When asked to describe the field of comparative oncology, Carolyn Henry says, “You would probably get a different definition depending on who you ask that question, [but] when we think of comparative oncology here at the Vet School, we think of treating animals that develop cancer on their own just like people do and finding ways to treat that cancer better and that may translate into better treatments for people as well.” Henry’s interest in oncology began while she was working in private practice as a veterinarian. “It seemed like the cancer patients were the ones I found the most interesting and the most rewarding to treat,” she explains of her decision to pursue training and certification in veterinary oncology.
Currently, McClure is teaching in MU’s medical school. Before that, his undergraduate courses incorporated his plant research. “That is why it’s worthwhile for students to come to a research university,” says McClure. “Like the students, I am struggling to learn things that I don’t know. I can empathize with how hard it is to learn things, and I can share strategies to learn.”
It is fascinating to hear about how these graduate students were drawn to their chosen area of study. While in some cases, their graduate program was a logical next step, for other students there is the sense that serendipity played a bigger role. In all cases, however, the sense of “something just clicking” becomes evident. Once they chose an area in which to specialize, that is, other aspects of their research and study just seem to fall into place.
William Donald Thomas, for example, recalls his college days: “I was an art major and then an English major, but I couldn’t see myself doing that for the rest of my life.…I looked at what I liked most, and that was biology. I wasn’t always interested in exactly what I’m doing now. I sort of fell into it. I like the simplicity in the system we are using; that is probably what attracted me to it.”
Similarly, Erica Racen admits that she did not begin in the basic sciences. As an undergraduate student, however, she did research in the area of cardio-thoracic surgery. “I was excited about science and research, and after graduating, I decided to get my Ph.D.” While doing rotations in different labs, she states: “When I tried out Karen Bennett’s laboratory, I found that it was the right fit for me. I liked the research, and as I have slowly learned more about it, it has kind of become my own.”
Brian Bostick recounts that he enjoyed science and medicine in high school, saying, “I always thought I would be a doctor.” While taking classes to prepare for medical school, he was exposed to the research aspect of academia. “I got really interested in how the stuff in the textbooks got there. I wanted to become one of the people who discovers those things.” After doing a rotation in Dongsheng Duan’s laboratory, says Bostick, “I think that’s when it all clicked. It was really exciting. Duan is really energetic and believes in the work he is doing. He is always thinking back to the actual patients. I think that is what really got me interested in research, but also in combining research with the clinical side.”
“Growing up, I was fascinated by nature and plants,” tells Amy Replogle. Intending to pursue plant biology in college, an internship at The Ohio State University in plant pathology triggered greater interest. Afterward, Replogle came to MU for an internship with Melissa Mitchum, who later became her advisor.
“I’ve always liked plants,” says Severin Stevenson about his own path to graduate school. Not only are plants relatively easy to study and hold multiple opportunities for studying, but they are also a good starting model. “Biochemistry is biochemistry,” suggests Stevenson. “No matter what system you are working on, you can apply it to other systems as well.”
Henry explains that “when we think of comparative oncology here at the Vet School, we think of treating animals that develop cancer on their own just like people do, finding ways to treat that cancer better, and translating our discoveries into better treatments for people as well.”
A prevalent attitude about comparative oncology at MU is the concept of one medicine: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a dog, a cat, or a person. If you have cancer you’re fighting the same disease, and so let’s work together and find a cure for it no matter what the species.”