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Beyond BMSc - interviewing Western Dentistry

Hey everyone! Welcome back to Beyond BMSC. Today, we'll be hearing from Jennifer, an exceptional individual who has just begun her post-graduate work at the University of Western Ontario and is aiming to obtain both a degree in dentistry AND a PhD! Without further ado, let's get to hear from Jennifer herself!

To hear the audio version of the following conversation, please visit us on Spotify:

Western DDS/PhD

Interviewer: Angela Lin

Interviewee: Jennifer Guo

Angela: Hello and welcome to Beyond BMSc where we interview past medical science students who are pursuing graduate programs to answer your questions for post-BMSc pathways. My name is Angela Lin and today we're joined by Jennifer Guo. So Jennifer, tell me a little about yourself.

Jennifer: Hi everyone, and thanks Angela for hosting this. My name is Jennifer and I am currently in the Dental Clinician Scientist Program. I guess a little bit about myself, I recently graduated from the Honors Specialization of Physiology just last year (in April 2021). Currently, I'm in the first year of the DDS/PhD program and my research is on periodontal disease where I am trying to develop a material to enable periodontal regeneration.

Angela: That's very cool! Could you tell us something about your program? What did you love about it and the overall experience in grad school compared to the BMSc?

Jennifer: Yeah, for sure! So the DDS/PhD program consists of a four-year PhD degree in the area that's relevant to dentistry. This is followed by another four-year program in the Doctor of Dental Surgery. And I guess, my overall experience in comparison to BMSc is that (I'm only commenting on the PhD portion as I am only doing a PhD portrait right now). In comparison to my experience in BMSc, I feel like you are really your own boss in grad school. In undergrad, professors will give you lectures, assignments, and exams to keep you on track. But in grad school, you are really your own boss. You get to decide when you go to school every day, how much work you want to get done each day, and what you do each day. So you're really the sole person in charge of this big research project. I think that's really the main difference is that you really have to be your own boss and control your progress.

Angela: Wow, that's a big change from university! So what was it exactly about your program that made you choose it compared to other pathways?

Jennifer: Yeah, so I chose the DDS/PhD program I guess, first of all, I always wanted to be a scientist. I've done some research in undergrad and I just found it off as research. And so I guess that's why I applied to a lot of other PhD programs as well during my application year. I feel for the DDS/PhD program, the clinician training can really supplement my scientific journey. I think for a lot of things I learned as a PhD student, it can be quite disconnected from the clinical work. And I think that the clinician trainee can inspire me to potentially ask better questions as a scientist. So that's why I chose to do the DDS/PhD program, and more specifically to Western — well, Western is actually the only institution in Canada that provides a dental clinician scientist program. There are similar programs in the States, but I hoped to stay in Ontario so that I can be close to family and that's why Western DDS/PhD program was my first choice.

Angela: Were there any people that you sought inspiration from who maybe completed the program in the past that inspire you to also pursue it?

Jennifer: Yeah, for sure! There were a couple graduates from this program. One of them after graduation found my current app. She is now a practicing dentist in London. And another person who was very inspirational was Dr. KimBococh. She also graduated from this program and she is currently a clinical professor here at Shadow Dentistry. She also owns her own practice in Cambridge. And then another graduate I know, he is currently practicing in Ottawa and he is currently trying to find a postdoctoral position and then hopefully become a principal investigator who also practices dentistry.

Angela: Wow, that's great! We can see that it's very good to have a great network of connections and that can really help to motivate you to pursue different pathways. So what types of prior experiences or interests would you say someone entering your program should have?

Jennifer: Yeah, that's a good question! I think just from my experience right now, I think that a lot of research experience and a level of maturity are important for your success in the program. In terms of research experience, in order to apply for the program, the student needs to have either an honors degree (so an undergrad honors degree with a thesis project or a master's degree). Because when you go into the project, you are a PhD student, they expect you to have the expertise to run an independent project. They expect you to know a lot of basic scientific techniques. I think having that is quite important to start as a PhD student. I think another thing is maturity. Again, you are entering the program as a PhD student. I think for me right now, I'm still kind of juggling between undergrad and PhD. Sometimes I still feel like I am an undergrad student you know — with the snow today, I want to have a snowball fight, I want to make a snowman. Yeah, but as a future student, I think I should have a level of maturity not to roll around in the snow anymore.

Angela: Oh, that's so funny! I see that the transition to grad school may be confusing, but I'm sure you'll have it sorted out in a few years. So what final words do you have to say to BMSC students listening who may be going through some confusion for this whole process?

Jennifer: Yeah, I think I want to say that just don't tell yourself that you can’t do it. When I was applying for the program, I debated quite a lot on whether or not I should even apply (because they only take one or two students every year). I was constantly questioning myself if I am competitive enough for this program. So I guess one saying is that you never know unless you try. So I really encourage you to try to apply for the competitive programs, and try to apply for the prestigious scholarships, and if you're not competitive enough, then the committee will possibly reject you. But you never know unless you try.

Angela: Yes, of course, it's always important to have a growth mindset in these situations. And I like your perspective of just going for it and not worrying so much about the possibilities, rather than regretting your decision later. And the next question I have for you is, did anything in particular help you to essentially survive your first year of grad school? And did you have any sources of motivation?

Jennifer: Yeah, so I guess in terms of a source of motivation, I think having a support network is very important. For me, my family is very supportive. And my significant other is also very supportive. Sometimes my experiments don’t work out, I come home and I feel depressed, and then he’ll always do something to cheer me up. Yeah, and that's one thing that I'm very grateful for. And I think another one is my classmates, I have essentially two lectures every week. So just two classes that I go to as a first-year PhD student, in my department. Every week seeing them and then hanging out with them is really a source of happiness. My classmates are absolutely amazing and I've spent hours most of them outside of class. And just knowing them and then talking about our similar experiences really helps you go through the time that your experiments don’t work.

Angela: Wow, that's amazing! It's great to always have a support network during these difficult times. So thank you so much Jennifer for coming here today and taking the time to tell the students such useful information and I'm sure a lot of them will benefit from this interview. This was BMSA’s podcast for the DDS/PhD program at Western. Check back on our website and social media platforms for episodes for other programs with new students each week. Thank you for listening and we hope this has been helpful.

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