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March 28, 2008

Student Explores Academic Dentistry Through ADEA/AADR Fellowship

Fourth-year student Sweta Shah (D’08) was one of 10 dental students nationwide chosen to participate the 2007 Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP). The year-long program began this past summer and has run throughout the 2007-08 academic year. Sponsored by American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and the American Association for Dental Research (AADR), the ADCFP is designed to encourage dental students to consider careers in academic dentistry and provides participants with comprehensive exposure to all aspects of the field so they will be able to make informed decisions about pursuing an academic career.

Ms. Shah, the first Penn Dental Medicine student to participate in the program, was encouraged by Dr. Najeed Saleh (GD’83, D’94), Clinical Associate Professor of Restorative Dentistry, to apply. “As her group leader for a year, I noticed her skills and talents and believed she would benefit from this opportunity,” says Dr. Saleh, who also has served as her mentor for the program. “Sweta was selected because she has the potential to fit in this role very well.”

The fellowship began with a one-and-a-half day training session in Virginia for both fellows and mentors. Participants got to know each other and learned what was expected of them. The ADCFP’s main components consist of conducting faculty interviews, from junior faculty to the Dean; completion of a research practicum, which was directed by Dr. Markus Blatz, Chair and Professor of Restorative Dentistry-Clinician Educator; and teaching in four different settings, including the clinic, a lab, a small group seminar, and in a didactic lecture format.

Throughout the year, Ms. Shah had bi-weekly meetings with Dr. Saleh and Dr. Robert Collins (D’71), Director of the Division of Community Oral Health, for guidance on how to achieve her goals. “The work was challenging,” says Ms. Shah. “I got a lot of encouragement from Drs. Saleh and Collins, in addition to reminders from collaborators at the ADEA, who were in charge of the fellowship and keeping students on track.”

The final portion of the program involved a poster presentation at the ADEA Annual Session, held in Dallas on March 29 through April 2. At the end of June, all participants must submit a portfolio of everything they’ve learned and experienced during the fellowship. In addition, an initial careers reflection essay, written before the fellowship, is compared with one written afterward to assess what insight the participant gained during the program.

Ms. Shah was recently accepted to the School’s postdoctoral endodontics program and says she is now more likely to pursue a career in academic dentistry after her postdoc training, insisting that she wants to have a hand in teaching after the ADCFP experience.

“There are about 400 vacancies for academic positions in U.S. dental schools,” says Dr. Collins. “It’s been an increasing challenge to recruit new graduates, because private practice can be very lucrative. Nonetheless, the ADCFP is a fabulous program for students who have an interest in teaching to get their feet wet.”

The ADCFP began in 2006 with a grant from the American Dental Association Foundation and has been supported by AADR and ADEA for the last two years. The AADR and ADEA announced early this year that they will continue their sponsorship of the ADCFP for the 2008-2009 academic year.

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