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Johnathan Shearer

I am an active duty US Army Veterinarian, and as part of my career progression I was given the opportunity to return to school for advanced education. I realized early on that I was drawn to the zoonotic disease and public health side of veterinary medicine, as related to food safety and defense, more so than focusing on clinical practice. I chose to pursue a PhD in the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Its focus on infectious diseases, many of which are zoonotic and/or foodborne, closely matches my personal interests and was a nice fit for my professional ambitions.

Even prior to my arrival, the support I received from Cummings School was amazing. I had intended to start my program in the summer of 2012, but at the last minute, I received deployment orders to Afghanistan, which was set to start at approximately the same time as my time at Tufts. Everybody at Tufts was wonderful in assisting me in deferring my start date to summer of 2013 without adding any additional stress to my life. This allowed me to focus on my mission in Afghanistan knowing that my spot with Tufts was safe and waiting for me upon my return. Additionally, while I was in Afghanistan, I received regular communication from Tufts personnel, not official information notices, but sincere, personal communications just to see how I was doing in Afghanistan with a genuine interest in me as an individual. Tufts has a unique blend of outstanding professionalism along with a high level of caring and personal attention.

The people at Cummings School have made my transition from an Army veterinarian, with very little laboratory knowledge, skills, and abilities, to a graduate research student very smooth. Although the department is quite small, the possibilities are incredible, and its size allows for excellent one-on-one interaction with the entire faculty. If I did not have easy access to the faculty for questions from the mundane to the complex, there is no chance I could succeed in the timeframe in which I am working. Fortunately, the faculty and staff are all extremely capable and willing to assist me in my endeavors.

I am just finishing up my first full year at Tufts, so my research is still in its infancy. At this point, I am close to completing my didactic coursework and shifting focus onto actual research on my chosen project. The general theme of my research is focused on expanding the knowledge of camelid derived heavy chain only antibodies (VHH) with a specific focus on their interactions with Shigella and the development of a novel therapeutic for the treatment of Shigella.

The use of VHHs has shown promising results in a variety of applications including diagnostic, preventive, and therapeutic. The research I am currently doing, and will be doing for the next few years, will hopefully help to advance the understanding of the VHH technology by showing efficacy when applied to bacteria. If successful, the Shigella specific VHHs, with their unique and advantageous innate characteristics, could be further developed as a viable Shigellosis treatment option.

Returning to professional studies, after having been in the Army and veterinary workforce since 2006, was quite intimidating to me. Immediately upon my arrival I felt comfortable in my new environment, which was directly facilitated by the friendliness and professionalism of the administration, faculty, and staff with whom I interacted. I’ve also enjoyed the flexibility to take courses through a consortium of local universities including University of Massachusetts Medical School, Brandeis University, Boston University, and Boston College, which ensures access to the courses I need to succeed. Cummings School has been extremely beneficial to me—academically, personally, and professionally.