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Tanja Zabka '96, Veterinary pathologist

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

My career path

After my career at Princeton, I completed a doctor of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia in 2001 and then a small animal medicine and surgery internship at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in San Diego, California, in 2002. Currently, I am starting the final year of my residency program in veterinary anatomic pathology. I was accepted as the zoo/wildlife anatomic pathology resident at the University of California at Davis, which entails spending the first two years at UC-Davis, and the final year at the San Diego Zoo.

After my pathology residency, I either will work as a diagnostic pathologist for marine fauna, incorporating research projects, or will begin a Ph.D. that incorporates the disciplines of anatomic pathology and epidemiology in the study of marine mammal species.

A multidisciplinary approach

I always had a strong interest in aquatic organisms; studying EEB at Princeton let me amply indulge that interest by completing a term abroad studying marine zoology at James Cook University in Australia and conducting research on fish behavior for my senior thesis. Later, in veterinary school, I pursued research on seals at the Taronga Zoo in Australia and on dolphins at the Navy Marine Mammal Program in California.

With this background, and my current studies of anatomic pathology, my goal is to collaborate in multidisciplinary research on disease processes that particularly affect marine organisms at the human-wildlife interface, and thus contribute sound information on which to base environmental, socioeconomic, and public health policies. In this regard, it is increasingly recognized that collaborative work between veterinary and human doctors and biological scientists is critical.

A solid base

My studies in EEB provided me with a strong foundation in comparative biology, ecology, and physiology, as well as experimental research. This foundation has proved invaluable in veterinary pathology, especially of nondomestic species, which are less understood and require a more thorough understanding of comparative anatomy, pathophysiology, and ecology. Since Princeton I have expanded on my research experience, initiating and collaborating in several investigations, some of which are based on cutting-edge molecular techniques, and some of which examine emerging diseases, which often are first recognized by veterinary pathologists. As this technology and our environment change rapidly, I believe that obtaining a strong background in basic and applied science is extremely important.

Generally, I think as long as you complete (in good standing, of course) the prerequisite courses required for the professional school or discipline of your choice, then your major course of study is not critical to the application process for postgraduate training. Instead, it is more important to increase your ability to contribute to your desired future discipline.

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