Trailblazers: The Scenic Route on My Road to Vet School by Jailene Rivera

Jailene Rivera is a third-year student seeking a degree in Animal Biology with a minor in Innovation on the pre-veterinary path. Over the summer, she sought out and found a researching opportunity in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences under the tutelage of Dr. Emily K. Miller-Cushon and Kaitlin Gingrich in the Animal Welfare and Behavior Lab. In addition, she volunteers at an animal hospital in Lake City, FL, as well as an equestrian center in Gainesville, FL. Outside of the animal world, she volunteers at a local church in the children’s ministry.   

Hi everyone! My name is Jailene and I have a confession to make. I have no idea what I’m doing! Now, wait, I know what you may be thinking, “if she has no idea what she is doing, why am I reading this?" Well, I may not know what I am doing, but I know my goal: I want to go to veterinary school. However, I have no idea what is going to get me in. I mean, I know the basics: get good grades, at least 500 hours of experience, get involved in leadership and most importantly – stand out.  

It seems pretty clear, right? If I do all these things, I should have a solid ticket to vet school. Wrong. Any vet student will advise you that they cannot tell you how to get to vet school. The reality is, you never know what is going to set you apart from the crowd to the admissions committee. You can be an “ideal” student and get rejected, while a seemingly not-an-ideal student gets accepted. 

This is why I can confidently say that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. Instead, I can tell you, I know that I am trying. I am constantly working to make myself a well-rounded applicant and try to grasp every opportunity that comes my way. 

This is why when an opportunity for research appeared on my Facebook, I jumped on it as fast as I could. 

Yes, you did read that correctly. One of the many ways I make sure I can have a chance at every opportunity possible is by being a member of 7 different pre-vet/animal-related groups on Facebook. Of those 7, about 4 are related to UF in one way or another. Oftentimes, people ask questions like, “how can I get into vet school?” and “what is the GPA I need for this school?" or “does anyone know how I can get more experience?” 

Well, around April 2019, I had viewed a post asking if anyone knew of any professor searching for students to assist in research. Then someone commented to reach out to Dr. Miller-Cushon. 

I decided to be proactive and search for Dr.Miller-Cushon to see what she was all about. Through a quick and simple Google search, I discovered that her research was centered around animal behavior and welfare, specifically bettering the management of dairy cows. 

That sounded interesting to me, so I decided I would try and get involved. I sent an email. Dr. Miller-Cushon is very kind, and was open to meeting with me so I could find out what kind of opportunities would be available over the Summer of 2019.  

When I met with her, I learned about a trial that her grad student, Ms. Katie Gingrich, would be conducting. Her study focused on the importance of social housing to a calf’s food intake and development. She was planning to see if a cow responded to dehorning by self-isolation. Katie was also interested in using behavior tests to discover how early paired housing would affect social behaviors. To judge this, she planned on doing behavior tests, which exposed the calves to different stimulations such as an unfamiliar calf, unfamiliar person and a novel object. 

Dr. Miller-Cushon explained that my role would be to feed the calves, make sure they were all in good shape, do some housekeeping around the farm and help out with data collection. She asked if that would be something I was open to and I eagerly said yes. That yes led me to have the most rewarding summer of my life. I got to understand these amazing animals and how they interact with one another and people. However, it was not always easy at the farm. 

One of the biggest challenges I faced throughout my time was learning how to conduct a Circuit Clean. A Circuit Clean is when you program the auto feeders to self-clean and make sure you let the water drain. It is a fairly simple process, but it took me multiple tries to get it right. One time, I even thought I broke the machine! Luckily, one of the staff members was able to see the problem, and I had not broken it after all. 

Being able to train the calves, collect data and care for them was an amazing experience that I would do again in a heartbeat. Even on the most challenging days when a calf did not want to eat or was extremely hot out, or things did not go as planned, I still walked off the farm feeling fulfilled and proud of myself for being able to be a small part of bettering the dairy industry. 

Who would have thought that I would have never been able to participate if I was not on Facebook?  

So, if you are a pre-vet (or any sort of “pre-”) and you presently feel behind on your experience levels, then my advice to you is to not fret. I know this is easier said than done, but I mean it. I am a big believer in the philosophy “if it is meant to be, it will be” and I have found this to be true thus far. So many opportunities have availed themselves to me throughout my time at UF. I have gained such vast experiences and opportunities just by sharing my story. One thing I have learned at UF is that there is always someone there to point you in the right direction. 

UF is truly a place that cares about you and your goals. From IA advisor, Allicia Bolen, to numerous vet students to chemistry professors, I have had countless people guiding me and sharing in my success. So, though I may not have any idea what I am doing, I know there are people out there willing to help. And whether I get into vet school or not, I know that I gave it my all and that’s the best feeling in the world. 

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