Ecology Research Center
at Miami University
Lauren Porter (Class of 2014)
- senior zoology major
- Spanish and neuroscience minors
- from Dayton, OH
- conducts field research at the Ecology Research Center
- President of Miami's Pre-Vet Club; plans to go to veterinary school after graduation
I studied abroad the summer between my sophomore and junior year in Oviedo, Spain, probably one the highlights of my undergrad career ... Study abroad is expensive, but it's worth it. I feel like it was an investment in my future.
"Miami has one of the best science programs in Ohio. I liked the distance from my hometown in Dayton, and I could definitely afford it. On top of that, I really enjoyed the campus, I already had friends here, and I felt that Miami was definitely a place where I could see myself doing well.
"Despite all that, my first year here was kind of scary. I'd gone to a small Catholic high school, so at Miami there were many new and different things, but getting involved in a lot of these opportunities really helped me. I also had a lot of guidance from a senior mentor, who was in zoology like I am in now, and she helped me find a job and a lab. We ended up being very good friends. After getting used to the classwork, the size of the university, and the different sorts of people here, I felt confident that I was doing really well.
"I'm interested in animals and want to be a veterinarian, but I didn't decide to go pre-vet until the end of my freshman year. All along, though, I knew that I wanted to do something in science, so I tried a lot of different things at the beginning. I realized that veterinary school is definitely where I want to be after I graduate this May."
Best Miami Experiences
"I like the different opportunities here—the fact that you can study abroad anywhere you like, you can take many sorts of different classes, and there are a lot of clubs and organizations. Basically, if you have an interest in something, you can fulfill that interest at Miami and do something with it. I am president of Miami's Pre-Vet Club, secretary of the Wildlife Society, and I studied abroad the summer between my sophomore and junior year in Oviedo, Spain.
"The Oviedo trip was actually probably one the highlights of my undergrad career. It was a two-month program taught specifically by Miami professors, and I met some of my best friends during that trip. Living with host families, we were completely immersed in the language and culture, and I felt like I learned a lot about myself and how to navigate in a new part of the world. I made friendships that I think that I'll have for the rest of my life.
"As far as experiences here on campus are concerned, conducting field research at the Ecology Research Center for Dr. Michael Vanni's lab has been great. I always had an interest in ecology, but I didn't realize how interested I was in it until I took his honors ecology class my sophomore year. I've been working in his lab ever since, studying nutrient runoff from farmlands in the area and how that affects the water, and I was even able to do my own project there.
"We also go out into the field, taking samples at Acton Lake. We have a buoy out there that's constantly taking oxygen measurements, temperature, and other data, and we take fish population samples once a month. Dr. Vanni has been really inspirational because he's spent a lot of time studying these things. It's really cool to see how the lakes transformed over time, and he gets a lot of students involved in undergraduate research."
Miami and Liberal Arts Education
"I've gotten to experience a lot of different aspects in liberal arts education here at Miami. Organic chemistry was one of my favorite courses here, and although it isn't directly related to veterinary medicine it's helped me change the way I think visually in solving problems. I think it's among the most visual courses of the biological sciences.
But it's not all science classes for me, as I've found connections between my Spanish courses for my minor and my zoology major. Everything that I've done here has had connections to my future, including the ability to communicate with other people. Liberal arts gives you a background in a little bit of everything, and it really broadens your perspective on life and helps you prepare for other problems you'll have to face later.
"With my goal to go to veterinary school, Miami's done an excellent job at preparing me through the classwork. Veterinary schools look very highly at the Miami course load, and our science program gets a better score from graduate veterinary programs than many other schools.
"Miami has enabled me to work with a vet here in Oxford, and I've worked with large animal vet clinics in Indiana. My research in the ecology lab has gotten me into the scientific aspect of thinking, making me realize that I might even want to go into veterinary research. It may seem like aquatic ecology is not very related to veterinary medicine, but we have to take into account how animal health and human health and environmental health are all mixed together. Farm agricultural runoff comes from livestock and crops, and that affects our water supply, which affects human and animal health. It's all about disease distribution, and my background in aquatic ecology is actually preparing me for veterinary school very well."
Leading Miami's Pre-Veterinary Club
"Our purpose in the pre-veterinary club is to help other students prepare the best they can for veterinary school. We bring in speakers from different veterinary backgrounds, including laboratory animal vets, large animal vets, and people who work with pharmaceuticals.
"A lot of students with an interest in pre-vet are thinking of something like a cat or dog doctor, so they don't understand how large of a spectrum it actually is. One of our organization's goals is to help provide them as big of a background in veterinary medicine as we can, bringing in speakers who can guide us with their volunteering and experiences, provide veterinary school application advice, and also arrange special field trips.
"Last fall, for example, we went to a safari-like part of the Columbus Zoo called the Wilds, where we talked to experts about conservation medicine. At the Wilds, you drive in a truck or jeep to observe the animals, which are not kept in typical enclosures. There's a lot of conservation research and breeding programs out there, and our club really enjoyed that trip. We also visited Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Kentucky, which is one of the biggest and most prestigious equine hospitals in the United States. They do a lot of advanced surgery and work with a lot of rare diseases.
"Working with large animals and livestock is actually a very important part of veterinary medicine, since veterinarians are responsible for the quality and the safety of our food. Veterinary schools put a lot of emphasis on having that large animal experience; many applicants come in with thousands of hours with cats and dogs and maybe even some exotics, like snakes and turtles and birds and things like that, but people have less interest in the large animals."
Advice to Students
"Coming into Miami, I'd say the best thing to do is just get involved in whatever you can when you get here—that's how you meet people, how you make connections. Even if you end up getting involved with something you don't like, you can move on to the next thing. Just make sure that you try a little bit of everything. You never know what's going to spark your interest.
"For me, there was a point when I thought about not studying abroad, but I'm so glad that I ended up going to Spain. The experiences that I gained there are irreplaceable. I know a language now that I didn't know before. I'm doing things that I was very uncomfortable with a couple years ago. I'm leading pre-vet club meetings and organizing speakers. Study abroad is expensive, but it's worth it. I feel like it was an investment in my future.
"Now that I'm about to graduate, I feel a lot different than I was freshman year. I was very shy back then, but now I'm more confident, I've made really great connections and long lasting friends, and I have the knowledge and confidence to succeed in my field of study."