As a second year dental student at the University of Minnesota, I embraced the chance to participate in the school’s summer research fellowship without any expectations (except the promised stipend). I chose to spend my last free summer working in a research lab instead of traveling like most of my classmates. I thought I would miss out on the chance to have fun during the summer, but I failed to recognize all of the opportunities that would be available to me as a student researcher. Involvement in research has allowed me to travel across the country to present my research, which provided me networking opportunities, public speaking experience and an orientation to research within the profession.
Working as a student researcher, as you might guess, can be a substantial time commitment. My project, a retrospective study, used cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) scans to observe bone characteristics in patients with impacted canines. Using previously obtained scans allowed me flexibility in my work schedule, but it also required me to develop an organizational strategy for time management. During the summer, I would meet weekly with my research supervisor and set benchmarks to reach before the next meeting. Additionally, I kept an electronic journal tracking my progress throughout the week and during the course of the summer. It is important to have an effective organizational strategy so as not to run out of time.
Journaling and weekly meetings helped keep me on track, and I completed the majority of my data collection by the end of the summer. During the school year, organization became more important because of the increased workload of second year. I worked with my supervisor to set monthly goals. This gave me ample opportunity to complete the rest of my project. The flexibility allowed me to plan around exams and practicals while still meeting deadlines within my research project.
I was able to present my work at ASDA Annual Session 2016, where I received third place recognition in the poster competition. I also presented at the American Association for Dental Research Annual Meeting and will be presenting at the Midwest Regional Dental Student Research Conference this April. Presenting at multiple conferences has allowed me to observe the way research is presented and how it can advance dentistry as a field.
Research is an important part of our profession. I recommend anyone who is on the fence regarding research to try it out. I think the time commitment can prevent many students from participating, but with proper planning and organization it can easily be balanced with school. Communication up front with your supervisor is important in accommodating academic conflicts. My supervisor supported my academics by providing me with extended deadlines. Remember, supervising faculty were once students too, and they understand the stresses we are under. Research in dental school is like anything else: you get out of it what you put into it. Take advantage of the opportunities offered. You might be surprised where they take you.
~Jerad Servais, Minnesota ’18