Two graduate students complete Burrough Wellcome Fund Becoming Faculty workshop

August 9, 2019

Sian durward akhurst headshot
Sian Durward-Akhurst, BVSM, MS, PhD candidate

Two graduate students at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM)—Sian Durward-Akhurst, BVMS, MS, PhD candidate, and Elaine Norton, DVM, MS, PhD candidate—recently completed the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Becoming Faculty workshop, an interactive small workshop of roughly 20 participants. Durward-Akhurst’s PhD is centered on developing tools for precision medicine for horses. Norton’s PhD research looks to horse genetics to advance scientific understanding of equine metabolic syndrome and laminitis. 

Durward-Akhurst and Norton each applied for the American Veterinary Medical Association/American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA/AVMF) Young Investigator Award and, in doing so, were each eligible for selection for the workshop. As finalists of the Young Investigator Award, they were ultimately selected to attend the workshop. Twenty-nine individuals applied for the AVMA/AVMF Young Investigator Award and only five were selected as finalists. 

Elaine Norton
Elaine Norton, DVM, MS, PhD candidate

The workshop is designed to provide the information needed to launch a scientific career in academia. All participants were either near the end of their PhD programs or in the early stages of their faculty careers, with the goal of becoming scientists or clinician-scientists in academic institutions. The facilitators were from a variety of career stages in academic institutions and topics covered included lab leadership, developing a plan for the first six years in a tenure track position, mentoring, project management, grant submission, and work-life balance. “The workshop covered a lot of things that supplemented the classes we have taken in the CVM’s graduate school,” says Durward-Akhurst. The researchers say the workshop was an advantageous networking opportunity. “This was also an ideal timing for us to attend the workshop,” says Norton. “We are both starting to apply for faculty positions and the information provided in this workshop was invaluable.” 

The AVMA/AVMF Young Investigator Award finalists each give a short presentation on their thesis work and prizes were awarded based on the quality of the presentation and the impact of the research presented. “All of the participants did a fantastic job and the research that was presented was really a reflection of the quality research being done in veterinary medicine across institutions,” says Durward-Akhurst. Norton came in third place for her thesis, “Identification of genetic loci underlying equine metabolic syndrome and laminitis risk across breeds.”

Both researchers are mentored by Molly McCue, DVM, MS, PhD, professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and associate dean of research at the CVM. “Dr. McCue has allowed us to work on the fantastic research projects that went into our abstracts that were submitted as part of our applications for the AVMA/AVMF Young Investigator Award,” says Norton. 

“We have also been able to shape the work and focus on things that interest us most and will help pave the steps towards our transitions to tenure track faculty positions,” says Durward-Akhurst. “At the same time, Dr. McCue has been very supportive of our career interests and goals and has helped us to work towards achieving them.” 

McCue is proud of her mentees’ accomplishments: “The fact that two of the five finalists were from the CVM is a testament to the quality of students in our graduate programs,” she says. “I am honored to have had the opportunity to help shepherd these two outstanding young scientists towards their career goals.”