. Everyone is really patient with me (even when I break graduated cylinders and spill a whole box of pipette tips on the floor) and I'm learning a lot. I'm really glad I didn't let my apprehension about my lack of research experience stop me from participating in this program. By the end of the summer, I will probably still be clumsy and not very proficient at micro-pipetting, but at least I will know I have the confidence and ability to handle new and uncomfortable situations and turn them into positive experiences.

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Name: Carlin Kelly

Carlin Kelly

Bio: I grew up in Chagrin Falls, OH and attended Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA where I received a B.A. in Dance. Growing up riding horses influenced my decision to attend vet school. I will graduate in 2012 and hope to pursue a career in sport horse medicine. I am working in Dr. Belknap's lab and my project involves looking at the effects of cryotherapy on equine laminitis.

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Adaptability

I just returned from, where I spent three weeks at Njala University working on various projects including livestock production and genetic improvement, community outreach, and animal and public health promotion. It's hard to sum up what I learned in a few paragraphs, but a good keyword is adaptability.

Just to give you the setting, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and in the world. Malnutrition and infant mortality rates are extremely high, and the separation between humans and animals is practically absent, especially compared to most developed countries. Diseases that most Americans hardly even think about, such as human rabies and intestinal parasites, still represent major public health problems. As such, livestock production and animal health are infinitely important to the improvement and development of this country.

One of the projects that we worked on was genetic improvement of the indigenous goat breed, the West African Dwarf Goat, by artificial insemination with U.S. milking goat semen (Nubian and Toggenburg breeds). The goal of this ongoing project, funded by DelPHE and the British Council, is to create a dual-purpose goat. The indigenous goats produce little milk and are currently used only for meat, although goat milk is a good protein source especially useful for infants and young children. Why not just import European breeds and encourage villagers to start raising them instead? Adaptability. The West African Dwarfs are much hardier in the tropical environment, while European breeds often cannot survive. The hope is that through the breeding program, animal scientists at Njala University will be able to create a breed that harnesses the adaptability of the WAD with the improved production of the European breeds. In working with this program, we performed the first estrus synchronization and timed artificial insemination of goats ever carried out in this country.

As Summer Scholars Research students, my travel-mate and I wanted to evaluate the prevalence of diseases with public health and food safety significance. We had planned to take milk samples from the goats and either culture them at the university or extract DNA in order to ship the samples back to the United States (since you tend to get some questions at customs if you try to transport fresh milk). We would then evaluate the samples for the presence of Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. However, once we got to Njala we found out that the goats were not milking... so, um, that kind of ruled out milk samples! We had to be flexible, and we ended up taking serum samples from goats and sheep in several villages and then dropping the sera onto Whatman paper, from which we plan to extract DNA in the coming weeks.

We hope to use the DNA extracted from the sera to evaluate the presence of pathogens such as Brucellosis, Tuberculosis, and Rift Valley Fever. Although we were unable to carry out our originally intended project, we were able to adapt and generate an alternative with relevance to both human and animal health.

Other aspects of the trip that required adaptability were the lack of running water, the electricity limited to five hours per day, and the food, which often included fish heads or meat of unknown origin. Despite the myriad challenges we faced, however, the trip was still one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I learned to take nothing I have for granted, because there are many people living each day without basic needs. I had the fantastic opportunity to work with people who have overcome enormous challenges to tackle major public health and development issues with astounding innovation, positivity, and patience. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been a part of this project.

Sierra Leone, West Africa

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Name: Jillian Zientek

Jillian Zientek

Bio: The Ohio State University, B.S. in Zoology and Microbiology 2009 CVM Class of 2013 Interests: Food animal medicine, food safety, food policy, global health and development