I’ve always been someone who knows exactly what she wants. Even as a little girl, I walked into my first grade classroom and told my teacher that I preferred to be called Allie instead of Allison, much to my parents’ surprise. It was around the same time that I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian. That hasn’t changed since then, not even once. However, what has really confirmed this decision for me is all of my work experience in my future field. After holding three different jobs working with animals in different settings, there’s no question that veterinary medicine is right for me. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for this invaluable experience, something I strongly believe that every student should have. My jobs have provided me with skills I need to prepare for the future, as well as the motivation to dedicate myself to something I’m going to enjoy for the rest of my life.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I started shadowing at a local small animal clinic in my hometown of O’Fallon, Mo. The employees at The Pet Doctor graciously took me in, showed me the ins and outs of the clinic, and eventually offered me a job for the school year. I continue to go back whenever I’m home, and I also had the opportunity to work in a kennel this past summer.
During the school year, I work as an undergraduate research assistant at the MU vet school. I work with dachshunds affected with a neurodegenerative disease called neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis. Children who are affected by this same disease, more commonly known as Batten disease in humans, experience seizures, progressive vision loss, and loss of cognitive function and muscle control. These symptoms are fatal, resulting in early death, usually anywhere between 10 and 20 years of age. The comparative neurology lab is working to develop both gene therapy and enzyme replacement treatments for this disease to evaluate their potential for use in human NCLs. Even though my name is not personally on any of this research, it’s something I’ll always be proud to say I was a part of.
This job sparked an interest in research for me because I love being a part of something so much bigger than myself. Even though my ultimate goal is to work in or own my own small animal clinic, research is definitely another side of veterinary medicine that I can see myself involved in. Working in the lab is also how I found out about the science and agricultural journalism program at MU. A strong background in science writing will prepare me to publish research findings if that’s the path I eventually decide to take, an opportunity I never would have pursued if it weren’t for my job.
These three jobs not only have confirmed my career choice, but will also continue to help me in the future. According to Stephanie Chipman, CAFNR career services director, relevant experience is the most significant qualification beyond education when it comes to what employers are looking for in potential employees. Experience can also translate into dollars. Students with internships or work experience can earn a starting salary of up to $5,000 more than a student without any experience.
“Having confidence in what you’re pursuing convinces employers that you’re worth it,” Chipman says. She also stresses the importance of networking while in school. In addition to meeting potential colleagues and employers, networking provides access to those with the best information.
When picking a career, Chipman tells college students “not to look for a bullseye, but to look for a target – something to aim for.” Work experience makes this target grow smaller.
There’s nothing bad that can come from work experience. Even if you find that something just isn’t for you, that puts you one step closer to finding out what is.
All of my work experiences have one thing in common. They have shown me that veterinary medicine is not just what I want to do, it’s what I love to do. These jobs are about more than the money. They are about more than the cute faces. They are about being at work at 5:00 in the morning on a Saturday, and still knowing that this is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. Go out there, get real world experience, and find your passion. Not only will it boost your resume, but it will also allow you to spend the rest of your life doing something you truly love.
By Allie Ehrlich
Corner Post Staff Writer