Clinical and clean, dirty and disgusting: you choose.
Veterinary medicine is my subject of choice. Most vet students will tell you they have known what they wanted to be since they were six. This was not the case for me. At school I had no idea what I wanted to do, other than that I enjoyed biology and wanted to work with animals. So, after I did some work-shadowing with vets and pulled some lambs out of sheep, I decided that this is the pathway for me.
It’s not all test tubes and lab coats in veterinary science (though we do use those). We have classes on ethics and welfare, animal behaviour, how to lift rabbits safely, why not picking up rabbits safely can cause lawsuits, and even on professionalism. We learn anatomy by dissection, and later getting to test our knowledge by poking and prodding (and then cuddling) live dogs.
For those who do want to take part in lab work, in third year vets and medics get the chance to be a ‘NatSci’ for a year and complete a lab-based research project. My interests lie in embryology and development, but there are many more subjects available in the Natural Sciences tripos (and outside too). I have gained a unique perspective on animal research which I believe is important as a future vet.
Another part of our course is extra-mural studies: weeks spent covered in various bodily fluids on farms, and in vet practices in later years. This summer I travelled to France to explore animal behaviour and training with an expert and her camels, llamas, pigs, goats and more. I got hands-on experience, learned how to apply clicker training to almost any behaviour problem, and even how knowledge of behaviour can allow us to better understand our human clients, as well as their animals.
Most fields of science are male-dominated, but not for veterinary medicine. My year group is approximately 75% female. Murray Edwards has a relatively large number of veterinary students, and so there is an established network in which we can share advice and guidance. The women’s campaign has recently launched a STEM group for women and non-binary people to share experiences and discuss gender-related issues in their departments. It was at one of these meetings that I discovered how privileged I am to attend lectures and supervisions where I am not the only woman in the room.
Veterinary science can be testing milk for antibiotic residues, or it can be modifying a horse’s diet to cure lameness. It can protect the population from epidemics like avian flu, and it ensures animal welfare on the farm and at the abattoir. We can use our knowledge of reproductive cycles and genetics to increase the number of healthy lambs born to an entire herd of sheep, or to increase the world’s panda population, one by one. Science can be clinical and clean or dirty and disgusting; I don’t yet know which of the many faces of veterinary medicine is for me but I do know that I’m on the right path.