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Mary Walker - January 2014

Mary Walker, D.D.S., Ph.D., is associate dean for research and graduate programs and professor in the departments of oral and craniofacial sciences and restorative dentistry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Dentistry. She was previously a faculty member at the University of Nebraska College of Dentistry. Prior to her academic career, Walker owned a solo general dentistry practice.

Walker received a D.D.S. from the University of Nebraska College of Dentistry, and a prosthodontics certificate and Ph.D. in oral biology from UMKC as a trainee supported by an NIH/NIDCR-sponsored T32 grant. She has been involved in translational and clinical research related to mineralized tooth structure and biomaterials. Besides clinically relevant evaluations of various dental materials, another current investigation (NIH/NIDCR R01) is focused on the effects of oral cancer radiotherapy on the dentition.

Walker also serves as the program director for the Oral and Craniofacial Sciences Graduate Program as well as the director for the Summer Scholars Program, a research-focused program for dental students during the summer after their first year.  Throughout her career, she has mentored many M.S., Ph.D. and pre-doctoral dental students, graduate specialty residents and postdoctoral fellows.

Walker was the recipient of the 2013 AADR National Student Research Group Faculty Mentor Award and is currently a member-at-large on the AADR Board of Directors. She has been an AADR member since 1997.

How important has AADR been in your career?
AADR has been an excellent organization, especially in terms of mentors. When I was a student and new faculty member, there were people who advised me regarding research as well as committee and service opportunities valuable for promotion and tenure. Access to collaborators through AADR has also been important and was a significant factor for my NIDCR-sponsored K23 mentored research career development award.  Certainly my mentor was critical, but she knew potential collaborators and supporters, and we reached out to them. 

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
I think it changes at different stages in your career. The mentorship was very important earlier in my career, but now the most important benefit is the collaboration and networking opportunities with other scientists. Collaborations between basic scientists and clinician scientists can optimize our approach to oral health research questions. 

How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of the field?
Cross-collaboration is critical to the entire field of healthcare in terms of thinking broader. The link between oral and systemic health needs our research focus.  AADR also has an opportunity to be a key player in dental education in relation to evidence-based practice and inter-professional education, because both components need to be supported by research.  Our relationship to education can possibly be broader than dentistry. Looking at NYU as an example, as part of the inter-professional approach to health care, the dental and nursing schools are a merged unit with oral health care educational and training interactions across programs.  Clearly the scope of practice is different for each, but AADR could be important for providing leadership and guidance on how to integrate research across professions.

Where do you feel the research community would be without AADR?
With everything AADR does in concert with IADR, would there be another organization to step up and do the work? AADR networking is critical for supporting cross-discipline research to answer questions related to dentistry and oral health. This is an organization that brings us all together—clinician educators, clinician scientists, and basic scientists. 

What is the best way for a newer AADR member to navigate their membership and become involved in the organization?
One of the best things to do initially is attend the new member orientation at the AADR Annual Meeting. Attending that meeting can help new members understand how AADR can be helpful from a career perspective. 

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