Preparing for a successful career in science is a daunting challenge, requiring objective analysis of one's own attributes and potential, careful planning; a realistic assessment of employment prospects; and a firm commitment to a course of action. Nowhere are those realities more evident than in science careers to which veterinary students might be attracted.
Although discovery-based careers are diverse and intellectually rewarding, remarkably few veterinary graduates elect to pursue them.1 Apart from their strong vocational commitment to a career in clinical practice, veterinary students get little exposure to the full range of opportunities their professional qualifications make available. For reasons of tradition and expediency, the typical curriculum strongly directs students into veterinary practice. Efforts have been made to counter that bias and to highlight careers in which discovery and public service are significant elements of an individual's professional responsibilities. These efforts include the provision of research experiences for veterinary students through dual-degree programs, summer programs, and elective options within the professional school curriculum.
Participation in research at an early stage in one's education can be a career-defining experience, especially when experiential learning is supplemented by vocational counseling. Counseling is particularly valuable when it emphasizes the importance of making wise decisions about graduate training. Guidance in selecting an accomplished mentor and a stimulating environment for graduate study can significantly improve the prospect that students will make discriminating choices about graduate training and their careers. A report2 commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that a trainee's prospect of success in science as measured by the ability to obtain an NIH R01 research grant is related to the time one spends in a superior research environment. Counseling held in conjunction with the Cornell Leadership Program for Veterinary Students emphasizes this point by encouraging students to make career-relevant decisions that will enable them to realize their full potential. The following narrative describes the authors' experience with counseling, its limitations, and the perceptions students have of the preparation necessary for a career in science.
Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Veterinary Research. Selborne L, ed.London: Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 1997; sect 3.21.