Professor Petra Wilder-Smithís advice to beginning researchers is to find a mentor who loves to work with students, and it is obvious that she matches that description. After more than two decades of mentoring undergraduates, more than 90% of her students have gone on to medical or dental school. Through her faculty appointments at Loma Linda University and Aachen University, she has successfully bridged the gap between international academics and between clinical practice, education and research for the more than 30 students that she has mentored at those institutions, as demonstrated by her Eurofond research mentoring award for dental students from the EU. In recognition of her outstanding mentoring role, Professor Wilder-Smith was awarded the prestigious Chancellorís Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research from the School of Medicine in 2010.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

Undergraduate students contribute enormously to my groupís work through their creativity, dedication and hard work. I direct a wide range of projects from basic research to pre-clinical and clinical studies. Students are heavily involved in all aspects of my groupís research.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

Primarily I look for strong interest and motivation, as well as a willingness to take ownership of ďtheirĒ part of a project. My students are all self-motivated problem solvers, with high goals and impressive achievements.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

I work closely with each of my students at all stages of their project, beginning with comprehensive research on the project, developing a research plan, and finally executing and evaluating the study. Typically I pair up a new student with a more advanced student for each study. We meet regularly to discuss project progress, results and potential modifications of the plan as it proceeds.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

They learn how to develop and execute a study. They learn to work in the lab, and/or with animals and/or clinical studies. They gain research and clinical experience. They develop friendships with other students, and help each other out when the time comes to apply to dental or medical school

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

It is a great pleasure to work with our students. In addition to being the nicest people you could ever imagine, my students take on a huge amount of responsibility in their projects, do outstanding work, and I rely on them extensively.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

Find a mentor who loves to work with students; find a project that excites you, and give it your very best.

Research Interests: Professor Wilder-Smith's research interests include the use of non-invasive optical techniques for oral diagnosis, especially the early detection and monitoring of dental caries and erosion as well as pre-cancerous and cancerous changes. Her work in this field over the past 15 years has resulted in much collaboration and more than 80 publications. She serves on many advisory boards, including the Medical Advisory Board to Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, the Board of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, as well as the editorial boards of the journals Lasers in Surgery & Medicine and Journal of Biomedical Optics. Wilder-Smith also served on the board of the Diagnostics Group, International Association for Dental Research.

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '11 Louis DeSipio
Nov. '11 Anthony A. James
Oct. '11 Tiffany Willoughby-Herard
Sep. '11 Angela Lukowski
Aug. '11 Petra Wilder-Smith
Jul. '11 Ron D. Frostig
Jun. '11 Sunny Jiang
May. '11 Samuel L. Gilmore
Apr. '11 Sally Dickerson
Mar. '11 Shahram Lotfipour
Feb. '11 Mark Steyvers
Jan. '11 Benjamin F. Villac