Journal Of Veterinary Medical Education

Volume 21, Number 2
Fall, 1994

Larry Glickman, Chair


Donald G. Simmons, DVM, PhD

Departments of veterinary science play a leading role in training graduate students, both post-DVM and postbaccalaureate. Departments generally possess from 10 to 25 faculty members who are responsible for a broad scope of disciplines. Although these faculties possess a number of strong scholars, many discipline areas are supported by few faculty numbers (limited critical mass). Generally, there are limited clinical experiences for graduate students who wish to further their practice skills in a residency or other settings.

Graduate students attracted to discipline programs in departments of veterinary science may differ somewhat from those who are attracted to veterinary schools and colleges. The question could be asked: "Why do students come to departments of veterinary science for graduate training?." As with programs in any institution, there are multiple reasons for choosing a specific program, but we find that many students are in our programs for one of the following two reasons: a spouse or significant other is associated with the institution (as a student or employee) and the family is "trapped" in the area or veterinarians who are disillusioned or unfulfilled by practice seek to find alternatives. Many of these individuals are excellent students while others have not carefully considered their professional choices. Students from the international community who know little about the institution may also seek graduate education in America. These individuals comprise a comfortable mixture of postbaccalaureate and post-DVM students, who are generally extremely strong scholars. Some students choose departments of veterinary science because they like the geographical area. Still others make a choice based upon the stipend provided for the study. Some students have identified a mentor with whom they wish to be associated. There are certainly many more reasons to be attracted to a program in graduate study and many individuals could add to the list presented by drawing upon his/her own experiences in graduate education.

Being optimists, we would hope that students would pick their graduate program in a department of veterinary science based upon the following prioritized criteria: an outstanding scientist who is highly interested in graduate education and the professional development of students has been identified; the graduate program is outstanding and fits the specific needs of the student; with less clinical or teaching responsibility, the student will be afforded more time for research interests; and a rich diversity of faculty with extensive animal expertise are present in colleges of agriculture, many of whom can contribute to specific graduate programs.

As with colleges/schools of veterinary medicine, departments of veterinary science have variable numbers of veterinarians on the faculty. With the evolution of departments with fewer veterinarians on the faculty, a loss of commitment to training the veterinary graduate has been noted. Part of this evolving commitment centers around funding (stipend costs for the postbaccalaureate are significantly less than those for the post-DVM), while other concerns center on program compatibilities (courses available). Both are legitimate concerns. Other constraints involve enrichment factors like availability of a medical college in the immediate vicinity, limited library resources, limited clinical experiences, absence of a critical mass of faculty and students, and other missions of the colleges of agriculture. The excitement of a full veterinary medical education program is missing in departments of veterinary science. These shortcomings do not, however, detract from quality graduate education in selected areas. Some of our strongest veterinary scientists were trained in departments of veterinary science. The departments of veterinary science need to do a better job in telling their story of graduate education.

Funding sources for graduate programs in departments of veterinary science differ little from those programs in veterinary colleges/schools. Stipend support for graduate education comes from the college, department, faculty grants and industry. Universities generally provide enrichments for minority students and some colleges have made a commitment to support the tuition of any PhD student in the college. In many departments, students on stipend appointment have a research assignment but few have a teaching assignment. In addition to financial support, many departments have on their campuses research parks, biotechnology centers, interdisciplinary graduate programs, laboratory animal facilities, diagnostic facilities, electron microscope centers, cell sorter facilities, and immunology support services (monoclonal antibody) which strongly support graduate education in the biosciences. At The Pennsylvania State University, the Department of Veterinary Science has taken a leadership role in developing the Center for Mastitis Research. This Center involves cooperative efforts from faculty of several departments who have an interest in bovine mastitis. Studies in the Center range from basic molecular biology to extension applications, and a number of graduate students are being mentored by Center faculty.

Some changes have been made in the graduate program at The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Veterinary Science. Although the changes were creative and directed toward enhancement of recruitment, not enough time has passed to evaluate the effect of the changes. The name of the graduate program was changed from Veterinary Science to Pathobiology because it was felt that pathobiology was a more accurate and contemporary term to describe the program. The department invested in a new and well-designed brochure in an attempt to be more competitive nationally. The brochure has been distributed widely. In hiring new faculty, the department assessed each candidate's interest in graduate education and made offers based, in part, upon that assessment. Efforts have been made to revitalize the interest of senior faculty in graduate education. A graduate program coordinator was appointed from the faculty. This individual has the responsibility to manage the graduate program on a day-to-day basis and to assist the department head in dealing with all graduate issues. Graduate students are encouraged to be active in the University Graduate Student Exhibition and to present their research findings at national meetings. These activities have resulted in students winning a number of competitive awards. In addition to the university exhibition, the department initiated a formal Poster Presentation Day for all graduate students and faculty. This activity has been designed so that all members of the department can observe research outcomes. Modest monetary awards are made for posters prepared by various groups. The department has invested in active recruitment such as providing funds for a visit by outstanding prospective students.

Finally, as in all graduate programs, quality and success are based upon the commitment of faculty to provide the drive for excellence in graduate education. With this commitment, graduate programs in departments of veterinary science will continue to provide outstanding professionals who will assume leadership roles in academia, government service, and industry.

In summary, a brief profile of departments of veterinary science and their role in graduate education has been presented. Reasons for students choosing a department of veterinary science have been explored as has been the competitive advantage/disadvantage for the department. Funding sources were identified and specific changes made in the program at The Pennsylvania State University to improve its competitive advantage were discussed.