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WesternU encourages collaboration and inspiration at first Research Symposium

by Rodney Tanaka

December 1, 2023

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The inaugural Western University of Health Sciences Research Symposium, held Nov. 18, 2023 in Pomona, California, featured 20 oral presentations and more than 40 posters by student trainees and postdoctoral fellows from all eight WesternU colleges on both the California and Oregon campuses.

WesternU Senior Vice President for Research and Biotechnology Andrea Giuffrida, PhD, MBA. (right) talked with several student trainees about their research during the poster session at the inaugural WesternU Research Symposium.

The symposium met two important goals: to allow the entire research community to meet leaders in other research fields and make new connections that could develop into future collaborations, and to learn something new about topics or techniques participants maybe be less familiar with, said WesternU Senior Vice President for Research and Biotechnology Andrea Giuffrida, PhD, MBA.

“Students can also experience what post-graduation life may look like. Often, other attendees can provide invaluable insights and inspiration whether you intend to remain in academia or not,” he said. “I was impressed by the quality and breadth of the research projects presented by our trainees, which speak volumes about the quality of the research environment and mentorship they have access to.”

This symposium allows our trainees to present their research data as posters or oral presentations in an informal setting, Giuffrida said. No other venues offer a better opportunity to practice presentation skills and manage the fear of public speaking, he added.

“But there is much more to be gained from attending a symposium: from organizing and refining your ideas in anticipation for a publication or other scholarly activities, to having a two-way dialogue about new directions and challenges encountered in your research project, as well as networking and having fun and good food!” Giuffrida said. “The Symposium organizers have collected a lot of feedback from attendees and staff that we are analyzing and discussing to make some changes for future events. For example, we intend to identify judges ahead of time to speed up the process of selecting the best presentations and announce the winners at the end of the conference rather than days later.”

The symposium featured keynote speaker Dr. Declan McCole, who presented his research data on the crosstalk between epithelial cells and macrophages in regulating the intestinal barrier. The robust poster session provided students with the opportunity to engage in discussions about their research while also learning about others’ work.

Second-year College of Veterinary Medicine student Katherine Ramirez Lopez with her research poster.

Second-year College of Veterinary Medicine student Katherine Ramirez Lopez presented her poster on a retrospective analysis of neonatal mortality in African penguin chicks in zoos and aquariums across North America. The goal was to determine whether there were any specific positive or negative factors influencing chick health and hatch success.

“Research is important to me because it is one of the driving factors that pushed me to pursue veterinary medicine. During my undergrad at UC Davis, my major allowed us the opportunity to carry out research projects from project design to manuscript writing. This is where I found my passion for research, especially epidemiology as it relates to infectious and zoonotic diseases,” Ramirez Lopez said. “One key aspect I learned while conducting my research project is seeing how organizations can lend data to one another for the betterment of scientific advancement. Seeing all the zoos and aquariums collaborate toward the goal of species conservation and mitigating anthropogenic factors was incredible.”

Ramirez Lopez plans to pursue a career in zoo medicine. Zoos have a unique opportunity to learn more about the animals that they care for and apply what they learn to that animal’s wildlife counterpart, she said. She appreciated the opportunity to interact with colleagues from other colleges and disciplines.

“I think the first WesternU Research program was a great way to highlight and learn about what other programs are learning about,” Ramirez Lopez said. “As a vet med student, I get to share with human med students the importance of One Health and interprofessional collaboration to tackle both veterinary and human issues.”

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