International ToxScholar Outreach Grantee Inspires Budding Veterinarians to Toxicology

By Logeswari Ponnusamy posted 03-29-2018 11:58


With support from the SOT International ToxScholar Outreach program, I visited four rural research and teaching university campuses in India: Tamilnadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University and Yadava College Department of Zoology, College of Arts and Sciences (Tamilnadu state), and the Pookot and Mannuthy campuses, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (Kerala state). The presentations had a total audience of 311 people (undergraduates-226; master’s students-52; PhD students-6; research associates-7; and faculty-20).

Goals of the Visit

Veterinary students with experience in a broad range of specialties will have no difficulty in entering the toxicology field. However, to pursue PhD level toxicology programs in Indian veterinary schools, veterinarians need requirements such as having a master’s in veterinary pharmacology and toxicology. So, students with a master’s degree in other veterinary specialties, such as veterinary biochemistry, pathology, physiology, public health, genetics, clinical majors, and genetics, do not have the option to pursue advanced training in toxicology unless they go to non-veterinary schools or abroad where interdisciplinary application opportunities are so high.

Addressing Veterinary students at KVASU.jpg

Addressing students at KVASU

Due to lack of awareness and not having exposure to opportunities/growth, most of the veterinary students from developing countries like India stick to traditional paths such as a clinical veterinarian career in state government, academic teaching, and/or private practice. To this end, producing toxicologists from veterinary schools in India, especially colleges without access to industry exposure, exclusively rely on inspiring undergraduates to the toxicology specialty. Importantly, both states where these host institutions are located do not have active pharmaceutical/related industries and other advanced training programs.

Increased Female students participation-1.jpgIncreased student female participation

The main goals of my visit to these rural intuitions that primarily have undergraduates and veterinary medical students were:

  1. to provide an exposure to the field of toxicology,
  2. to inspire these budding veterinarians so that they should not be afraid to explore and pursue advanced training and careers in toxicology,
  3. to let them be aware of the mentorship opportunities available through SOT and other programs in addressing their challenges and concerns, and
  4. to establish and strengthen the connection between these institutions’ faculty and student researchers to SOT and to recruit membership in SOT that will ultimately help them enhance their teaching and research programs in toxicology.

Programs and Events

Students were recruited through the interdepartmental announcements, academic and student coordination departments, career development center notices, parent-teacher association meetings, university alumni group updates, and social media invitations/sharing. I presented various topics including careers in toxicology—domestic and abroad, career prospects in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry, ways for veterinary subdisciplines to crossdiscipline with advanced programs in toxicology, can a zoologist become a toxicologist?, transferable skills, do’s and don’ts in the graduate school application process, how to positively communicate interest and get the help from abroad faculty, seniors, etc., and resources available through SOT. The sessions included personalized presentations, workshop-style interaction, panel and informal (1:1) discussions. Membership and career brochures from SOT also were distributed.

Outcomes and Impact of the Visit

Exposure: Students and faculty found the information that various career paths exist in toxicology highly useful. Many told me that they never even heard of such subspecializations within toxicology and employment sector differences such as CRO vs. pharmaceutical vs. consumer products vs. chemical companies where toxicologists work.

Connected the dots: Veterinary students found the presentations on “how to cros-discipline with toxicology” highly useful as they were not aware how a pathologist, physiologist, biochemist, or clinical scientist, and so on, can become a toxicologist. Students provided positive feedback on learning transferable skills and how to communicate the multisubject expertise that they learn in veterinary school for different toxicology graduate program applications.

Inspired: I consider myself lucky to have had such inspiring mentors who led me to toxicology. I wanted to pass on such inspiration to these young veterinarians and I am certain this ToxScholar visit inspired many. Hearing from an early career scientist (also a woman scientist from a developing country) inspired many women students to break the cultural barriers and expand their horizon on an international platform. Since the visit, 12 students have contacted me for 1:1 guidance/mentoring on how to apply for toxicology programs in the US, including to emerging programs such as forensic, wildlife, and food/ microbial toxicology. Many of these students are also interested to find out which PhD program in toxicology will be considered by the Veterinary Council of India (VCI) so that upon completing the PhD program they can go back to their home country to serve.

