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Part IV: Research Experience as a Pre-Dental Student
Dental schools prefer applicants with research experience. Research could help you build a stronger application for dental school and it can help you build your skills as a critical thinker. While most pre-dental students do biomedical research, if done properly, research experience in virtually any field is looked upon favorably because the general approach to conducting research is similar across various disciplines.
One way to decide which type of research you should conduct is to ask yourself what interests you most. If you enjoy working in the laboratory, basic science research would be a great option. If you prefer interacting with others, you may want to participate in survey-based research where you could conduct interviews with study participants. Dental clinical research may also give you the opportunity to interact with patients who are subjects in a study.
Regardless of what setting you choose; make sure you get involved in an experience where you are not just performing mundane technical tasks but you are also involved in high-level thinking and problem-solving. It may be difficult to take on your own project if you have no previous research experience, but even if you are assisting, find a research project where you could contribute to the study design, the interpretation of data, and the write up of your research. Dental schools will be highly impressed by your ability to think creatively, ask thoughtful research questions, and interpret your findings. The best way to ensure that you gain good research experience is to commit to research over a long period of time. It is difficult to gain good research experience in just a few months, therefore, we encourage students to get involved in research earlier in their pre-dental career and to stay consistent in their research pursuits. Also, avoid moving from one research setting to another too frequently. The number of experiences you have is not as important as the quality of the research experience.
If you are able to get involved in good research with a dental school, this type of experience will be looked upon very positively. Dental research will give you the chance to contribute to the science of dentistry and it will help you become more familiar with dentistry.
Publications could be a valuable addition to any dental school application but they should not be your sole focus when you are conducting research. The quality of your research, the extent of your involvement, and the quality of the letter of recommendation you receive from your research mentor are arguably more important. Any publication would be an added bonus. In addition to publications, presenting your research findings at conferences as a poster presentation or oral presentation could add to your dental school application and serve as an opportunity to hone your presentation skills.