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2011 REU and REV Program Participant Profiles: Rachel E. Johnson

Rachel Johnson photo.

Degree: BS Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Univ. of Tennessee 2009
Major: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
School: College of Veterinary Medicine, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville
Hometown: Murfreesboro, TN
REU/REV Research Project: Modeling Escherichia coli O157:H7 in beef cattle

Why did you apply to the REU/REV program?
I worked a little with the program last summer during a job in a research lab [at UTK]. I decided to apply this year to actually be in the program because I really enjoyed the time I spent with NIMBioS last summer. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about combining my science training with mathematical modeling, which I knew little about.

What is the purpose of your research? What does it ultimately accomplish?
The purpose of my research this summer is the making of a mathematical model to understand how the bacteria, E. coli O157:H7, is transmitted through a beef cattle production system. Our ultimate goal is to understand how and when vaccination and management strategies should be implemented into the system to minimize the amount of E. coli O157:H7 that actually makes it to the slaughter house.

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In my field of veterinary medicine, there are not many who understand or can create a mathematical model. I feel that my experiences here will make me a highly marketable candidate for any research or teaching jobs in my field. Quotation mark image.
– Rachel Johnson, REV participant

Describe a typical day on the job:
A typical day at NIMBioS involves first researching scientific articles for relevant information to our project on my own. The great thing about this is that I can work on this from home, outside, in the library, or at NIMBioS, so I am able to find the environment that works best for me. Then, I usually meet with the other REU/REV members of my group to discuss what we have found and to find a way to integrate it into the model. Finally, my group will meet with our mentors (usually about twice a week) so they can help us with any problems and give us a new perspective on the project.

Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about your field:
Most people think that veterinarians are limited to either fields of small animal or large animal practice. However, veterinarians have some of the most diverse job opportunities of any field. In addition to running small and large animal practices, veterinarians can become food safety experts, specialists in their field (cardiologist, oncologist, etc.), researchers, professors, law makers, drug company representatives, public health experts, biological attack defense experts, and many more! In fact, when I graduate from vet school, I will be entering into the United States Army as an officer, where I will care for working dogs and horses, maintain a safe food supply, protect wildlife on base, and much more.

Do you have an interesting personal side to your research experiences?
E. coli O157:H7 is the leading cause of acute kidney failure in children in the United States. This really made my research much more important to me because no child should need a kidney transplant because they ate a bad burger!

What were your favorite parts of the REU/REV program?
One of the best parts of this program is the people. It has been a lot of fun to interact with peers with similar scientific interests as myself. We also enjoy our time outside of work, as well, including hiking, exploring town, eating out, etc. I have found this program to not just be a job, but a whole summer experience.

What new experiences did you gain that have helped you today?
In my field of veterinary medicine, there are not many who understand or can create a mathematical model. I feel that my experiences here will make me a highly marketable candidate for any research or teaching jobs in my field.

What advice would you give someone who’s interested in/curious about participating in the program?
Apply! This is such a great experience and can be beneficial to someone in any field. If you are worried about "losing" your summer, don’t worry! You will have so much fun both in and outside of work. This was the "last free summer of my life," as many put it. However, I have no regrets about spending it with the REU/REV program! Not a lot of undergrad or vet students are given a unique opportunity like this to work with such a world renowned institute like NIMBioS or with so many well-known and respected mathematical and scientific modelers. Participating in this program could definitely and positively affect the rest of your career.

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From 2008 until early 2021, NIMBioS was supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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