Tanner first became interested in research while attending Utah State University for his undergraduate studies. While Utah State had ample opportunities for research, Tanner explains it was not exactly a priority for undergraduates. Despite this, Tanner decided to major in biochemistry and joined a lab researching symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria. So how exactly did Tanner go from researching bacteria to wanting to become a dentist? He was, in fact, initially interested in dentistry but along the way discovered he loved science and research and was not willing to compromise either of them. “The professor I worked with encouraged creativity and let me explore on my own,” says Tanner. “This made research and discovery enjoyable since I really owned my research experience! Because of this, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in combination with dental training.”
The question that must now be on everyone’s mind is how long does it take to complete both a DMD and a Ph.D.? So far, Tanner has spent 3 years in the UAB Graduate of Biomedical Science Ph.D. program working on his dissertation. Tanner explained “the first year consists of lab rotations and selection, basic science coursework, and developing a project. Since then I have spent most of my time working on that project. Currently, I have a few small experiments and dissertation writing to complete my Ph.D.” For his dissertation, he has been studying how changes in DNA packaging and organization in stem cells affects differentiation to osteoblasts. His work is very important for understanding potential causes and solutions for bone diseases like osteoporosis.
Tanner just started dental school this year and will graduate with the class of 2022. However, Tanner interviewed three years ago with the class of 2019, the current D4s that will graduate in May. He interviewed with the intent of taking more time to pursue his Ph.D. first before starting any dental school training. “When I interviewed, I was aware that I wouldn't be joining a class for a number of years,” explains Tanner. “Other programs are set up different, but UAB sticks with Ph.D. first!” If you are a D4 reading this, it must be hard to believe that you were accepted to UAB almost three years ago. Imagine getting accepted and waiting three years to even begin dental school!
Tanner is a very hard worker but he has not earned the title of Dr. just yet. He says “I will complete my remaining work for my dissertation during my dental school training and breaks!” It takes a lot of perseverance to be willing to sacrifice time away from family and friends in the pursuit of two very challenging degrees. Tanner is clearly very passionate about his work but also explains that maintaining a healthy life-work balance has been crucial to his success. “I am creative with my time,” says Tanner. “I come in early or work with my mice during lunch or after class. I rarely come in on weekends so I can spend time with my wife and kids! I try to make good use of my class time to get as much of the material down as I can, then I study in the evenings and early mornings. Just make sure to keep a healthy balance, it goes a long way toward maintaining productivity!”
Getting involved with research is a great way to enhance your dental school experience. While it may seem daunting to add a huge research project on top of all the classes we have to take, Tanner says it is possible! His best piece of advice is “finding the right lab and project is really important. You need to be interested and care about what you are doing to make it work.”
When he graduates, Tanner would like to stay in academics so he can spend most of his time doing research. He says “Ideally, I would like to work in a faculty practice in a dental school several days a week then spend the rest of my time doing research.”
Currently, he is the president-elect of the National Student Research Group of the American Association for Dental Research. He is clearly very involved with the greater research community and says he would love to answer any questions people may have about research, finding labs or projects, or how to get involved in other ways! We are very fortunate to have him as a classmate and future colleague and wish him the best with his research endeavors.
Author: Kelsey Gwin, Class of 2021