Leaving grad school to get more veterinary experience before applying?

longtailmonkey

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Jun 2, 2016
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Hi everyone,

Grateful for your advice ahead of time. The tldr; is, I have decided to leave my PhD program (I am a 1st year) and apply to veterinary school for c/o 2026 (with my advisor's blessing--I have worked with her as a staff researcher for 4 years prior). My advisor is recommending there is no reason to stay through the Masters if I have already figured out I don't want to do research as part of my career. However, I am wondering if adcoms would look at it negatively if I left after the 1st year without a terminal degree of any sort to instead apply for veterinary assistant jobs in a small animal clinic? I am concerned about getting more small animal veterinary experience before applying.

I currently have 8,000 of hours of research/lab animal experience and 50 hours of cat experience at a shelter. I have signed up to volunteer at a monthly vaccine clinic (vet experience) beginning later this month and to work with horses at a therapeutic riding center (animal experience).
 

LetItSnow

Skipping the light fandango
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Jan 13, 2011
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It's all in how you sell the story. If you have a sensible reason for changing course and it's framed as a deliberate move to go a direction you want to go, then it can show strength of conviction and tough decision-making skill. If it's framed as "oh, I started this program, didn't really like it, wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so now I'm just sorta hanging out in a vet's office trying to build hours and maybe become a vet" then it reveals a different story. Yanno?

There isn't anything inherently wrong with dropping out of the program, no. Just make sure that somehow (in essays and/or interviews) you address it. Doesn't have to be blunt "hey, I want to explain why I left" - just make sure the overall trajectory of your story leaves them understanding why you changed course. You can actually make it a positive, because anyone who has been through grad school (academic OR professional) understands what a tough decision that can be.
 
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that redhead

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Feb 26, 2010
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However, I am wondering if adcoms would look at it negatively if I left after the 1st year without a terminal degree of any sort to instead apply for veterinary assistant jobs in a small animal clinic? I am concerned about getting more small animal veterinary experience before applying.

I currently have 8,000 of hours of research/lab animal experience and 50 hours of cat experience at a shelter. I have signed up to volunteer at a monthly vaccine clinic (vet experience) beginning later this month and to work with horses at a therapeutic riding center (animal experience).

If you don't have much vet experience already, why leave the program just yet? I'd be inclined to try and stick it out for the Masters (unless you're really unhappy) while you accumulate vet hours on the side and see if vet med is the field for you. It would be a bummer if you left your degree program for small animal vet experience and found out you actually don't like it.

Some adcoms will look on your change unfavorably and view it as not sticking to a professional committment. Some will be understanding and respect you for leaving early, even without the prize of a degree earned. Either way, I would be prepared to explain why you made the decision you did, and like LIS said, I wouldn't say, "Meh, wasn't for me." Especially if you've already got 8,000 hours of lab/research experience.
 
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Georgethecat

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Dec 21, 2016
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Just tossing around some thoughts...

Are you planning on staying in the program this year or exiting immediately? If you stay through this academic year and apply for the next cycle, you'll still have a year to wait to start vet school. Would it be worth it to get the masters degree during that time, especially if your position is a funded one and you can take classes for free? Do you have outstanding pre-req's for vet school?

What area of vet med are you interested in?
 
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longtailmonkey

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Jun 2, 2016
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These are some great considerations, thanks everyone!

I initially didn’t want to stay for the Masters because I thought I would have to prepare for the oral qualifying PhD exam, which would entail drafting up a 5 year project and knowing tons of material about it regardless of whether I pursued it. You are allowed to master out passing it. However, I found out today that this isn’t the case for my department! (We’re the only one that doesn’t require that) So I will stay for the MS, which I can get in 1.5 years.

I would like to specialize in lab animal medicine. I was pre-vet for one year at the end of college, during which I worked as a mouse colony manager in the lab and absolutely fell in love with it. Because I was terrified of vet school debt and had been told that if I could see myself doing anything else to do that thing (plus I had a toxic relationship with my parents at the time and they were vehemently against it—like we had shouting matches about how much they hated the idea of me dedicating my life to being an animal doctor)—I decided to go into research because I enjoyed the environment and I could continue working with the mice. In recent years as I’ve progressed in my research independence, I’ve had the honor of working many times with the vets and learning more about what they do (vivarium design, surgery, working with mixed species and overseeing their husbandry), and just realizing that I am in the wrong role. I still want to be involved in research, but not as a researcher. To top it off, I became estranged from my parents in my mid twenties (right after I received my PhD acceptance) and no longer care about their objection. Now that I’ve learned to manage my money + have savings, the debt no longer scares me that much either.

It’s been a weird road! At any rate, I’m having an ok time in my PhD (neither good nor bad) but not excited about my career prospects after.
 
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