By Shawn Kimball
This year’s ADEA Deans’ Conference, held in Tucson, Arizona, was unique in that students were invited for the first time in its 46-year history. In fact, more deans and students from more schools attended this meeting than ever before.
“Future Faculty: Enhancing Communication Towards Effective Faculty Recruitment from Our Students” was this year’s theme, and every presentation, panel discussion, and hallway conversation generated ideas about why students are so hard to recruit right out of school and how to develop and retain the faculty of the future. Presentation tones ranged from inspirational and motivating to informative and thought-provoking. Panel presentations and Q&A sessions provided a framework from which to explore the perspectives of recruits and recruiters. Even after the scheduled talks were over, conversations abounded, from the balcony behind the conference halls to the shuttle ferrying students to and from events.
Dr. Charles Bertolami of the University of California, San Francisco, opened the conference by emphasizing the importance of engaging students’ interest in scholarship early on. His quote from theologian Cornelius Plantinga, “A mere state of mind can swell to become an entire destiny,” focused efforts on those entering dental school to help them broaden their view of what they can accomplish in dentistry. This can be done, he said, by directing student talents toward scholarly interests that aren’t limited to teaching, but include forward-thinking discoveries, working to further integrate oral health into whole-person health, and applying new knowledge to solving practical problems.
Following Dr. Bertolami was Ms. Marilyn Moats Kennedy, who presented an eye-opening, thought-provoking demographic study of the composition, focus, and psychology of the modern workforce. The generations in or entering dental school now are not attracted by offers of security or tenure after seeing their parents laid off after years with the same company. Instead, they have an independent spirit and desire to keep their skills current and their résumés impressive so they can either ensure their own security or move on to a better opportunity.
At the conference, I took many pages of notes and learned much about what needs to be and can be accomplished in academic dentistry with the right kind of effort and willingness to innovate and think big. I also saw the advantage of having students involved in discussions on this topic. I watched students present on topics from ideal faculty job descriptions to matching institutional needs with faculty expectations, and in each case, the presentations were well formed, appropriate, and well presented. Afterwards, student perspectives, thoughts, and opinions were sought from the presenters and other students in attendance.
I was impressed with how genuinely and attentively deans asked questions and took note of the answers given. It encouraged my hope that deans, faculty, and students can work together toward the successful future of academic dentistry. I, for one, can’t wait for the next opportunity to work with those in dental academics on such a relevant topic, and I hope each school that sponsored a student at the conference takes advantage of that person’s experience and new knowledge to help avert the faculty shortage.
Shawn Kimball is a second-year student at the
University of Colorado School of Dentistry.