Media Resources/Steven Doll
Fostering collaborative and creative projects to fuel research funding
In these Q-and-A sessions, we take a closer look at pressing topics within the dental profession and what they mean to Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry.
From TAMHSC-BCD initiatives to hot-button questions, we consult the college’s own subject matter experts to get their input.
This issue includes the perspectives of Dr. Paul Dechow, the new chair of biomedical sciences. Call him a “skull” man, maybe also an ideas man — and rightfully so. Between 26 years at TAMHSC-BCD, where he has played a crucial role in the development of the evidence-based dentistry initiative, and his long-term research on the structure and biomechanics of the craniofacial skeleton, he has a wide variety of topics to discuss.
Dechow also brings an extensive knowledge base to his role as chair, considering his doctorate in anatomy, postdoctoral fellowship in craniofacial biology and human growth and development, and current leadership roles as president of the Texas Association of Biological Anthropologists and founding president of the Clinical and Translational Sciences Network of the International Association for Dental Research.
Here, Dechow gets candid on his vision for biomedical sciences, the department’s strengths when it comes to research funding and, last but not least, the story behind those primate sculptures in his workspace. You may not believe it, but he has more at home.
BDRO: You recently made the move across Gaston Avenue from the Sciences Building to your new space on the fourth floor. Since assuming the responsibilities of department chair Oct. 1, what has been the single biggest change in how you spend your time?
Dechow: Well, it did take me a while to move across the street, and I still spend a lot of time walking back and forth as my laboratory remains in the Sciences Building. But now that I have moved into the department office, I invite everyone to stop by and say hello. Since becoming chair, besides the time involved in relocating, I have had a lot of deadlines related to yearly department planning, goals, assessments, promotions and tenure. Going forward, I plan to spend a lot of time working on our goals themselves because there are a lot of things the people in the department would like to accomplish.
BDRO: You bring a pretty unique knowledge base to your new role. Just how will you integrate your experiences into your vision for the biomedical sciences department?
Dechow: I’ve been here for 26 years, and a part of my goals ever since I came here was to try to develop a more intensive research environment that synergizes with our teaching mission. So really, I’ve been working on this stuff since I was an assistant professor.
The atmosphere that we try to develop is one of strong camaraderie, where people really try to help each other and don’t have this fierce competition. That makes this a very friendly environment where people want to collaborate on projects. That is the environment I really want to sustain, one in which people can do their best work and be themselves. We want to be very open and transparent, where everyone can see what the department is doing and where it is going.
BDRO: Given the current climate for research funding on a national and international scale, what are some of the unique challenges — and opportunities — to keep those research dollars flowing into the department, to see that vision realized?
Dechow: You have to be persistent. Nothing is going to get funded unless you apply first. That said, you need a lot of really creative people who are staying on top of their field and coming up with new ideas. That can be a challenge for a school like this one that is isolated from a larger health science structure.
We’ve gotten a bit beyond that in some areas, including mineralized tissue research. The group that we’ve developed is really one of the best in the world, so many of the top ideas in this area are being generated here, which has given us lots of successes in recent years.
BDRO: We’ve seen some of the primate sculptures that accent your workspace, and it’s no secret that your interests include craniofacial evolution in humans and primates alike. Tell us, do you have any field research stories set in exotic locales, or is all of your work done in a controlled laboratory setting?
Dechow: I have always wanted to do field research, but I never have. I did my doctorate with a South African physician and scientist who was well known for doing field research in South Africa and the Near East. The year I started working with him he stopped doing field research. I was his only grad student who didn’t get to go on field expeditions. So I’ve probably had field envy all this years. I continue to do a lot of collaboration with people who do field research.