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Juggling full-time dental school and part-time research for the first time

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When applying to dental school, I wasn’t considered your traditional student. I attended community college, completed a post-bac program and did not have research experience–something many predental students have experience in. Although I graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, a research heavy institution, I was never exposed research. And when I realized having a research background would help my application to dental school, it was too late. Once I matriculated at UCSF for dental school, I realized having research experience is not necessary and thought to myself, “I didn’t have to do research to get in and I never will have to do it.” Things changed very quickly.

I never pictured myself as the research-type because I thought research meant tedious lab work. I didn’t know there were so many different types of research. I became interested in research after hearing a very interesting talk from someone who was similar to me: a Latina woman. After several meetings, our relationship grew and I asked if she could mentor me. I was invited to shadow my mentor’s projects and eventually when a new research opportunity in Global Oral Health became available at UCSF, I was asked to join the project. I was nervous about starting because I had no  experience but soon learned how willing my mentor was to help me learn because she was in the same position at one point during her career. It wasn’t easy, but with proper instruction and practice, I came to love what I was doing.

Our project is a clinical translational research project, which is essentially basic research combined with applied research, or clinical research. We are looking at a restorative technique called Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART) and comparing it to traditional amalgam restorations in a two-year study. ART uses hand instruments only and is based on minimal intervention, minimal invasion and minimal cavity preparation for carious lesions. Glass ionomer is used as the restorative material, which we know chemically bonds to the tooth and can release fluoride. The ultimate goal of the study is to provide more research on the effectiveness of ART in the United States so that the technique has more widespread use, especially in underserved areas of our country. Conducting clinical trials is challenging because we are dealing with human patients, however, our 60-patient study has shown promising results after just one year.

presenter 2Doing research in addition to dental student has proven to be very challenging. But the most challenging experiences in my life have always been the most rewarding. Through research, many doors have opened for me. I have had the opportunity to travel internationally for our project in Colombia as well as for the International Association for Dental Research Conference, in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2014. I also had the opportunity to present my research at national conferences such as the Hispanic Dental Association National Conference and the National Dental Association Convention. I plan on continuing my research project and eventually publishing this study. After witnessing the difference you can make by doing research and how much fun it is, it’s hard to picture myself not including more research in the future.

My advice for dental and predental students who wish to pursue research during dental school and get the most out of it is to find the right mentor. Don’t be afraid to approach faculty and ask them if they have time to meet for coffee to talk about their research. They won’t reach out to you if you show no interest. If you are having trouble determining which faculty does research, contact a department chair or program administrator for research at your school so they can better guide you. Stay optimistic if things don’t work out the first time with a potential mentor, be patient and always be confident in yourself!

~Ivy Fua, San Francisco ’16


Submit your research to ASDA’s Student Research Poster Session

Predoctoral ASDA members are invited to submit an abstract for the 2015 Student Research Poster Session taking place at Annual Session on Feb. 19 at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel in Boston, Mass. If you are currently doing research or have done research in the past, you are encouraged to participate. You’ll be able to practice public speaking in a low-pressure setting, receive feedback and add your accomplishment to your CV or resume! Review the criteria and guidelines, and submit your abstract by Dec. 5 for consideration. Research does not have to be novel to submit.

Ivy Fua

Ivy is a 3rd year dental student at the University of California, San Francisco. She was on the 2013-2014 ASDA board and served as the Community Service Co-Chair. She currently serves as the Hispanic Student Dental Association Co-President and Student National Dental Association Vice President. In her free time she likes to spend time with her husband, go on bike rides and travel.

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  1. Your article is very interesting and I can relate to not having any research experience in my undergraduate education. Thanks to your article I will make it a priority to try to find some research experience before entering dental school.

    1. Ivy Fua says:

      Hi Ileana,

      Thank you very much. Be persistent. I wish you luck!

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