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A Useful Summer
Dental Students Explore Research

'Awesome' is the term Deborah Clark-Holke uses to summarize her experience at NIDR. "I love pounding away at a problem in the lab!" says the 25-year-old, one of 10 dental students who spent part of the summer conducting research at NIDR. "Even though research is sometimes frustrating, it's a challenge that keeps pulling me back," she says. A student at the College of Dentistry, University of Iowa, Clark-Holke describes her participation in the NIDR Summer Dental Student Award (SDSA) program as an experience she would definitely like to repeat.

Launched this year, the SDSA program gives dental students a glimpse of research by offering them a chance to gain hands-on experience at NIDR for 6 to 12 weeks. Clark-Holke and nine other students were chosen from 30 applicants to participate in the program. Students were matched with a mentor and chose a research project according to their interests and experience.

"I think the program offers a unique opportunity for students to 'try out' research as a career," said program manager Dr. Marian Young, of NIDR's Bone Research Branch. "It's a chance for them to see how science is organized, how it works, and whether or not it's something they want to pursue."

Geoff Steinkruger, a student at the College of Dental Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, found the summer program an excellent opportunity "to see another side of science." During his 8 weeks, he worked in the Laboratory of Cellular and Developmental Oncology studying the cell signal protein transforming growth factor-beta. "It's really been an eye-opening experience for me," said the 24-year-old, who had his first brush with research in the summer program. "I am amazed at the diversity of research both at NIDR and NIH."

Pictured with NIDR director Dr. Harold Slavkin (seated, l), intramural director Dr. Henning Birkedal-Hansen (standing, third from l) and SDSA program manager Dr. Marian Young (standing fourth from r) are some students who spent their summer at NIDR.

Although many of the students had worked in a lab, to some, the thought of working at NIH seemed a bit intimidating at first. But the overwhelming feeling among the students was one of eagerness to get here and "do science."

"I have wanted to do research ever since I was a sophomore in college," said Kapil Vij, 24, who attends the College of Dentistry, University of Illinois at Chicago. "I was anxious to get here and get going on my own projects right from the start."

"What better place is there to do science?" said Mark Berkman, who enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to spend his summer on the NIH campus. The student from Ohio State University College of Dentistry searched the Medline database to find out which NIDR mentor had done work in embryology, a topic of great interest to him. He found NIDR director Dr. Harold Slavkin. "When I came across Dr. Slavkin's work on cartilage development, I knew that I wanted to work in his lab," said the 21-year-old, who spent 9 weeks studying chondrogenesis, or cartilage formation.

Between their time in the lab, the informal get-togethers, and the more structured activities like tours and presentations, the students were treated to a panel discussion that featured dentists who had pursued research careers.

Panel members answered questions that ranged from, "Do you ever have days when you feel research isn't for you?" -- which drew laughter from the panel members -- to "How do I choose a Ph.D. subject area?", and, more basically, "How do I know if research is really for me?"

"Get involved with research while you're in school," advised panelist Dr. Richard Ranney, dean of Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, University of Maryland. "You need to look within your university -- the dental school as well as the medical school -- and talk to the people doing research."

As the summer wound down, the students departed for their schools and another year of academic pursuits. "I think it was a productive summer for them," said Young. "The reaction I heard was, 'Wow -- so this is research; it's really interesting!' I wouldn't be surprised if many of them choose it as a career."

"I met some high caliber people at NIDR and have learned a great deal," said Clark-Holke, who described her 7 weeks at the institute as "too short."

Vij, who made a presentation on the program to incoming students when he returned to school, said he hopes NIDR continues and expands the program. "This summer's experience was like a teaser," he said. "I would like to come back."

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