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/ Categories: Strides in Science

May 2019 – David Cruz Walma

David Cruz Walma is a Medical Research Scholars Program Fellow in the lab of Kenneth Yamada in the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and an oncoming fourth year D.M.D. student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Dentistry. His research interests focus on using state-of-the-art cellular and structural biology approaches to discover novel molecular mechanisms regulating developmental health and disease of the head and neck. 


David has received several research awards and mentoring recognitions, including the 2018 William S. Kramer Award of Excellence, has held various student leadership positions and is passionate about mentoring. Via the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, David will become a graduate research student at the University of Oxford, England in 2019 under the dual-mentorship of Alex Bullock and Kenneth Yamada. 
 

How did you first learn about AADR and what motivated you to join?
I became aware of the AADR and its mission through interactions with dental school professors as an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The appeal of a central platform promoting the interaction of dental, oral and craniofacial researchers from a variety of backgrounds led me to join the AADR.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
Membership in a professional organization like AADR offers a means for researchers to share their ideas and research works via a variety of mechanisms, including annual meetings, local chapter events and research journals.

What do you want to see in the future for AADR?
I hope to see the AADR continue interacting with the American Dental Association and similar organizations to motivate dental students to pursue careers involving dental research. We have barely begun to understand the balance between health and disease of the head and neck. Whether remaining in academia or moving to the private sector, dental providers should strive to further our understanding of oral and maxillofacial health.

What is the best way for other members to become more involved in AADR?
Interacting with local AADR groups, such as the local chapter of the National Student Research Group or a Scientific Group/Network, is an easy and efficient way for members to become more involved in the AADR. 

Why did you apply to NIH Medical Research Scholars Program? 
The NIH Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP) offers an unparalleled environment for professional students to interact with and learn from distinguished medical researchers from across the globe. Throughout dental school, my intent has  been to pursue doctoral level research and a career in academia focusing upon understanding mechanisms of developmental health and disease of the head and neck. The MRSP provided me the opportunity to learn from the most prodigious investigators in the field, including my mentor, Dr. Kenneth Yamada.

Tell us about your experience during the program. What were the greatest benefits of the NIH Medical Research Scholars Program? How did you grow as a researcher during this time?
This program centers on teaching scholars the scientific method. Which questions should be asked? How can answers be obtained? What do the results signify? By interacting with NIH investigators, attending MRSP-related seminars and employing various NIH resources, scholars begin developing the mindset required to perform rigorous research. Personally, I am developing through interactions with my MRSP advisor Bruce Baum, my mentor Kenneth Yamada and numerous other investigators in the NIDCR and NIH.

You have decided to continue your research career by pursuing a Ph.D. with the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program. What motivated you to move forward with a research career? 
Throughout my education, I have been fascinated by key biological questions to which simple answers do not exist. Performing pioneering science provides the opportunity to become immersed in an environment devoted to discovering the puzzle pieces to those complex answers. A career in research and academics offers a future learning from, and working with, individuals who share this passion. 

This past year, I have been introduced to state-of-the-art techniques and technologies that provide unprecedented methods to analyze biological systems. These resources offer seemingly endless possibilities and continue to develop at an astonishing rate. In the words of several of my mentors: “There has been no more exciting time to be involved in biomedical research!”

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