Pursuing Summer Research

Like many of her classmates and generations of veterinarians who have proceeded her, Sarah Muirhead knew what her professional career would entail.

“Becoming a veterinarian is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” the 2nd year veterinary medicine student at Iowa State University said. “I was fascinated going to the zoo as a kid and those, and other experiences, really sparked my interest in animals.”

While she is still on track to become a veterinarian someday, Muirhead is exploring another avenue by participating in the college’s Summer Scholar Program. The program introduces veterinary medicine students to research in a wide array of areas as they gain valuable perspectives on the roles played by veterinarians in biomedical and public health research.

Muirhead is spending the summer conducting research in a lab with Dr. Qijing Zhang, professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine and the college’s associate dean of research. Muirhead is working with Zhang’s research team, looking at antibiotic resistance in the foodborne pathogen, Campylobacter.

This is a familiar topic for Zhang. He has conducted previous research on the bacteria, including identifying the specific mutations that have led to the virulence of a threat to ruminant animals such as cattle and sheep. His research could pave the way for new treatment options and possibly even a vaccine to help producers fend off the bacteria.

But what’s familiar to Zhang doesn’t pose the same familiarity to Muirhead. The South Dakota native says although she worked in the diagnostic laboratory while a student at South Dakota State University, this is her first experience in a research lab. And it’s the first time she has studied Campylobacter at this level of depth.

“I’ve had some background working in a lab, but this is different,” she said. “Not only am I getting some hands-on experience in the lab, but I’m expanding my knowledge in a field I’m interested in.”