Robert Spears, M.S., Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, and director of curriculum and director of student research at the Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry. He received his B.S. in biology and M.S. in anatomy from Texas A&M University, and his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from Texas A&M System Health Science Center.
His has focused his research efforts toward the elucidation of signal transduction mechanisms during inflammatory joint diseases using an animal model of adjuvant-induced inflammation of the temporomandibular joint. Of particular interest is the role that different inflammatory mediators may play in the process, with emphasis upon the interaction between elements of the immune and nervous system. His research efforts have evolved around the examination of the involvement of proinflammatory cytokines, and recently the potential involvement of the sympathetic nervous system in chronic pain.
Spears has multiple publications in the area and has been involved in numerous grants. However, a great deal of Spears’ efforts go toward educating students on the importance of dental research and including them as much as possible in getting involved in research efforts. For more than 15 years Spears has demonstrated a remarkable dedication to the Student Research Group at Baylor College of Dentistry, and has also lent his expertise to the AADR National Student Research Group, where he was a faculty advisor for 10 years.
He spends numerous hours with student researchers and aids in their participation in numerous national meetings. His students have won numerous awards at national meetings and have held offices in the AADR National Student Research Group. In 2012, he was awarded the Mentor of the Year award by the AADR National Student Research Group.
Spears has been an AADR member since 1987.
What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
The most valuable benefit of my AADR membership is being able to collaborate with other members. Being part of AADR has allowed me to get to know the people in the field one-on-one. So many of the people associated with dental research and AADR are very helpful and supportive. Having those collaborations and friendships through AADR is important, you gain so much by being involved.
How important has AADR been in your career?
AADR has done so much for me and my career. I think part of the reason I have gotten promotions and tenure within my career is through things I have done with AADR. Being involved in AADR has allowed me to fulfill a lot of my research requirements and as a faculty member I’m also expected to give back to the field. Additionally, through AADR I have an international reputation and more exposure, and I’ve met people through AADR who have written recommendation letters for me. Without my involvement in AADR and the help I’ve received from the organization, there’s no way I’d be doing what I’m doing today.
How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of dental, oral and craniofacial research?
I think it’s very much where the future is going. One of the buzz words right now in dental education is inter-professional education. Whether you want to think of it as inter-professional or multiple-collaborations, I think what we’re starting to see a similar trend in research where it strengthens your career proposals and your research. The more you think of yourself along the lines of research and be involved in other sciences you will open yourself up to more collaborations, which ultimately will help to answer the questions we’re all asking.
What is the best way for AADR members to become more involved in the Association?
I think one way people can get involved is to attend the AADR and IADR meetings, and attend the IADR Scientific Group/Network meetings. It’s important to join and be active in the Scientific Groups/Networks to meet people who have the same likes and interests as you. If you’re planning to attend an AADR/IADR meeting, present your research so that you gain some visibility or chair a session. There are all sorts of ways for members to be active in this organization, just don’t be shy about pursuing those opportunities.
What’s a message you want to give to future dental researchers to help them be successful?
I think dental research is like most things in life: you get what you put into it. From a faculty standpoint, one of the expectations of us is that we give back to science by getting students involved, showing them what they can gain and help them pursue research, which can only benefit dental research. When you’re on the outside looking in as a student, entering the field of dental research can be intimidating. Really all it takes for a lot of students is encouragement and we need to continue to show them how exciting it is to be part of a scientific discovery that makes a difference in patient care, science and technology. Our students are the next generation of dental researchers and educators. If we don’t help them get involved and see their potential that they can have and contribute to AADR, we’re never going to get anywhere as a science.