Submitted by Vanessa Fitsanakis
While many programs sponsored by the Society of Toxicology (SOT) focus on opportunities for current toxicologists, the Society is also committed to encouraging talented undergraduates to consider toxicology as a career path. One important way that SOT does this is by providing travel awards to and informational sessions at the SOT Annual Meeting. Two students who received awards from the Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) Undergraduate Diversity Program reflect on the positive impact this important program had on them.
Kenya Homsley (left), a student at North Carolina Central University, and Ashley Reynolds (middle), a senior at King University, are discussing the icebreaker activity questions with their host mentor Jennifer Rayner (right).
Having the opportunity to attend the 2018 SOT Annual Meeting as an undergraduate was a very eye-opening experience. At this conference, I had the privilege of meeting professional toxicologists who were eager to help me understand and gain an insight into their careers. Attending international meetings is an uncommon thing for many of my fellow classmates because we are from King University, which is a small liberal arts college in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia. Because King is in a rural area, large events, such as the SOT Annual Meeting, are not always accessible. Being a recipient of the Undergraduate Diversity Program Travel Award provided me with the funds to be able to attend the conference. Aside from financial assistance, the award also granted me access to many events during the weekend leading up to the start of the conference. Most of these were geared towards undergraduate students and provided us with important education about the field of toxicology and all the things it encompasses. The opportunities included presentations that gave us a taste for possible career avenues a toxicologist can take including academia, government, research, and pharmaceuticals. These presentations provided me with insight into the field of toxicology that would have been impossible for me to have gained at my institution.
Picture of me (right) and my research partner Samantha Cole standing together in front our poster we presented.
Another great aspect of the events was that there were many chances for socializing and expanding my network. Not only did I get to talk with professionals in the field, but I also had the opportunity to meet many students who were already engaged in research in toxicology. The poster presentations at the meeting were a great way for me to see the many different research topics that are available to toxicologists. I also had the privilege of presenting my own research poster at the meeting. This was an amazing experience and it was very encouraging to know that I could stand alongside graduate students and defend the work that I have done in the lab. For anyone who is considering a career in science, I would recommend attending the SOT meeting as it provided exposure to the field as a whole and what it has to offer.
After taking Mammalian Toxicology and Advanced Toxicology under Dr. Vanessa Fitsanakis, I have been interested in pursuing a graduate degree in toxicology or a closely related field. I was enrolled in her classes at King University when she attended the 2016 and 2017 SOT Annual Meetings. When she returned she would tell our class about the many interesting topics about which she heard presented at the meeting. Partially because of what she told us about her experiences, I was inspired to seek out a summer internship in toxicology, and I hoped that my research would permit me to submit a successful abstract for the meeting in 2018. I was fortunate to receive the CDI Undergraduate Travel Award.
I am standing by my poster entitled Evaluating the Cytotoxicity of Tin Dioxide Nanofibers.
Going to the weekend events as part of this award gave me an opportunity to connect with professionals in the field. Since I applied for graduate programs in toxicology, I look forward to reconnecting with them in the future as I begin in a career in toxicology after my graduate work. As someone deciding on her future endeavors regarding graduate schools, the advice I was given by people who have undergone similar experiences was irreplaceable to me. Attending this conference also allowed me to share the research I have conducted and to get new ideas to advance my project. I would suggest that all students who are interested in toxicology, or even science itself, attend this annual meeting to push them toward a career that they may not have ever considered in the past!