Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Applying to Vet School: Horse Trading and Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin at Madison called to make me an offer of admission. I was expecting this call since their letter to me indicated that I was ranked number one on their alternate list. I will think it over tonight and review my notes, but I will probably turn them down. Like Cornell, Wisconsin is a fine school, well ranked, with a good reputation. I am extremely pleased to get offers from both of these schools.

There is one other school that could very well change my mind about staying in Oregon. To be honest, they didn't love me enough to go for me in January. The fact that I haven't heard from them yet in this horse-trading time tells me I wasn't very high on their list. So I'm not holding my breath.

I start my new job on Saturday. What happens there will no doubt strongly influence my decision to stay. I went for training last Saturday and when I learned what I would be doing, I was over the moon with excitement. It was far more than I had hoped for.

Applying to Vet School: Making Decisions

A post or two ago, I mentioned that there were additional reasons for me to decline Cornell's offer of admission (and I did decline it). But rather than think of them as reasons for turning down an offer from a perfectly fine school, you could think of them as reasons in favor of staying here at Oregon State, another perfectly fine school.

You can go online and view rankings of the U.S. vet schools. Cornell and UC Davis typically come out at the top in most of these. And why is that? Are they substantially "better" than other schools? In terms of bringing in research grant dollars, yes. In terms of the DVM educational program, not necessarily. Few vet schools in the U.S. are going to deliver a completely shitty education. When getting a degree like the DVM, like nearly all things in life, you are going to get out some result equivalent to what you put in. So a person's dedication and investment in their success can play a large role no matter where they go to school.

Having said that, it is true that some schools have more resources than others: more and newer equipment in labs, more diverse specimens for study, and so forth. These can make a difference in your education, no doubt. But there are other things to consider too, such as a faculty invested in teaching.

A friend, aghast that I turned down Cornell, said, but what about networking opportunities? I told her, what do you think I used to get my spiffy new job? I used the network that I built up right here. Didn't need to be at Cornell to do that.

A few weeks ago, I attended a tour of the Oregon State vet school that had been arranged for its out-of-state applicants who had received offers of admission. I'm in that group because, despite living here for two years, I have not met the requirements for obtaining legal residency. No, a driver's license and voting registration card are not enough. I would have to drop out of school for 12 months and work before I could be considered a resident. That's the law of this state; other states handle this differently.

Anyway, back to the tour. I accepted the invitation because it was conveniently during spring break and because I figured that there were plenty of things I would learn about the program, despite spending four weeks as a student volunteer in the large animal clinic, despite attending lunchtime lectures at the vet school fairly regularly, and despite just being here and already knowing some faculty from the vet school.

There were 11 other applicants who also attended the tour day, some accompanied by significant others, some with parents in tow. All but two of them had received offers from multiple schools, all but two of them had applied to 8 or more schools. I felt like a slacker in comparison. All of them were painfully young, and I could detect no rhyme or reason in the schools they applied to, except perhaps a trend to apply to the "best" schools. Why then did they apply to Oregon State? It is unusual in having such a small class size (52) and that may have attracted their attention. It was clear throughout the day that none of them had done any meaningful research into Oregon or any other school. Even though the thought of being stuck with some of them for four years worried me a bit, all of that is their problem to sort out.

I won't give you a blow-by-blow account of the tour day, but I will tell you about three things that really stood out for me. 

First, we had not one, but two different demonstrations of specialized equipment in the vet school with live animals, well, one animal who was used for both demonstrations. She was an utterly enormous and amiable draft horse named Taffy, weighing a petite 1700 pounds. The vet school keeps her as a permanent member of their herd because she is a blood donor. An animal that large can give 8 liters of blood in one session. I asked around among the group and not one other school bothered to incorporate animals in their tours, despite the fact that they are all, you know, vet schools. 

We had a brief Q&A with some current vet students. Their strongest criticism of the program? When you do your rotation in the large animal hospital, because of the small class size, you may personally have under your care 5 to 7 critical patients at a time and that can get kind of stressful. One of their peers came in wanting to be a small animal vet, but when she did her large animal rotation, she fell in love with that instead, and switched her career path! Oregon State also has its students spend three weeks in Portland working at the humane society. In many vet school programs, because of the class sizes, you are lucky if you have removed the left ovary of a dog by the time you graduate, another student having removed the right one. (I exaggerate but only slightly.) At Oregon State, by the end of those three weeks, the students told us, you will have personally completed 40-50 spays and neuters. Ironically, I think students at Cornell and UC Davis would trade places in a heartbeat for that kind of experience.

In the afternoon, two members of the admissions committee came to answer any questions we might have. One of the young ladies somewhat snottily asked them how they can deliver a thorough education when the vet school program lacks specialists in ophthamology and neurology. The two faculty paused, looked at each other, then delivered the most brilliant answer to that question that I could have ever imagined. They said, when you leave this program, you will have extensive, hands-on experience with multiple species. You will have journeyman skills--you can walk into any vet clinic in this country and get right to work, confident that you know what to do and how to do it correctly. You will have a solid foundation so that if you want to specialize in those or others areas, you can do so.

