A Heightened Perspective
Students at the College of Dentistry have learned scientific method and the rigors of research methodology since the 1970’s through the college’s Student Research Program. Now, student research is gaining prominence with the creation of a new position designated to formally manage the program. In 2015, Scott Schricker, PhD, an associate professor in the Division of General Practice and Materials Science, was appointed as the college’s first assistant dean for student research.
“Our college has long encouraged students to engage in research, and encouraged faculty to actively participate in training them to think like scientists,” said Dean Patrick M. Lloyd. “Formalizing our Student Research Program will strengthen this rich experience for our students and ensure that exploration remains an essential part of their development, whether they plan to pursue a career in clinical practice or in academics.”
Long committed to helping students realize the benefits of research, Dr. Schricker is excited about the opportunity to continue the good work of his predecessor, Faculty Emeritus William Johnston, PhD, who retired last year. "Conducting research gives students a broader perspective on dentistry," said Dr. Schricker. "In clinical work they’re trying to solve the problem that’s in front of them, while in research they’re looking at a broader range of problems. It can make them more aware of how they approach their work. It allows them to go deeper into why things are happening.”
Student research also contributes to advancing the field of dentistry. “It makes people take a more science-based approach to their practice,” said Dr. Schricker. “That’s the hope for it. It makes people think about their work in a scientific way and gives them a new perspective on evidence-based practice.”
The Student Research Program allows students to work in a faculty mentor’s lab for up to 255 hours in a year. Dr. Schricker collaborates with students to match them with mentors based on their interests in clinical or laboratory research in areas such as microbiology, pathology, immunology, neuroscience, and materials science. With their mentors, dental students develop a proposal for a research project that they submit for approval. Students apply after spring break, and most participants start during summer semester.
Students who are accepted into the program are eligible for a variety of scholarships and fellowships from the college, endowed donor funds from the American Association for Dental Research, as well as internships and research programs with the National Institutes of Health.
“Participating in the summer research program has allowed me to contribute to the future of dental medicine. I appreciated being mentored by faculty and thinking critically about my work, which will make me a better dentist.” – Ayanna Williams ’18
One dental student’s interest led him to research the effects of obesity on the subgingival microbiome. Another student researched a rare form of oral cancer with a faculty member in the College of Medicine whom he’d met as an undergraduate student. Still another student researched gender differences in bone mineral density.
Ayanna Williams ’18, spent last summer researching the mechanisms by which the stress response enhances inflammatory processes. She understands the important connection between the research she is doing now and her future as a dental professional. “Participating in the summer research program has allowed me to contribute to the future of dental medicine. I appreciated being mentored by faculty and thinking critically about my work, which will make me a better dentist.”
In addition to learning research techniques, students gain valuable writing and presentation skills. Students are required to present their work at the college's annual Research Day and undergraduate students have the additional opportunity to present at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. Students also have opportunities to present at national meetings, such as the American Association for Dental Research (AADR), the American Association for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Dr. Schricker said these presentations are an important component of conducting original research.
“Presenting allows the student researchers to complete the project, synthesize the data, and defend their hypothesis,” Dr. Schricker said. “It’s also a way to showcase what they’ve been doing. Many of these students complete their work evenings and weekends. Presenting allows them to say to others, ‘This is the really cool work I’ve been doing. This is what I’ve been learning this whole time.’”
Dr. Schricker himself has mentored students in his materials lab and has published papers with mentees as co-authors. “It has been a really good experience,” he said. “When you find a student who is enthusiastic, it’s great for everyone. Good work gets done, and they get an in-depth understanding of dental materials.”
One of Dr. Schricker’s goals as assistant dean is to raise awareness of the program and increase participation. Currently 26 students are conducting research through the program; Dr. Schricker would like that number to grow.
“We’re always trying to get more students involved,” he said. “The challenge is that the dental curriculum is extremely demanding, so research is in addition to their other responsibilities. You have to find students who are willing to go above and beyond.”
Projects can take anywhere from months to years—and can lead to new projects. Many students revel in the opportunities. “When you have an inquisitive student, he or she can just keep going,” said Dr. Schricker. “There is always the next question to be answered.”
Interested in supporting students in the College of Dentistry’s Student Research Program? Visit giveto.osu.edu for more information.