Dental students get research experience

Only 18 to 20 students are selected from a pool as large as 250.
May 01, 2012

 

Starting mid-May, a select number of incoming dental school students at the University of Minnesota will participate in research while mentored by a faculty member researching a similar project.

The Summer Research Fellowship Program, developed 40 years ago, is a 10-week program for students entering their first or second years in the School of Dentistry.

Students continue their projects throughout the year by presenting their findings at conferences around the country.

The program is extremely competitive — about 18 to 20 students are selected out of around 200 to 250 interviews, said Joel Rudney, assistant dean for research at the School of Dentistry and director of the program.

Most of the applicants have a background in research, although it’s not required. 

“We want to attract students with strong backgrounds,” Rudney said “So we pay attention if they’ve done research already.”

Two summers ago, now third-year dental student Kyle Holmberg used the summer program to research the effect bacteria had on teeth implants. He hoped to reduce long-term bone loss by reducing bacterial load around the implant.

“We looked to have [the implants] last a lifetime,” Holmberg said. 

He said it’s important for dental students to do research, even if they are planning on a career in clinical work.

“It is important to know how research is because we have no idea where heath care is going to be in next 20 years,” he said. “Dental education can’t account for change.”

Incoming first-year dental students are chosen based on their dental school application. Those who have already been in dental school for a year have to do a separate application.

Some of the students are able to do research through other organizations thanks to their experience with the Summer Research Fellowship Program.

Next year, Holmberg will be taking a year off from school to do research for a year at the National Institutes of Health.

Holmberg said doing research will benefit his career goals because his experience will help him gain funding. He hopes to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon — treating injuries and diseases in the neck, face and head — and research developing new materials.

Conrado Aparicio, Holmberg’s mentor, chose to be a part of the program because he feels it is his duty to help students.

“Being a mentor is one of the main roles we can play as researchers and teachers,” Aparicio said.

Dental students are on a demanding schedule, Aparicio said, and the program is helpful because students can focus on researching while being free from lectures.

“Dental students are scheduled every minute of the day, so someone has to have good time management skills to do the program,” Rudney said. “They have to have a real genuine interest in research and a need to experience that side [research] of dentistry.”

The program used to receive grants from the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, but in 2008, the institute decided to no longer fund summer research fellowships for dental school students across the country. Faculty felt it was important to continue the program, so they looked for other ways to fund it.

They receive support through resources in the dental school, fundraising campaigns and money the school administration tries to set aside.

“There is a commitment by the school, and they’re willing to make resources available because they don’t want the program to die because lack of funds,” Rudney said.

Rudney said a lot of dental students don’t think to do research for a career because they want to do private practice. But he said it will benefit students doing private practice because it will help them make decisions based on research, like better understanding products that sales representatives try to sell them.

Most current students who are accepted into the program will receive a stipend of $4,000 for their research.

Students finishing their first year in dental school will begin their research at the end of June.

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