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How Do Students Feel About Research?

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Written by Adam Zewe

Most dental students strongly believe that scientific research is an important part of dental education. That is the key finding of a study co-authored by University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) student Shaina Holman, DDS/PhD '15, and published in the Journal of Dental Education.

The paper, "U.S. Dental students' attitudes toward research and science: impact of research experience," discusses the results of a nationwide survey sent to 89 percent of all U.S. dental students. The survey, conducted by the National Student Research Group, asked students to describe their attitudes regarding the importance of research in dentistry, barriers to research involvement, and exposure to research in dental school. The researchers found that 63 percent of dental students had conducted research before enrolling in dental school, and another 34 percent participated in research while enrolled.

Most respondents said that participating in scientific research helped them better understand the fundamentals of dentistry. The biggest obstacle to student research is a lack of time built into the curriculum. Students also felt that dental schools need to spend more time teaching biostatistics and research methodologies.

"The experience of working on a research project helps students learn about the process of discovery. Going through this process enables them to critically evaluate research studies. Dentists need to be able to critically evaluate literature and translate new research into their practices," Holman states. She hopes this paper opens a dialogue at dental schools across the country that could lead to more research training opportunities for students.

At UMSOD, dental students develop research skills in three ways: through lecture courses in the fundamental sciences, small group lessons and one-on-one research activities with faculty mentors. "We work together to prepare our students with the knowledge, skills and experiences in modern science they need to lead the way as 21st-century dental professionals," says Pei Feng, MD, PhD, director of the office of research.

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