During my STEP Signature Project, I conducted research in the College of Dentistry. My research observed the interfacial strength between two layers of different dental composites. To accomplish this, I molded and cured samples, aged them, and conducted shear tests on them. I then analyzed the data collected.
From completing my STEP Signature Project I learned two things: research requires patience, and I want to pursue a career in dentistry. I started my STEP Signature Project in the summer, so I had to start from scratch. There was no graduate student I was assisting; I was in sole control of producing results. This taught me a great deal of patience. Furthermore, this Signature Project gave me my first exposure to the College of Dentistry which really solidified my career path.
When I first met with my research advisor, all he told me was that he wanted to look at the strength between layers in a filling. He gave a little background information, but the rest was on me. I was first tasked with doing a literature search. The first few days, I haphazardly found a few articles, but I wasn’t really sure if this is what I needed or what it meant. He showed me how to back search articles and he explained certain concepts beyond my scope. Over the summer, he guided me but I had to ask for it and be responsible for my own knowledge. Interactions like these continued over the summer, and after each interaction, he would give me advice on how to continue in the project. Frequently, the advice didn’t work and it would take a lot of adaptation to make it work. This process required patience. For example, before I even began testing my filling composite samples, I had to mold and cure them to fit the testing rig of the machine. I had to design the mold and the procedure. This process took a lot of trial and error and time. My interaction with my research advisor instilled patience in me and after a few weeks I was able to solidify the preparation stages of the experiments.
Furthermore, because I was in the lab I worked with the Lab manager frequently. Before starting my STEP signature project I was unfamiliar with all the tools and resources in the lab. Throughout my project I became accustomed with the thermocycler, the Instron load frame, and a drill press. Each required instruction by the lab manager. The lab manager was a pretty loquacious person and tasks that should take only a few hours took the whole day. While I was often frustrated when interacting with the lab manager, I learned a great deal about operating machinery, as well as, patience. By the end of the summer, I had built a relationship with the Lab Manager that I didn’t anticipate. I found myself enjoying listening to him ramble and interact with his eccentric personality.
Finally, this STEP Signature Project solidified my interest in pursuing dentistry. In addition to my interactions with staff and faculty, I also had the opportunity to use the same instruments dentists use. Through trial and error, I found what techniques worked and what techniques didn’t. Being able to use the tools showed me that I could see myself doing this in my future. It’s important to be working with my hands and I know I could be doing that as a dentist. I hope to grow the interests I solidified through my STEP Signature project throughout the rest of my undergraduate career.
Realizing what I want to do as a career is extremely valuable to my life. The patience I also realized will be invaluable. Whether I continue to do research, or become a dentist, both require patience. Many times students begin their career and realize that that’s not what they want to do. These kinds of instances can be avoided with exposure to the field beforehand. I am fortunate to have that kind of experience through my STEP Signature Project.