The only two Zoetis-Morris Animal Foundation Veterinary Fellowships for Advanced Study awarded this year went to residents at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM).
Sarah Schneider, who passed her anatomic pathology board exams last month, and Sabrina Vobornik have both been at the CVM completing their post-DVM residencies. With the help of the fellowship, they are now beginning PhD programs in the fall of 2013. Zoetis, Morris Animal Foundation and the college will each contribute $20,000 per year for four years toward each recipient’s expenses.
“We are so proud of these students,” said Dr. Robert Burghardt, Acting Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the CVM. “In addition to completing demanding residency programs, they are building upon their knowledge base to advance veterinary research, which may one day lead to improved quality of life for animals.”
Both Schneider and Vobornik would ultimately like to pursue careers in academia, so they thought the fellowship requirement for recipients to work in some area of animal health research for at least four years following completion of the PhD would be a good fit.
“I love teaching,” Vobornik said, “but I also love research. Ideally, when I am done with my PhD, I’d like to work at a college of veterinary medicine, both teaching and doing research.”
In addition to research opportunities at academic institutions, both Vobornik and Schneider will have the opportunity to get exposure to other careers paths. Fellows will spend two or three months during the fellowship at Zoetis’ research facility at Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“I’m really very excited about it,” said Schneider. “Although I do think I want to work in a university setting, it will be great to get some industry experience as well.”
“Securing funding for graduate student stipends is challenging, particularly when trying to provide a PhD opportunity for veterinary residents, who have already spent seven or more years continuing their post-baccalaureate education,” said Dr. Mary Nabity, Vobornik’s faculty mentor. “Therefore, this fellowship was instrumental in retaining two highly motivated and bright students for their graduate studies, and I’m excited to have Sabrina join my laboratory.”
Vobornik, who earned her DVM from Oklahoma State University, has been a Clinical Pathology Resident at the CVM for the past two years. She studies chronic kidney disease in dogs with the hope of eventually developing less invasive diagnostic tools for the disease.
Schneider earned her DVM at the University of Tennessee before working in private practice and finally doing her Anatomic Pathology Residency—which she finished at the end of June—at the CVM. Her PhD research will focus on a group of golden retrievers with muscular dystrophy. One of the muscles affected by the disease is the heart, which tends to create cardiomyopathy, potentially leading to heart failure. Schneider would like to study how the expression of genes in the heart muscle is different in these dogs, with the ultimate goal of learning how to identify the disease earlier and potentially stop it from progressing.
“Sarah expressed an interest in studying cardiac effects of muscular dystrophy,” said Dr. Joe Kornegay, Schneider’s faculty mentor. “Through these studies, she’ll be building on experiences from both practice and the pathology residency. We’re excited by the commitment that has been made to Dr. Schneider and know that she’ll make us all proud.”
“Texas A&M has some very good resources for studying heart disease,” Schneider said. “The facilities, the people—it all just comes together very well to be a wonderful place to do this research.”
The research track record of the applicants’ academic institution was a major criterion in the evaluation of the proposals, and the CVM had to demonstrate a strong commitment to animal welfare in its research activities.
“It wasn’t an easy application process,” Schneider said, “but everyone was so helpful, and I’m very grateful.”
“I’m so appreciative of my mentors and all the people who helped me apply for this fellowship and who made this possible,” Vobornik said. “It still feels surreal.”