5 Ways to get involved in Research

October 31, 2019
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5 Ways to get involved in Research

We all know that research is a great way to learn more about a particular part of your field, and also a way to set yourself apart. But sometimes getting involved in research can feel completely inaccessible to the average student, and some may even feel that they are not qualified to do research for whatever reason. But anyone can and should do deep dives into areas of personal interest. They can truly cure the monotony of a punishing curriculum, and give you a sense of meaning that goes beyond getting good grades and doing what you need to do. These are 5 ways in which I have personally gotten involved in my own research projects at NYU!

1. Check your school’s newsletter for Press Releases

Did you see your school announce a really amazing research project? A professor you may even already have a relationship with? People usually think that when the news breaks, the project must be closing, but the opposite is actually true. A press release usually means that a grant has been approved, and teams are still being built to begin the actual project. If you see a press release from your school, reach out to the PI (principal investigator) and express your interest. You never know what responsibilities you could potentially land if you show the drive and motivation to get involved in research. And professors are always impressed when students stay abreast of what opportunities are out there by reading these announcements. Always advocate for yourself—you never know where it may take you!

2. Report any interesting patients with rare conditions for case studies

Just because you have heard about a particular disease or condition multiple times in coursework does not necessarily mean that much is known about it. Many systemic diseases and pathologies are extremely rare, and should not be allowed to get lost to the oral surgeons who may be more familiar with the condition and only treat and monitor without pursuing more. If you have a patient who has a rare condition, follow up with that patient. See what is happening in other departments in their care—not only will this give you great information to write up a patient case report to add something of great value to the literature out there, but this is also the best possible care and patient management that you can offer for that person who may see many specialists with zero continuity.

3. Tell clinical faculty you WANT to do research

I’ll admit it—I experienced a wicked spell of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) at the end of my D2 year when all of my study partners were engaged in research, and I was stagnant. I was standing around in my fixed prosthesis SIM lab when I was a TA, and I was sitting in my emotions and jealousy when everyone was caught up in their poster presentations. I went up to one of my favorite professors and started talking with him as I usually did, and told him that I really regretted not being involved in research this year, and he actually brought up a project that he had been planning to start that summer on his own, and asked if I would be interested in working with him. Even though my professor was in the prosthodontics department, the project was actually very applicable to my specialty of choice: Pediatrics! If faculty knows that you are a hard-working student who is interested in research, they will find a project to put you on, or connect you to someone they know starting up a project. There are always opportunities for the taking!

4. After class, ask professors what projects they’re working on

Many professors will reference projects they are working on during class lectures. If something strikes up an interest, be sure to follow up with them after class and ask at which phase they are in their research. Maybe they have one project wrapping up, but professors are constantly moving on projects, and may have more than one project running at a time in different departments. Or again, they may have a colleague who is working on something similar. They will be thrilled and flattered that a dental student actually internalized something during their lecture, and is being academically curious. It’s a no lose situation to inquire more.

5. Get involved with Public Health

Public Health and Health Promotion often gets overlooked in dental schools because many don’t see its purpose beyond telling people to brush and floss to prevent cavities from ever happening. But the truth is, Public Health is all about tying in all the complicated procedures and theories you learned in your more content-heavy courses, and applying it to serve a population beyond the patients you will see in your practices in the future and make a larger impact. If you plan to specialize, Residencies will look to see how you are synthesizing your course work beyond the patient sitting in your chair, and how you can apply these lessons and techniques at the population level, which is the essence of Public Health. If you can find a way to forward your specialty to benefit a larger pool of patients, you will have really accomplished something with lasting impact, which is what we all came to dental school to do!


Dr. JoyAh Brooks

JoyAh Brooks is a 4th year dental student at New York University College of Dentistry. She is originally from Amelia County, Virginia. After completing her undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Southern Indiana, she joined the 2012 Bay Area Corps with Teach For America. During her time in teaching in Oakland, California she taught 8th Grade Math and Science. After completing her commitment to Teach For America, JoyAh worked as a Dental Assistant and Patient Care Coordinator for Western Dental in their San Francisco and Hayward offices. JoyAh now lives in Manhattan and enjoys seeing the city with her husband, Gary.