When I heard that one of Merck Manual’s April content themes was “Frog Health,” I knew I had the perfect story related to vet school and frogs.
Now there’s no doubt that sometimes it seems like it takes a village to get someone into vet school. You need your academic advisor, veterinarians and professors to recommend you, English professors and friends to proof your personal statement, people to help you practice your interviewing skills, and veterinarians who let you shadow them, just to name a few.
With that in mind then, you are probably wondering how frogs helped me get into veterinary school. Well, over the last few years many veterinary schools have placed more weight on undergraduate research. My research advisor in high school was an excellent herpetologist, so when I decided to pursue a research project of some kind, he was the first to point me toward frogs. Some land with a manmade wetland on it had been donated to the university, so I went out there and decided on a project studying the diet of the Common Green Frog.
The first year of my project went beautifully, and I became a master at grabbing frogs from a canoe using a head lamp in the dead of night. The second year, however, we just could not find many frogs. We used to catch 300+ frogs in a night, and now we were struggling to find 20-30. Then several weeks later, dead frogs started appearing on the banks of the pond. We collected some and then teamed up with some students studying bacteriology and virology to see if we could discover the cause.
It took several months of work in the lab (and me learning a lot more about virology and PCR than I wished) to discover what had killed my test subjects. A virus that had been wiping out frog populations around the United States and the world had somehow made its way into the pond. There was nothing to do but monitor the pond for years to come and hope the virus eventually ran its course.
With that end to the story, it put quite the spin on my project. At my university’s symposium for undergraduate research, I presented the initial dietary information I had gained in the first year and then transitioned into talking about Rana virus and how it had affected the pond and the frog population. Not surprisingly, my research came up in my vet school interview as well, and I explained how a dietary study turned into a study on virology.
What could have been classified as a failed research project turned into a great learning experience for me as well as useful information for tracking appearances of Rana virus. With that in mind, I would encourage any undergraduate student to get involved in research and not to get discouraged if the project takes an unexpected turn. It is about learning the process and perseverance that research requires.