Dr. Sophia Saeed is the associate dean for patient care and professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Dentistry. She graduated from Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 2007, and then completed her general practice residency and hospital dentistry practice at the University of California, San Francisco in 2008.
The ADEA Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP) was founded in 2006 and to date, over 400 dental students from 40 different U.S. and Canadian schools have taken part in it. The goal of the program is to discover and contribute to future dental faculty and researchers through one-on-one mentorship between current dental school faculty and students interested in academic dentistry.
As future dentists, we are often asked, “What do you want to be?” or “What do you want to do when you’re finished with school?” What I have realized is that many of us have goals that span many disciplines and interests, and it’s hard for us to choose just one (or even a couple) upon which to build a career.
Over the past few decades, there has been an increased concern of a national dental faculty shortage. The American Dental Education Association published its first report in 1999 outlining this issue and has been tracking the national shortfall since then. Between the 1990s and 2000s, the number of vacant faculty positions increased more than 50 percent.
Many dental professionals are drawn to a career in education. Some of the benefits are obvious: You get to give back to the profession by passing on your knowledge; you gain prestige from your participation in an academic program; and you can depend on a stable (though low!) income. In addition to those, there are other, more unexpected benefits that come with a career in dental education.
As a high school senior, I had an opportunity to interview for a collegiate scholarship, during which I discussed my aspirations for a career in dentistry with an all-male panel of judges. I remember being asked, “Why don’t you want to be a dental hygienist or an assistant? Aren’t those the typical roles in dentistry for a female?”
I was taken aback. I was sure that it wasn’t their intention to instill self-doubt in a woman pursuing a career in a male-dominated industry. However, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was being relegated to another career, based strictly on traditional gender roles.