In other words, they defended their program not by protesting, not by saying, oh, those things aren't important. Both of them, without hesitation, gave the same answer: here, you will learn how to be a vet. 

I was impressed with what I learned, and to be honest, I was surprised that I was impressed. I went home and thought about all of this, and decided that I could be very happy going to school here. 

Monday, April 20, 2015


I'm taking care of a flock of ewes and lambs for a friend for 10 days. One ewe gave birth very late in the season--turns out she had triplets. I have to bottle feed the babies twice a day. This is a very high-tech operation!

No, the lamb isn't drinking beer. She's drinking evaporated milk. A glass bottle can easily be warmed in a flask of warm water, it's easy to sterilize glass if needed, and you can see the level of the contents.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Applying to Vet School: Horse Trading and Cornell

For some time, I have suspected that even though Cornell put me on their alternate list, I was possibly pretty high on that list. 

When I declined to visit the campus, not for an interview but a tour, I was hounded by THREE different administrators who tried to get me to change my mind. But travel to Ithaca, New York in February? Hell no. The weather (although that was a general guess on my part, in hindsight it was a great call), the cost, the time away from classes--the cost to me seemed to be greater than the return. It was a tour of buildings and meetings with administrators, not an interview. I already knew I was an alternate. I didn't feel the need to visit the campus.

But when Cornell didn't let the matter drop, I began to wonder if there was a subtext that I had not originally noticed. As a compromise, they gathered the three most relevant people in the vet school (Asst Dean of Students , the woman in charge of curriculum, and the woman in charge of financial aid) to deliver a video conference to me. It lasted just over three hours. That's a pretty substantial time commitment on their part for a lowly alternate.

On top of that, they were burying me in emails and snail mails stuffed with instructions to fill out forms for financial aid RIGHT NOW. Since I had to fill out the FAFSA to be able to receive financial aid from any school, not just Cornell, I went ahead and did all that back in January, which is why my taxes were done so early. 

In short, they seemed to be pursuing me rather more aggressively than my position as an alternate would suggest.

So it was with no surprise that I got a call from the woman in charge of the Cornell vet school admissions office yesterday. Actually, she called three times and emailed once. I missed all the calls because I was in class (and I'm not sure she knows where I am physically; the time difference contributes to missing calls if you don't plan for it). I called her back and she said, Cornell wants to make you an offer of admission. I said, okay, send it on, but you should know that I have accepted one offer and my decision regarding Cornell will probably hinge entirely on financial matters. She said, okay, that's reasonable. We want to send you the offer letter because we want you to come here.

The offer of admission from Cornell arrived yesterday within half an hour of my speaking to her, and my financial aid offer letter from them arrived this morning.

No surprises there either. Cornell vet school has a large endowment and is able to provide more non-loan money to its students than Oregon State. The annual non-resident tuition at Cornell ($48,100) is $5,300 more per year than at Oregon State ($42,768). Unfortunately, that difference was not covered by the non-loan money that Cornell would offer me. Plus, like Oregon State, at Cornell I would remain a non-resident for all four years. 

(The matter of residency varies from state to state and also depends on whether the school is private, like Cornell, or state-funded. In Oregon, I would have to quit school for 12 months in order to become a resident. No exceptions.)

And why this flurry of letters and phone calls? After receiving the offer of admission from Cornell, I have about 36 hours to make my decision. Yep, that's right. No pondering or waiting for another offer. This will be binary: yes or no, and it will be done by Friday morning.

I'm flattered that Cornell has made me this offer but in all truth I will probably turn it down. Yes, they are an excellent school. Yes, I might have access to additional financial aid resources in subsequent years, but that's of course not guaranteed.

I don't want to drag this post on much longer, but there are other reasons that staying at Oregon State might be the better choice. I'll elaborate on these in another post.hbfg

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gainfully Employed

Tomorrow is the day. April 15. No, not tax day. I did my taxes back in January and I don't care about the anxiety that you procrastinators might have on the subject. April 15 is the official deadline for informing vet schools about your admission decision. If you got an offer from a vet school, you have to accept or decline it by April 15. 

I accepted the offer from Oregon State, of course. I still can't say that I won't change my mind if another school dangles an offer in front of me, but I'm becoming more emotionally and mentally used to the idea of staying here.

As I had already worked out, if I am going to leave, I need to be out of here by the end of June. And if I stay, I need to get a job for the summer.

That's right. I need to become a gainfully employed, tax-paying citizen, at least until September. Since I landed here two years ago, I've been living off savings and the bit of money the uni tosses my way. They pay my tuition, for which I am extremely grateful. But the rest, well, I couldn't live on it as my sole source of income. 

