NCOHR Feature: Dr. Zeeshan Sheikh, Clinician-Scientist in the Making
Educated in Karachi, Pakistan, and London, England, Dr. Zeeshan Sheikh worked for two years as a clinician before deciding to pursue his interests in dental research (on the fabrication and characterization of bone grafts) in Canada. He recently completed his PhD at McGill University’s faculty of dentistry in August and is poised to begin a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto.
CDA spoke with Dr. Sheikh about his decision to follow a career in research.
Why did you choose research over private practice?
When I was working as a full-time clinician, it didn’t take me too long to realize that I was not entirely satisfied with my job. Being in research and academia provides me with the intellectual stimulation that I was missing in a purely clinical setting. I’ve been an inquisitive soul since childhood. Nothing makes me more excited than the prospect of a question that needs pondering. My aim is to become a researcher/academic/clinician and promote dental health research and education across Canada.
What do you think are the key factors determining success in a research career?
Hard work and perseverance always pay off. But, in our competitive times, success cannot be ensured by merely putting in hours. Every candidate applying for a professorship has degrees and publications; you should bring other attributes to the table to give you and edge over the other candidates. I feel that the Network for Canadian Oral Health Research (NCOHR) plays an important role in this, as it provides a great platform for students and young researchers to build their network and start collaborations.
Why aren’t more young dentists pursuing careers in research?
Financial security is the primary reason, in my opinion. After graduation, the opportunity to work in a clinic and make money to pay off student loans is probably one of the main reasons that young dentists don’t follow a career in research.
Secondly, not everyone is cut out to be in research. It requires hours of dedication and hard work, and sometimes there are no results to show for it.
And thirdly, there is a lack of awareness and knowledge among young dentists about careers in full- or part-time research. The annual NCOHR workshops provide dental undergraduate students with an opportunity to meet and be inspired by clinicians who are in research.
Who have been your most important career mentors?
I have been blessed with having great mentors who have always guided me in the right direction: my MSc supervisor, Dr. Ihtesham ur Rehman; my PhD supervisor, Dr. Jake Barralet; Dr. Faleh Tamimi; and Dr. Walter Siqueira have all played a critical role in my professional development.
Has NCOHR played a role in helping you develop your career?
During the first NCOHR workshops held at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2013, I met with Dr. Michael Glogauer from the University of Toronto, who is a periodontal specialist. I stayed in touch with him and he recently offered me a postdoctoral fellowship position. Through the two NCOHR workshops I’ve attended, I expanded my network and had the opportunity to be part of the organizing committee for the NCOHR workshop that took place at the University of Alberta this summer.
Soon I will be starting my postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto with Dr. Glogauer. In the future, I hope to work as a clinician-scientist and play a role in academia. I also want to stay affiliated with NCOHR in whatever capacity possible—it has played an important role in developing my career—and one day be part of the steering committee.
Any advice for colleagues considering a career in research?
Only that a career in academia is extremely challenging and competitive. Do it with all your heart and believe in your abilities. There is a need for young dentists to pursue research in Canada.