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October 01, 2020

National Veterinary Scholars Symposium goes virtual

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After the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the in-person 2020 National Veterinary Scholars Symposium for student researchers, scheduled for this summer in San Diego, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and conference sponsors retooled to present the meeting as a virtual experience.

With support from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, the AAVMC presented the symposium from Aug. 4-6. This year’s theme was “Disruptive Innovation,” and the meeting featured student research presentations from across the spectrum of biomedical science as well as three keynote presentations focused on COVID-19.

Alexandria Zabiegala
Alexandria Zabiegala, pictured here at last year’s National Veterinary Scholars Symposium in Massachusetts, was one of five recipients of stipends from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation for veterinary students conducting a second year of summer research. (Courtesy of Alexandria Zabiegala)

About 770 students, faculty mentors, and others registered for the event, which annually highlights the role of scientific research in veterinary medicine, provides veterinary students with first-hand experience in presenting research, and highlights the opportunity to pursue careers in biomedical research. The three-day conference included 45 poster sessions, made possible by 30 faculty volunteers representing 14 institutions.

Veterinary students participating in summer research programs conduct a hypothesis-driven project developed jointly by the student and a faculty mentor, which is typically conducted during the summer over eight to 12 weeks. The results are shared in the end-of-summer symposium.

Every year, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation provides stipends for five veterinary students who are conducting a second year of summer research. Among the recipients this year was Alexandria Zabiegala (Kansas State ’22). Last year, Zabiegala presented “Genetic and replication analysis of highly virulent feline calicivirus isolate, KS-2019.” This year, she presented a literature review, “Coronavirus through time and species: analysis of coronaviruses in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The other stipend recipients were Kaitlyn M. Cassel (Pennsylvania ’22), Emily Lemoine (Missouri ’22), Anna Mukhina (Michigan State ’22), and Maya S. Schlesinger (California-Davis ’22).

At this year’s symposium, more than 500 student posters featured topics that ranged from wildlife conservation and microbiology to timely subjects such as access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students presented their research findings using a digital platform that allowed them to record their verbal presentations, add features such as embedded video to their digital posters, and interact directly with interested attendees. Topic-based poster sessions also allowed students to present live and field questions about their research.

The following keynote speakers presented remarks during the virtual symposium:

  • Dr. Jonna Mazet, a professor of epidemiology and disease ecology in the One Health Institute at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke on “Using One Health to Provide a COVID Pandemic Blueprint for Hope.”
  • Dr. Angela Bosco-Lauth, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, spoke on “SARS-CoV-2 Host Range Studies.”
  • Erin Sorrell, PhD, a member of the Center for Global Health Science and Security and an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University, spoke on “The Importance of Veterinarians in Research and the Response to Emerging Infectious Diseases.”

Boehringer Ingelheim presented its Veterinary Graduate Award to Dr. Sara Hamman Osum and its Veterinary Research Scholar Award to veterinary student Megan Fahey (Cornell ’23).

Ahead of the symposium, the AVMA provided the abstract submission service and compiled the electronic abstract book.

The decision to cancel the in-person meeting in San Diego and convert to an online format was made in April, said Dr. Caroline Cantner, AAVMC director for professional development. Offering a virtual opportunity was a major undertaking that required a great deal of effort and planning by the conference organizers and sponsors, including the University of California-San Diego and Western University of Health Sciences, the host institutions for the original in-person conference.

“While we initially did not know how many students would be able to participate, it is overwhelming to see the number of students and programs who joined us for the virtual symposium,” Dr. Cantner said in a meeting summary. “The success of this event speaks to the critical importance of veterinary medical research and the commitment of the veterinary research community to the next generation of researchers.”

AAVMC VSSS Meeting August 4-6, 2020



Get additional details about the 2020 National Veterinary Scholars Symposium, including the abstracts from student research.