When people hear you want to work with animals, most reply with “so you want to be a vet?” Somehow we have been led to believe that becoming a veterinarian is the only way to work with animals as a professional. As I write this entry, I can sit back and be glad that I never hit that “send” button on my vet school application. What I am doing now is much better suited to my personality, learning style, and interests than veterinary medicine ever could be. I am a graduate student at Purdue University in Animal Behavior and Welfare, and I’m loving every minute of it!
Graduate School is a pleasant change from undergrad when it comes to classes. Undergrad classes, especially those in the sciences, have a tendency for dependence on rogue memorization and learning facts. While that may be necessary when developing knowledge on a certain topic, it was not my favorite way to learn. I prefer the analytical style of graduate school classes. I am no longer simply learning information, but analyzing what things mean and how research findings can be applied in theory and principle. For the most part, this also means less homework and tests, and more of a focus on understanding and analysis.
I also prefer the way time is split in graduate school compared to undergrad. When I applied to Purdue, I was lucky enough to get a research assistantship, meaning I spend half of my time in class and the other half doing research. In undergrad I had to spend most of my time studying, and on an awkward schedule around when I had other classes. Now, because I spend half of my time in research, I only have to take 2 classes per semester. Not only does this lighten the class stress, but I am now able to have a more normal 8-hour work day where I do research, work on my thesis, and get my classwork done. At the end of the day, I can go home and relax.
Grad school also tailors to flexibility. When I was thinking about vet school, I was going to have to learn the healthy and unhealthy states of animals and abide by certain tests to determine what was wrong. Inherently in the profession, there is little room for creativity. In grad school, you are basically free to study what you want within your field. You can explore any practice, behavior, or question you may have with research. You can support your education by taking classes that tailor to your individual interests. I am working under another researcher on a project that was already pre-determined, but I am still free to put my own flair on my contributions to the project, how I write my thesis, and what classes I take. My personality fits much better with the flexibility and creativity of graduate school compared to the memorization and rigidity of veterinary medicine.
My favorite part of grad school is the research. I get hands on experiences at the farm and in running different tests in the lab. It’s a nice break from bookwork and allows me to immerse myself in the field. Not only do I get to explore the area in animal science that I am most interested in, but what I do is making a difference. I am helping to shape what we know in science through testing hypotheses and accurately reporting data findings. The research I help conduct could potentially increase the welfare of animals and maybe even influence future research, legislature, or practices. I always said I wanted to make a difference with my career, and through research I am able to fulfill that.
UConn gave me the opportunity to discover who I was, how I learned, and what field I wanted to pursue. From there, I was able to find out which pathway I should take as I got prepared to graduate from UConn, and I am very happy with my choice. Whether you know your niche or not, explore your choices and don’t be pushed towards just one option. Find what you are truly passionate about and pursue it, despite what others might say. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out where you belong.