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Howard Hughes Medical Institute Cultivates Veterinary Student Research Interests

HHMI are offering a scholars program to veterinary, medical, and dental students.

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) located in Chevy Chase, Md. is sponsoring medical research fellows and the HHMI-National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., is sponsoring a research scholars program open to veterinary, medical and dental students.

Participants in both programs are chosen by an external panel and spend a year away from traditional medical school studies to research problems in research scientists’ laboratories.

The research fellows program began in 1989 and was established to provide opportunities to medical students to have medical research experience. Since the program’s inception, HH forged partnerships with other companies to sponsor fellowships for the program. As more partnerships join, more students are able to participate. Currently, the medical education programs are part of a $4 million annual HHMI initiative.

Competition

“About four students apply now for each position,” said William Galey, PhD, director of HHMI’s graduate and medical education programs. “We added veterinary students to the list of eligible participants, but we’re just now starting to attract their attention. We recognize a need for trained scientists with veterinary background and encourage vet students to take a year away from studies to pursue research full time. This way, they can see if they’d like to explore research as part of their career or entire year.”

Veterinary students in any year of their school experience are eligible to apply for the scholarship and are encouraged to work in a biomedical environment.

“The process of application includes selecting a scientist they’d like to work with to develop a research proposal and during the year away from study,” Dr. Galey said. “Students write a brief description of a project they’d like to take on, while the principal investigator (mentor) writes a proposal on how they’d train the student. Students tell us why they want to pursue research and we choose as many students as we have funding for. This year we have two veterinary students in the program.”

For 2011, Ashley Talley from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Alison Tarbell from the University of California Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine were veterinary students accepted to the program.

Promoting the Program

“HHMI promoters ask past students to speak with new research fellows to discuss their experience with the program,” Galey says. “Current vet students in the program go to veterinary schools to speak. We also go to the Merial Animal Health summer research program meeting to inform students about this opportunity. The American Veterinary Medical Association informs members who are faculty at medical schools about the program.”

Since 1989, 2,300 students have participated in the program. For the summer of 2012, 20 additional students will be sponsored to work in an HH laboratory for two weeks, which is separate from fellowship, which is one full year. While the Medical Research Fellows Program allows veterinary students to work in any laboratory in the U.S. aside from the NIH Bethesda campus, the HHMI-NIH Research Scholars Program has enabled about 1,000 students to work in NIH labs.

HHMI reports that several past veterinary students participating in the program have chosen to pursue a PhD program after their veterinary degree and then pursue careers in research after graduation.

 “Students selected as research scholars, established in 1985, don’t choose their research topic until after they’ve been accepted,” Galey said. “We’re accepting applications starting mid-August online. The application deadline is Jan. 11, 2012.”

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