After seven months in post as the new Head of the School for the School of Dentistry, we spoke to Professor Nicola Innes about how she has found the role, her priorities and her hopes for the future.
Professor Innes took over from the Joint Acting Heads of School, Professor Barbara Chadwick, and Professor Ivor Chestnutt, on 1 August 2020. She joined the School at a time when the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020/21 academic year ahead was largely unknown and has seen the School further adapt to the challenges of remote learning and national lockdown restrictions.
Professor Innes joined Cardiff from her role as Professor of Paediatric Dentistry at the University of Dundee. She initially qualified as a Registered General Nurse working in Neurosurgery, changed career pathway into Dentistry and worked as a General Dental Practitioner for seven years. She is probably best known for her work investigating and teaching the Hall Technique for managing child dental caries.
Professor Innes became a full-time lecturer at Dundee in 2005, a Specialist in Paediatric Dentistry in 2011, leading Child Dental and Oral Health with four years as Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching. Her major research interest continues to be in applied cariology; finding better ways to manage dental caries but primarily improving dental care for children.
How have you found the first seven months of being in post?
There is no doubt that starting as Head of a new Dental School and a new city (and country!) presents a challenge in itself. However, beginning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it’s not been possible to spend time getting to know people and what happens normally through the academic year, has been both interesting and exciting!
I have had the warmest of welcomes from everyone in the School. Despite not being able to get together with people or have the usual meetings in person, coffees, or drinks after work, I can honestly say that colleagues in the School, and beyond that, within the wider Dental field across Wales, have made me feel instantly like I was part of the School. I think this is a testament to the friendliness of the Welsh too.
What are your impressions of Cardiff, the city?
I was lucky enough to be an external examiner for the School, so I had a bit of insight into the lovely city of Cardiff. I love the vibe of being in a city with all the advantages of that, the café culture, great restaurants, and the lovely parks but still close enough to wander into the countryside and to the beaches (lockdowns allowing of course!). I’m a great lover of music and I can’t wait until the concert halls open up. That is one of the things I’m most looking forward to, getting to see a show at St David’s Hall.
How do you see working with the alumni community in future?
I think the alumni community are a real asset for the School and I can give two recent examples to show what I mean by that.
The first example comes from the interviews that I’ve been undertaking with applicants to our programmes. Interestingly, one of the most frequent reasons I hear for people wishing to come to Cardiff to study whether it’s undergraduate, postgraduate, dentistry, hygiene of hygiene/therapy is that they know a Cardiff graduate and they had such a great experience, they want to recommend Cardiff Dental School. Being able to grow and facilitate more of this would be great.
The second example comes from our recent communications with local dental practitioners to see if any of them might be willing to come into the school and have some training in supporting our students. This in turn would help us staff additional clinics to allow students more patient contact to make up for their lost time due to COVID.
We had a hugely positive response and the recurring theme was of practitioners/alumni wishing to give something back and support our aspiring students in the way they had felt supported.
I think this feeling of belonging gives us a strong basis for engaging with each other more and we plan to look for the activities that interest our alumni in supporting the School and how the School might support our alumni.
It seems likely that in these “less traditional” times, there are good ways of working remotely to build the relationship with our alumni as our local and global ambassadors. This might be something as fundamental as involving our alumni in building mentorship programmes for students, having international guest lectures etc – there are so many opportunities!
What are your hopes and priorities for the future for the School?
The School’s research already has positive impacts locally, throughout Wales and internationally. We are going to continue that, of course, but also look at other ways of addressing fundamental questions for dental and oral health and play to our strengths.
Our primary purpose is training our future dentists and we are looking closely at the outside environment and where our students go to after graduation, to ensure that our programmes are preparing them for the world as it will be when they complete their studies with us. One of our big ambitions is to grow the School in different ways – so watch this space!