Like many dental students, I studied biology in college and did research and worked in a lab. Once dental school starts though, getting involved in an entirely new arena of research can be daunting and can stop students from doing it. Despite that, I still wanted to be involved. I believe that research is the foundation of all disciplines. Our field has been able to advance thanks to new innovations inspired by dentists, and dental scientists who dared to ask questions and pursued the answers. I wanted to be apart of that.
As a first year dental student I worked with Dr. Lynn Heasley looking at a specific receptor, tyrosine kinase, and its role in human head and neck cancers for targeted cancer therapies. I currently work on a dental adhesive project looking at new materials that can improve dentin bonding with Dr. Jeffrey Stansbury. My work in dental adhesives led to an AADR Student Research Fellowship and I also had the opportunity be a Summer Dental Student Award recipient at the NIH/NIDCR this past summer in Dr. Yoshihiko Yamada’s lab looking at transcription regulation of enamel organ development.
All of these accomplishments were possible thanks to my mentors here at the University of Colorado, my mentors at the NIH, and also my desire to pursue dental research. As a dental student you may be thinking: “I don’t have time for research.” Or maybe you think, “I want to give it a try, but I don’t have research experience.” Yes, dental students are very busy! Our mentors understand that we are dental students committed to our dental education and to our patients. Make sure you work out a schedule that is flexible with your school commitment, but also making sure that your project does not come to a stand still. The sooner you start, the better.
Set goals. If you are working for fellowships, scholarships, publications—these are excellent goals. Share them with your advisor or be open to applying for fellowships like I was when my mentor encouraged me to apply.
Having no prior research experience can be a barrier, but in terms of dental research, I had no experience or knowledge in that as well. Taking the first step is the hardest but it will all fall into place afterwards. Learn as you go and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
~Petros Yoon, Colorado ’15