Tips From Current D.D.S. and Dental Hygiene Students

Is an Academic Dental Career in Your Future?

Posted by Sarah Dobson on July 27, 2022

There are many routes and career paths within dentistry. One such route is academic dentistry. Academic dental careers allow individuals to work outside of private clinical practice. These roles may look like part-time or full-time positions at a dental school through involvement in research, teaching a didactic or clinical course, serving as an attending in clinical practice or fulfilling an administrative role.

Why Am I Drawn to Academia?

In grade school, I was an eager learner who always looked to help my peers succeed in the classroom. As I grew older, I often found myself in teaching and mentorship-like roles. Working as a tutor in high school and college allowed me to develop a great appreciation for teaching. I loved being able to share my strategies with others and seeing them light up when they finally mastered a difficult concept.

Additionally, I have been grateful to have had amazing educators in my life who have helped me succeed as a student. These passionate individuals have made me who I am today, and I believe I have the obligation to pay it forward to the next generation by serving similarly.

Why the ADEA Dental Careers Fellowship Program?

My previous experiences motivated me to seek out opportunities to combine my interests in dentistry and teaching when I began dental school. One experience I pursued was a fellowship with the American Dental Education Association Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program (ADEA ADCFP). This program was founded to provide students and residents with the opportunity to become involved in academia through mentorship and exposure. Through the fellowship, I was able to work closely on a project with a faculty mentor and present a poster at the 2022 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition. I also had the opportunity to interview many faculty members who shared their personal journeys to academia and offered their advice.

Overall, ADEA ADCFP is a program I highly recommend. This experience bolstered my view of what it means to be a dental school faculty member. I realize the role can take many different forms and is unique to each individual. One of my biggest takeaways is that you are never too young or too old to enter an academic career. I previously had the notion that this path is more so for career changers and those who have devoted the majority of their lives to private clinical practice. I have found, however, that it is becoming increasingly more common for younger individuals to enter an academic dental career directly after completing their dental education. 

In choosing an academic dental career, I have also realized that as you advance up the leadership hierarchy, it often becomes less diverse in terms of representation of different ethnicities and nationalities. This has driven me to pursue a career in academia in order to offer more diverse representation in these spaces and encourage those after me to pursue a similar path. 

This sentiment came into perspective when attending the 2022 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition for which the theme of the conference was “Lifting As We Rise”. This resonated deeply with me as I watched many women of color get recognized for their contributions to dentistry. They were honored as “Undaunted Trailblazers” who were featured in the book of the same name by Drs. Jeanne C. Sinkford, Sheila S. Price and Marilyn P. Woolfolk. These women make up today’s dental school deans, distinguished faculty, researchers and more. It is inspiring to see that although they faced challenges, they still persevered to get to where they are now. I hope to use this as a motivation to go after my goals during my journey and to one day be where they are.

Why YOU Should Consider an Academic Dental Career?

An academic dental career offers many opportunities for growth and professional development. You have the opportunity to constantly learn and grow, influence findings in dental research and education and positively impact the lives of future dental professionals.

About Sarah Dobson:

Sarah Dobson_headshot

Sarah Dobson
Class of 2024 
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry

Sarah Dobson is currently a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry (UNC SOD). She received a B.S. in Clinical Neuroscience at Virginia Tech in 2019. Before attending UNC SOD, Ms. Dobson completed a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA. She holds leadership positions in many student organizations, like ADEA. In her free time, Sarah likes to work out, travel and binge-watch reality TV shows on Netflix.