Each year, the American Dental Association Foundation hosts the Colgate Dental Students’ Conference on Research in Gaithersburg, Maryland, drawing together dental students from all over the U.S. and Canada. The goal of this conference is to introduce dental students to industry professionals, as well as scientists from the ADA, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and the ADA Foundation’s Dr. Anthony Volpe Research Center to raise their awareness of the wide-ranging careers available in oral health research.
Day 1: Sunday, October 2nd
With a short flight from Boston to DC and a little over an hour to kill before registration, I ubered over to bustling Downtown, DC to check out the national monuments. To future research scholars who attend this program, I highly recommend visiting this area of America’s rich history! The Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, iconic Washington Monument and World War II Memorial were beyond astonishing and I was thrilled to find the “Massachusetts pillar” as I explored the area. Before catching the MetroRail, DC’s version of the “T,” a short detour led me by Eisenhower’s Executive House and the White House.
Upon reaching the hotel, I checked in, registered, and met my conference roommate, a phenomenal 3rd year student-dentist and researcher at the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry and President of the National Student Research Group! The two of us joined a group of 36 other colleagues for a cocktail hour and meet-and-greet shortly after meeting. Every attendee was incredibly engaging and we got right into sharing our experiences transitioning from the preclinical and didactic environment to clinic, how our school’s maintain HIPPA compliance, the mentor-mentee relationship differences from school to school, the emphasis on students’ doing research, and the number of students who submit their abstracts to national conferences like IADR and AADR every year, how having post-graduate students play a role in the care we provide, and this was just the beginning.. a very, exciting beginning!
A round table dinner followed which fostered getting to further know and discuss ideas with our colleagues who had traveled from coast to coast. During dessert, Dr. Jeffrey Kim spoke to the group about his experiences going through this very conference years ago and how his professional journey led him to his current impactful role today as a Clinical Research Project Leader for the ADAF Volpe Research Center. Looking around the room, I could not help but see my colleagues’ eyes light up as I imagine they hoped to cater their educational experience by doing something similar to what Dr. Kim did.
Day 2: Monday, October 3rd
On Monday, the group met early for breakfast at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST), famous for being the world’s timekeeper who are only off by 1-2 seconds every billion years! Following breakfast, Dr. Thomas Hart, Senior Director of the ADAF Volpe Research Center gave his opening remarks and introductions to five notable speakers: (1) Dr. Sheng Lin-Gibson, leader for the Biomaterials Group in the Material Measurement Laboratory at NIST, (2) Dr. Purnima Kumar, Professor of Periodontology at Ohio State University, (3) Dr. Christopher Fox, Executive Director of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR), (4) Dr. Fotinos Panagakos, Global Director of Scientific Affairs at Colgate-Palmolive Company, and (5) Dr. Carol Summerhays, ADA President.
Some of my favorite messages delivered were those in the form of ancient proverbs and quotes:
“Don’t make a footstep that does not leave a footprint.”
“If you understood everything I said, you would be me.”
“If you wake up not wanting to go to work, you have lost your balance.”
After hearing from our distinguished speakers, the group shuttled over to the the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology Nanofabrication Facility, nicknamed the “NanoFab Lab” for short. Here we split up into small groups to tour the facility and learned a great deal about some fascinating TEM and DualBeam technologies from Mr. Vincent Luciani, Dr. Alline Myers and Dr. Jessie Zhang. Following our tour, we were given an excellent presentation on novel dental composite restorative systems with improved service life which really brought our operative dentistry knowledge to life.
Following all the presentations and tours, it was our turn! It was beyond enriching to share our bioactive materials and fluoride release research with such a knowledgeable crew who share a love for scientific inquiry with me.
The day ended with dinner and an incredible presentation by Dr. Sharon Gordon, Associate Dean for Research at East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Gordon left us with excellent advice including: question everything, join journal clubs and keep your learning current, and get involved with a multidisciplinary group to get a really good understanding of crucial issues.
Day 3: Tuesday, October 4th
Our final day brought the group to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institute of Health (NIH). A Panel Discussion was moderated by Dr. Deborah Philip, Director of the Office of Education and featured (1) Dr. John Kusiak, Acting Deputy Director, (2) Dr. Lynn King, Chief of Research Training and Career Development, (3) Dr. Tim Iafolla, Chief of Program Analysis and Reports and Office of Science Policy and Analysis, and (4) our very own Tufts colleague Jason Berglund, Medical Research Scholar! Jason is already 6 months into the program, loving the translational and clinical research projects he is a part of, and we cannot wait to have him speak to our student body back in Boston in the coming months.
Following the Panel Discussion, we were given the opportunity to learn from Drs. Dena Fischer, Ilias Alevizos (Tufts alumni!), Rashmi Mishra, and Melodie Weller on research topics ranging from biomedical informatics to topics outcomes research.
We took a final tour of the NIH dental clinic and attended our last two research presentations of the day on Sjögren’s syndrome and a consideration of alternative cephalometric landmarks before heading back to Ronald Reagan Airport to depart on flights back to our respective homes, enriched and inquisitive.
This conference would not be so outstanding without organizers Gretchen and Christine who made each leg of our trip truly meaningful. I of course cannot thank our own Professor and Associate Dean of Research, Dr. Gerard Kugel, and Director of the Predoctoral Student Research Program, Eileen Doherty, enough for nominating me for this great opportunity.