What Significance Means to a Vet Student

The results are in and the poster is printed, but it wasn’t even close…

My results are not statistically significant.

Really, this may mean one of two things; 1) an obesogenic diet does not have a significant impact on reproductive function in Shetland pony mares (yes, this is what it says on my poster) or 2) I didn’t have enough data points.  Personally, I think it’s #2, because 12 weeks is a really short time period to design, implement, and analyze a research project #overlyhonestmethods.  At any rate, as I crunched the numbers and factor after factor came back non-significant, I starting thinking a lot about the difference between non-significant results and an insignificant experience. Because my internship, while it produced the former, is far from the latter.

Let’s start with perhaps the biggest lesson: research goes wrong more often than it goes right.  If you didn’t click the link above yet, do it now and you’ll see what I mean.  I already knew this to a certain extent, as I’ve watched many friends struggle with it, but this summer’s experience made it personal.  No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t make the follicles grow faster, I couldn’t make the ponies ovulate, I couldn’t change the blood flow to the corpus luteum, and I definitely couldn’t convince my supervisor that we still needed the embryos even if the embryo flush was on a weekend.

I spent a lot of time doing things that weren’t actually part of my research.  The time I spent actually collecting data for my own research project was approximately 1-3 hours, usually between 1pm and 5pm, but I was still at the clinic from 8-5pm Monday-Friday.  This ended up being a really good thing because in all the extra time I got a ton of clinical experience.  It’s also how I know I want to be a clinician scientist and not just a scientist.  I love the variety.  I spent my time in PCR purgatory in undergrad, and I’m not sad that I missed out on doing more this summer.

I’m in somewhat of a minority in veterinary school in that I was never a veterinary technician.  This put me at a perpetual disadvantage because vet school professors absolutely assume that you’ve seen the clinical things they’re talking about during lecture.  “You’ll remember from your time in the clinic….”  or “I know you all know how to use a SNAP test so I won’t go into too much detail.”  or “So you submit your sample in a red top tube…”  This summer was supposed to be about research, but it ended up being both the research experience I wanted and the clinical experience I desperately needed.  This included simple procedures like IM injections, IV injections, blood draws, blood processing (centrifuging and transferring serum into tubes to be frozen), removing catheters, and performing fecal evaluations.  I also got to observe equine reproductive procedures including caslicks, uterine flushing, embryo transfer, insemination, ovum pickup, and uterine endoscopy.  I got to practice my equine palpation skills and also got to do inseminations of the ponies.  There were also other random procedures such as running oral glucose tolerance tests and, unfortunately, observing a necropsy for a rectal tear.

Outside the clinic, I made friends from more than 10 countries, learned about new cultures, tried new beers including Belgian beer in Brussels, new foods including fish and chips in London, practiced being brave (which, for me, means asking for directions), and experienced a lifestyle that involves daily biking and eating fruit and vegetables.  I learned that my country’s process for veterinary school is the oddball out when it comes to an international playing field (I’ll be writing a post about this later), and I got to explore some of Europe for the first time.  Perhaps the results of my research aren’t significant, but I’d definitely say the overall experience was valuable in ways I never predicted.



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