Let’s Talk About Toxicology–Grad Student Edition

By Brittany Szafran posted 05-31-2018 15:31


A little over a year ago, one of my mentors, Dr. Barbara Kaplan, visited the Mississippi University for Women (MUW, the “W”) as a ToxScholar (if you would like to know more about her visit, you can read her blog post). Contrary to its name, MUW is now a co-ed university, and while it offers degrees in a variety of fields, toxicology is not one of them. Students in the Department of Sciences & Mathematics are required to take a set amount of seminar classes. These seminars meet every Wednesday afternoon, and it was during these normal seminar classes that Dr. Kaplan gave the first ToxScholar seminar at MUW.

Following her visit, Dr. Kaplan suggested having graduate students involved in subsequent visits, which brings me here about a year later writing my own blog about my visit as a ToxScholar. By way of introduction, I am a DVM and a full-time graduate student under Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Matt Ross at Mississippi State University. I have been a member of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) for almost two years and recently attended my second SOT Annual Meeting. This past March, Dr. Kaplan and I traveled to the MUW campus for my own ToxScholar visit, which included delivering my own seminar to a group of undergraduates (mostly juniors) regarding toxicology, careers in toxicology, graduate programs, SOT, opportunities for undergrads in SOT, my journey, and my research. 

As a DVM myself, I was sure to mention the benefits of a combined graduate and professional degree. While I presented several different topics, one faculty member at my seminar praised the balance of information. My presentation was attended by approximately 20 students and 75% of the students provided contact information to receive further communication from the Society. Because the South Central Regional SOT Chapter meeting will be held at Mississippi State University this coming fall, the hope is that a few interested students from MUW would consider attending.

After my seminar, Dr. Kaplan and I sat down for pizza and soda with the students and faculty. The students were free to ask any questions and share information about themselves as part of an informal discussion. While all the students at my table had a general idea of their career goals, they were still open-minded to the possibility of other fields, such as toxicology. A few of the students were interested in veterinary school, and several of them could not believe I was already a veterinarian. One student in particular enthusiastically approached me immediately after my seminar and raved about how my presentation inspired her, especially since I was still a student. 

Reflecting on my experience, I believe there are many advantages in having students present toxicological topics to groups of undergraduate students. It can sometimes be intimidating to speak to someone with an established career, so as a student, I was a little more approachable. I think it is great that Dr. Kaplan has established a relationship with MUW to bring toxicology seminars to their campus, and I can see this outreach continuing into the future with me or other toxicology graduate students. As for myself, I would be interested in continuing this sort of science communication.

Had I known SOT offered programs for undergraduate students, I know I would have gotten involved earlier in my undergraduate studies. Thus, I would like to make sure other students are aware that these programs exist. My hopes going forward are to introduce SOT to groups of veterinary students to try and recruit future veterinarians to the field of toxicology (especially as I also serve as the graduate student representative for the Comparative & Veterinary Specialty Section of SOT). I would love to visit my alma mater, West Virginia University, to share my experiences in toxicology with their undergraduate students.

With that, I would like to thank the SOT for supporting my visit to the MUW campus. You can find more information at the ToxScholar program section of the SOT website. Applications are accepted at any time.

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