Qasim Mohammedbhai, fifth year BDS student at King’s College London, explains the benefits of conducting research whilst at university or as a dental practitioner.

In this blog I am going to be talking about getting involved in research, either as an undergraduate, postgraduate or even a fully-fledged member of the dental team. The two questions I am going to address are:

  1. How do I get involved in research? 
  2. What can I gain and how can I benefit from doing research? 

In answer to the first question I will tell you about how I got involved in research. I got on really well with one of the professors at King’s College, Dr Ian Thompson, luckily, he was one of the teachers that had a lot of time to give to his students. I was always interested in research so I asked him whether I could get involved. He did a lot of work with bioactive ceramics, a burgeoning area of research within dentistry. From that point forward, we worked on a project which tests the ability of bioactive ceramics to prevent dentine hypersensitivity. 

So how can you get involved in research? My first piece of advice is to think about what you are interested in. It will make the work you do a lot more engaging and far more relevant. For me that happened to be dental material science. The next thing is asking around, be it your personal tutor, PhD students, or senior dentists in practice, and ask them whether they know of any research opportunities. This is where studying or working in a teaching dental hospital is invaluable, as there are so many research opportunities available. I had to ask a lot of people before I landed my research project, so you need to persevere with it.  

NB. Remember you are not pestering them; you are going to be a valuable asset as you will be the one doing a lot of the hard work!

The second question is what skills can one gain from doing research. Now the obvious one is something to write on your CV, but there are far more useful things to be gained:

1. Lateral Thinking
In research things always go wrong. Results will be off, the methodology won’t work out or the machine breaks, the list goes on and on. Ultimately, it is up to you to find a way around this hurdle. It can be very frustrating at times, but it hones your problem-solving skills. If you speak to the experienced clinicians, they will tell you that is what dentistry is all about.

2. Perseverance
Research is not as glamorous as it may seem. At times it can be cumbersome and disheartening when things are not going your way. This is where determination and patience are invaluable. 

3. Critical appraisal
One of my clinical supervisors always used to say: “If you have a patient seen by 5 different dentists, you’ll end up with 6 different care plans”. What this means is that unlike medicine there is no set guideline or protocol for dental treatment. Ultimately, the choice is in the hands of the practitioner. The way one decides is by reading papers, but these need to be critically examined and not blindly followed. Once you have carried out experiments of your own and evaluated your own research, you can understand the shortcomings of other experiments. Experiments can be hard to visualise, so the analogy I offer is imagine reading about doing an extraction versus actually doing one yourself. There is something to be said about actually doing the procedure in order to properly understand it. 

4. Public Speaking
This is a skill you learn by experience alone. Academics get the opportunity to discuss their research at conferences in front of large audiences. In my case, I was fortunate enough to give a talk at the British Dental Hygienist and Therapists conference and present a poster at the annual biomaterials conference. 

In summary research is not a members-only club and is easier to get involved in than you may think. Not only does it enhance your CV, but more importantly it enables you to develop a number of skills, key to becoming a successful dental practitioner.

Author bio

I am a final year dental student at King’s College London. During my five years of university I have found an interest in Prosthodontics and research. Outside of Dentistry my biggest hobby is sport. I have competed in first teams for hockey, table tennis and squash. Another passion of mine is languages, I speak Spanish, Italian, Gujarati and am currently learning Arabic.

Qasim Mohammedbhai

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in March 2020 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.