Disseminated SOT resources: Students and faculty found information about SOT resources including membership fee discounts, travel support, etc., informative. Already two of the students have applied for student membership and three have contacted me for guidance in this process. Faculty-focused discussion has initiated interest in exchange programs including the Global Senior Scholar Exchange Program. The faculty were interested in knowing available SOT resources that would help them to find a US host in toxicology for collaboration and training.

In alignment with this visit, two of the hosts have shown an active interest in establishing a cross-collaborative career development program that will provide resources for core toxicology research training for non-toxicology subdisciplines within the veterinary school, help with attendance at the international meeting, and promote nontraditional careers.

Although there are online resources available about toxicology and prospects, “in person” visits and interactions certainly made a difference and had an impact. Overall, the ToxScholar visit was an impactful experience for the target audiences as well as to myself. I sincerely thank the SOT Education Committee and host institutions for making this “inspired career visit” possible.

The next deadline for the International ToxScholar program will be in October 2018.

 Feedback Quotes

“The seminar helped me a lot to know the importance of various toxicology career opportunities for we veterinarians in abroad as well as India. You have explained everything in such an easy and simple way most of our doubts were answered in your presentation itself.”  Devyani Panicker, 3rd year-Master’s in Pharmacology and Toxicology, KVASU

 “I really didn't know that any other department can also be involved in toxicological research. In my mind, it was solely a pharmacologist and toxicologist job. Reproductive toxicology itself was a new info for me being a Gynecologist. Many people ask whether this medicine is safe during pregnancy or not. But a stream that specializes in Veterinary Reproductive toxicology was beyond my horizon somehow. How to inquire about an adviser, program, or university was also a new info because that is not usually practiced in India. Your talk not only made us aware of the opportunities but also obstacles that we have to face while going for higher study abroad.” Megha Wilson, 2nd year- Master’s in Obstetrics and Gynecology, KVASU

“I'm very much impressed. The talk was very motivating, and it certainly helps students to shape their career in the industry. Dr. Logeswari has set an example for all the women students that yes, we can also do it! It's just a question of hard work and persistence. Like to hear more of such talks in the future.” Madhura Naik, Master’s in Veterinary Pathology, KVASU

“Very grateful for the seminar!  I learnt the wide scope of toxicology and different sectors where a toxicologist can work. With the information you shared, I have applied for SOT membership. Your session was very helpful for both masters and undergraduate students. I have started discussing with my nonpharmacology friends about ways they can pursue a PhD in Toxicology.” Vanishree Hiremath, 2nd year- Master’s in Pharmacology, KVASU

 “The lecture was delightful and provided a wide idea for our future career. It was an inspiration for us, women veterinarians, to pursue higher studies abroad.” Miruthula, T, 5th year-Vet Med, TANUVAS

“The talk was really an interesting and motivating one. First time experiencing such career lecture from someone who is working abroad. After your talk, I have started considering going abroad for my higher studies. It was great to get guidance from you on how to select college or program of interest, funding issues, and so on.” Mukesh, U, 5th year-Vet Med, TANUVAS

“Interesting talk and learned the diversified toxicology opportunities for Zoology major. Inspiring to hear from abroad Scientist.” Jamuna, P., Research Scholar-Zoology, College of Arts and Sciences

“Nice and motivated talk! Gained idea on how to choose a college and PhD adviser, ways to improve CV when we have limited research experience etc.” Sonam Kathane, 1st year- Master’s in Gynecology and Obstetrics, KVASU

 “I found the talk quite productive and useful. It had less of all the usual stuff we find in formal talks but more of a personal experience which helped to learn good points as for how to approach professional contacts, what to do and not while contacting advisers abroad.” Anixit Verma, 1st year- Master’s in Veterinary Surgery and Radiology, KVASU

 “The presentation was very helpful. Never knew that Zoology major can enter into Toxicology.” Karthikeyan, S, 3rd year-Zoology, College of Arts and Sciences

“Very inspiring and useful talk for our undergraduates. Clearly communicated the points across on various career topics Vet Med students should be aware of early on.”  Dr. Arivuchelvan, Associate Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology, TANUVAS

 “Thank you for the wonderful session. The presentations were very helpful for me as to how an Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine major can develop skills to interdisciplinary with Toxicology. Also, learned about scholarship opportunities and various points to consider as an international student when applying for higher studies abroad.” Parvathy G Nair, 2nd year- Master’s in Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, KVASU