Faculty Mentor Spotlight – Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, D.D.S, Ph.D.

-Written by Daijha Copeland

-Edited by Monica Richard

Meet Dr. Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, a native of Chicago, an associate professor, dentist, researcher, and mentor. Frazier-Bowers came to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1993.

As a child, Frazier-Bowers visits to her dentist inspired her to pursue dentistry.

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Frazier-Bowers said, “For better or worse, I visited my dentist often so the comfort and ease I felt during my visits soon turned into intrigue. I later realized that unlike some health professional fields, the dentist seemed to be very solution-oriented and definitive in dealing with patients’ dental needs.”

In high school, Frazier-Bowers enrolled in the Chicago Health and Medical Careers Pre College Program. During the program, the ins and outs of the health profession and biomedical research were introduced to Frazier-Bowers, sparking an interest in research that never left her. Frazier-Bowers received her undergraduate degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but worked for a year in research and development before continuing her journey in to the dental profession. While attending dental school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Frazier-Bowers was actively involved in the research projects of her professors. Serendipitously, she opened a flier in the mail about a fellowship program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (formerly National Institute of Dental Research) summer fellowship, applied and was accepted.

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

The experience was transformative. During the fellowship, Frazier-Bowers got the opportunity to listen to guest speakers who gave glimpses into their scientific work and medical practices. Frazier-Bowers said, “I was completely captivated by this environment of scientists.” It was during these talks that Frazier-Bowers realized that most of the problems and anomalies that patients face arise from facial proportions, which are largely inherited. It was obvious that these anomalies had a genetic route. Dr. Frazier-Bowers believed that by knowing what these genetic processes were a more holistic perspective could be given to patients’ conditions and their care could be improved.

Frazier-Bowers sought out a National Institute of Health training grant that would allow her to obtain a specialty in her field and pursue a PhD. Finding such a program at UNC-Chapel Hill, Frazier-Bowers packed her bags and moved to North Carolina. Obtaining a certificate in orthodontics and her PhD in genetics and molecular biology, focused and motivated, it was not long before Frazier-Bowers became an associate professor at the UNC School of Dentistry, where she now conducts her own research.

The Frazier-Bowers story does not end here. It is at UNC that Frazier-Bowers experienced a great need to “give back” in respect to all of the great mentors she had along the way. Frazier-Bowers believes that, “A mentor can help students combat the negatives in life, whether inside or outside of the lab or classroom, and draw inspiration from their experiences which can help them improve and succeed.”

When asked about the most challenging moments of mentoring students, Frazier-Bowers said, “There seems to always be a scheduling conflict. It is hard to ensure one-on-one time…That one-on-one time is crucial to the mentoring process.” But beyond the challenges, it is the energy and excitement about the science that young mentees bring into the lab that Frazier-Bowers enjoys most. Frazier-Bowers said, “Having that presence produces a spirited atmosphere that nurtures the ultimate goal – creating new knowledge – a product, I enjoy seeing come to life.”

 

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Gidi Shemer – Coordinator for Undergraduate Biology Research

Hi everyone,

My name is Gidi Shemer and I am a faculty member in the Biology Department, also serving as the advisor of the biology majors and the coordinator of undergrad research in Biology.

If you are reading this post, you already made the first important step.  You are interested in research. To me, spending four years at Carolina and not getting a research experience is (almost) as bad as not attending a single basketball game during your college years in Chapel Hill.

What I would like to share with you here are some tips vis-a-vis undergraduate research, based on questions that I frequently get from students. While I come from the Natural Science world (and you will see below that I am discussing experiments), I believe that at least some of the information applies also to research done in other fields.

What do I actually do when I perform research? Do I need to come up with the ideas? Does someone tell me what to do?

You will be mentored by a grad student/postdoc/professor. Typically, your project will be a “sub-project” of your mentor’s research. The idea here is to teach you how to walk before you start running. You will learn the techniques, but more importantly, the scientific approach. What can go wrong with my experiment? What are the negative controls that I should use? And so forth.

Having said that, at some point you will “start running” and will be able to design your own experiments.

How do I start? Where can I find a research advisor?

The key word here is – proactive. You shouldn’t wait for professors to post “we are looking for a student” ads. What you should do is to invest in research through the web, to read what different professors/labs are studying, and to compile yourself a list of professors you want to work with. Then, send introductory emails to all those professors. Do not write “to whom it may concern”. Refer to their research. Explain why you are interested in their work.

Many will not respond. Be persistent, yet polite and send a reminder. To get additional tips on how to introduce yourself when contacting a professor, follow this link: http://www.unc.edu/depts/our/pdfs/contact_email_tips.pdf

None of the professors I contacted responded positively. Any helpful tips?

Here are two:

First, stand out in class. Your Genetics professor is probably running a lab. She has 200 students in her class and all she needs to do is cherry-pick the best one for undergraduate research. Be one of them- participate in discussions, meet the professors in their office and stand out.

Second, at least in the sciences, most labs are looking for paid technicians. This is not a hypothesis-driven research project. It is more of a “washing the dishes” type of job, but it is the best way to get you foot in the door. One semester as a lab tech, and you will find it much easier to get a research position in that lab.

 

Finally, for those who are specifically interested in natural science here is a link to help you search for labs. Simply follow a research field of your interest: http://webapps.med.unc.edu/BBSP/BBSPFaculty/research

Good luck,

Gidi Shemer

 

PS Even if you are not starting research yet, don’t forget about that basketball game. You SHOULD go to one.