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Learning to Fail Teaches Success

February 26, 2018

Failure has never been an option for Emily Brown. At age four, she decided to become a veterinarian. At 10, she was convinced by a teacher that great vets come from Davis. In 2011, she completed an undergraduate degree in Animal Science with a focus in genetics at UC Davis, then launched immediately into the DVM program. 

“I loved veterinary school,” Brown said. “It was exactly what I thought it would be, but I was definitely missing some of the more basic science I’d done during my undergrad years.”

Brown worked in Dr. Danika Bannasch’s lab as an undergrad and knew about the Veterinary Scientist Training Program, designed to allow DVM students to concurrently pursue a Ph.D. But the stress of four years of college had her wondering.

“What kind of person signs up for two graduate degrees at once?” she said. “One sounds overwhelming by itself. Why don’t I just go be a vet and be happy with that?”

Brown’s chance to present research in a poster session at an international conference in Sweden after her first year of veterinary school convinced her to reconsider.

“I thought, you know, a Ph.D. could be pretty cool!” Brown said. “Dr. Bannasch likes to joke that’s how she hooked me in. So, I signed up for VSTP in the fall of my second year.”

To complete a Ph.D., students step out of the DVM curriculum after two years and conduct research as long as it takes to finish the doctorate. That’s when Brown said she began learning some of her biggest life lessons. 

“It’s ok for things to fail,” she said. “Even proving a hypothesis wrong in research is still important in narrowing down the next steps.”

In the end, Brown’s participation in a major research project in the Bannasch lab paid off in a big way. She helped discover a genetic mutation across dog breeds responsible for chondrodystrophy (the skeletal disorder leading to shorter legs and abnormal intervertebral discs) and was first author on the paper published last October in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Brown will receive her DVM in 2019, and plans to pursue equine/large animal medicine with an emphasis on endocrinology and reproductive medicine where she can use her genetics knowledge in clinical practice. She also hopes to follow Bannasch’s example and mentor students through teaching and research. 

Brown credits the philanthropic support from several programs that made her career path possible: VSTP, Students Training in Advanced Research and the Yearlong Exposure to Advanced Research. 

“The funding I received through these programs was huge,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it otherwise. I was able to focus 100 percent on the science and I will forever be thankful to donors to these programs that made that possible.



Trina Wood, communications