Robin Holland, dual degree candidate in Pathobiology and Veterinary Medicine, doesn’t hesitate to throw her hat in the ring when contests and opportunities present themselves. Robin was awarded People’s Choice at the inaugural Research Live! competition last fall and took home first place in Image of Research the preceding spring.
As if that weren’t impressive enough, Robin was awarded a prestigious NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for individuals pursuing dual-doctoral degrees, both a PhD and an MD, DVM, or other medical doctoral degree. This award was created to increase the pool of highly trained clinician-scientists in the biomedical research workforce.
We sat down with Robin to pick her brain about her career, academic contests, and getting involved. Read on for the interview.
What do you see as your career trajectory?
Well, I have 3 more years of vet school and probably another year or two of my PhD, then I’d like to enter the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer program which will take another 2-3 years and will hopefully lead to a position with an infectious disease lab! I do want to go to academia. The discovery of new knowledge and giving back to the scientific community by teaching graduate students is really appealing to me.
Why did you choose veterinary medicine over human medicine?
My ultimate goal is really research and infectious disease, I don't have a career goal of doing clinical medicine, which factored into my decision to go for a DVM instead of an MD. Studying veterinary medicine gives you a breadth of knowledge in the number of species you can treat (every critter except humans) and also lets you look at how diseases spread among and across populations. Finally, so many disease are zoonotic - they have an animal origin. If we encounter a disease and its spreading, there’s a good chance that by knowing how animals work and how things spread in a population, we’ll be able to figure out how to stop that spread and save lives.
You have participated in both Research Live! and Image of Research (and won awards both times!) – what drew you to these opportunities?
With the Image of Research, I saw it and thought this would be kind of fun. Something I’d been working on for a while is communicating my work in a way that is easily accessible to the public. The prompt (one image and one paragraph) was a chance to do that. I enjoyed having to go through and write up the simple explanation of my work so that it’s able to be communicated to a broader audience. My mom has zero training in scientific research, so if I could get it to where she can understand it, I knew I’d have gotten to a good tone. I showed her my submission and she loved it and started asking questions, which was great.
For Research Live!, I know I'm not great at public speaking, but when there's something I'm not great at, I try to jump on opportunities to help make me better at it. The whole point of it was to communicate your work to the broader audience. I made my slide very simple and then wrote out everything I was going to say so I could make sure that I was explaining my work without dumbing it down.
I was glad the Graduate College had that contest, I hear so many stories time and again where the researcher has a great result and the media doesn't understand what it means. Then it's reported weird or incorrectly and there's a big misunderstanding. So rarely in graduate and undergraduate training are there opportunities for a scientist to learn to be a good public speaker.
What's your biggest take away from either Image of Research or Research Live?
For Research Live!, I was challenged by the opportunity to present in front of people. I used it as an opportunity to play with how I present. I was at a conference in September in New York, and had the chance to see Jorge Gallan present. He was moving everywhere and so engaged with the audience. We should have put a pedometer on him - he was moving so much! I was so engaged with what he was saying, even as he went into the detail of the science. That's something I really wanted to try even though it's hard to do. I used some of his techniques in my Research Live! presentation. I was certainly the hide-behind-the-podium sort of person, and this opportunity helped me to get in that next level of scientific presenting.
Do you have any advice for other graduate students who might be shy of sharing their research results?
I’m always encouraging people to just try it! I mentor a few undergrads in our lab right now, and when there's a chance to present their research in a poster session or a symposium, I really encourage them to go do those sorts of things. I know there's a lot of good that comes from those opportunities. Even if you fail miserably or the image isn't that pretty, the process of going through it is really valuable: the opportunities are few and far between - you might not get another chance.
You can read more about Robin’s research and her recent NIH NRSA on the Vet Med website. Learn more about Research Live! and Image of Research.