Living off savings is stressful. No money in, money only goes out. If I'm not thinking about cheese, I'm thinking about money.

Back to this job thing. I decided to start with my personal network, in fact, with one person in particular: the PI of the pregnant cow study. I worked my butt off for her project, going in night after night, showing up during the day when I was called in, and doing a good job on my assigned tasks. The project would not have failed in my absence but I am sure that I made a significant contribution to its success, and I'm proud of that. I did it for the experience, of course, but also for the potential for future opportunities. Or to put it another way, virtue is its own reward but money never hurts.

Turns out the PI of the project has a husband who is also a vet. He owns a clinic in the area. So I bided my time, let the last cow have her calf, waited for preliminary results to roll in, waited for spring break to come and go, then I approached her. (Oh yes, I started planning this months ago.) So, would S, her husband, happen to have any openings in his clinic this summer? I told her I wasn't necessarily expecting to advance my career as a clinician but that I wanted a summer job in the animal care industry if I could get one.

Well, turns out the PI gave me one hell of a recommendation to her husband. At his request, I dropped my CV off at his clinic yesterday. Today, his clinic manager called me. They want to try me out for one night a week, starting next week, with the intent to expand to nearly full time after classes are over in June. I will probably write more in the future about what the job entails, but I am thrilled that it appears to be a position with a lot of client and animal contact, not just a job mopping out boarding kennels. I would have taken the latter job without hesitation, but I'm glad that I might be able to do more.

No, of course I don't have time to start this job now when I'm buried in coursework this term, and defending the thesis on top of that. But I can't afford to pass it up, either. 

The school gig is certainly a nice way to pass a few months, even a year or two, if you have the time. And I'm staring down a long, four-year tunnel of more studying. But I will be happy to have a job again, even for a few months.

I Miss Cheese

So before I launch into my rant, I just have to note that my blog readership appears to have increased by 50% in the past week. All the new readers appear to be in Russia? I can't be bothered to run a real analysis on user stats, so who knows what this means.

But back to the rant. I miss cheese. I really, really miss it.

I am on a diet. My goal, well, I have a goal but that's not the important point. My diet, the means by which I hope to achieve that goal, is simply calorie counting. That means I examine food labels, look up things at the USDA nutritional website, and measure out every single thing that I eat.

This is not a diet that requires the excessive consumption or avoidance of any particular food. I've got a set target for the total calories I want to consume each day and I negotiate with myself how that divides up (actually, I have a spreadsheet but it's the same thing). I start with the ideal of "everything in moderation" then balance that against my daily calorie cap. Even with that optimistic start, some foods simply have to go.

The first group of rejects included pasta and rice and bread. I am not going carb-free so sometimes I eat brown rice, and I quite like potatoes because they offer additional nutrients beyond starch depending on how they are prepared. But those other things, they were far too empty of significant nutrition.

Sadly, the next to go was olive oil and cheese.

The olive oil was easy. I now cook food instead with water, fruits, and a lot of spices. It's poaching instead of frying.

The real problem was cheese. For example, a rich, aged British cheddar can have atrociously high calorie counts, as many as 400 kilocalories per 28 grams. Using around 25% of your day's allotted calories on a piddling 28g of cheese is not workable. So cheese has gone. I can't even have it in the house because I eat it all up. This makes me sad.

A small consolation is yogurt. I don't eat any of those nasty fat-free products. None of that dry "Greek" junk either. I eat full-fat, natural yogurt so it has the satisfying mouth-feel of saturated fats without the horrible calorie inflation of cheese. When I need a snack, I choose yogurt first. Still, it's not the same.

I miss cheese.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


I was weeding the front flowerbeds on Sunday morning when the neighbor from across the street came over and pointed out a little floofy dog trotting down the sidewalk. We live on a cul-de-sac but the dog was moving along the larger street that has a decent amount of car traffic on it throughout the day. He asked me if I knew where it belonged. He was right: it was clearly an escapee, recently groomed and not yet too wet or muddy despite it being a damp morning. I said it looked like the floofy dog from the house at the end of the park, a long narrow affair with a bike path that parallels a small creek located behind my neighbor's house. He said, well, it has a collar and a tag but it won't let me get close enough to see if there is a number.

So I put down my tools, took off my gloves, and approached the dog while saying in a very high-pitched voice, where's your mom? Why are you out walking around this morning? And other silly nonsense things. My neighbor stared at me like I was crazy, but the little dog came running right into my arms. Of course. Because a small dog that has been well cared for will certainly be used to being held and will certainly be used to silly talk in a high-pitched voice.

I picked him up and held his collar out for my neighbor to see. He called the number and sure enough, it was the people that lived in the house at the end of the park.

Sadly, I completely outed myself, but it was for a good cause.