Kamran Awan is an Associate Professor at Roseman University of Health Sciences, College of Dental Medicine, South Jordan, Utah, where he teaches courses in didactic and clinical oral pathology. Awan is also Vice-Chair of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) where he oversees IRB meetings to ensure reviews and approvals comply with regulatory requirements, the Belmont Report, state laws and University policy.
Awan specializes in oral medicine, oral pathology and community oral health sciences. He earned his Dental Degree from Karachi University in Karachi, Pakistan and his Ph.D. in Oral Medicine from the King’s College London, England. Over the years, Awan has worked as an academician, clinician and researcher in many parts of the world including Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.
Awan has authored/co-authored more than 100 articles in high-impact peer-reviewed journals and has lectured extensively in the academic setting and at national and international meetings. He also serves on the Editorial Advisory Boards and Reviewer panels of many national and international journals.
Awan has been awarded Fellowships in the prestigious Pierre Fauchard Academy, American College of Dentists and Academy of Dentistry International for his significant contribution to the dental profession in the fields of clinical practice, education and community service.
How did you first learn about the AADR and what motivated you to join?
I first learned about AADR as a graduate student at King’s College London, England. While pursuing my Ph.D. and being in the research field for some time, it became very clear to me that AADR was an important platform to not only share the research I am passionate about but also meet other researchers from all over the world and build network and forge friendships.
Can you describe your research? How do you hope your work will impact others?
My research interests mainly focus on oral cancer. Oral cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the world and even though we have learned a lot about the disease process, there are still gaps that need to be addressed. One such area is delayed diagnosis of the disease and lack of valuable screening/diagnostic tools that may help in early diagnosis of oral cancer. My early work primarily focused on in-depth evaluation of different chair-side tools (Autofluorescence, Chemiluminescence, Toluidine Blue and Brush biopsy) and their accuracy in identifying oral potentially malignant disorders (OPMDs). Our results showed that even though these tools have a higher sensitivity in detecting OPMDs, they lack the specificity in differentiating them from benign lesions.
Recently, I am investigating the effects of e-cigarette exposure on oral cells. E-cigarettes is a growing market not only among the adult population but also among the youth. However, the available evidence about long term biological effects of e-cigarette seems to be limited. The purpose of our project is to analyze the short-term and long-term effects of e-cigarette use on oral epithelial cells “in vitro” and to demonstrate its danger as a trigger to transform normal cells into cancer cells.
Can you describe your experience being a researcher from an underrepresented group in science?
In my career so far, I am fortunate to have worked at a number of places with different cultural and social background including Pakistan, England, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Doing so has not only increased my cultural awareness, tolerance and cultural sensitivity but also enabled me to develop as a person.
One thing that I have witnessed occasionally when it comes to evaluation of excellence in science/research is negative views based on origin, school, country or oversimplified metrics such as impact factor of a journal, or an h-index of a researcher. I strongly believe that a person’s ability to contribute to science and technology cannot and should not be judged based on anything else except on their activity and enthusiasm.
I always say that even though smart teams will do amazing things, but truly diverse teams will do impossible things.
Have you had the opportunity to mentor underrepresented minorities or work to increase diversity in science? If yes, can you describe your experience and what agencies/organizations you worked with?
Since 2017, I have been working as the Faculty Advisor for our NSRG (National Student Research Group) Roseman chapter. The group consists of students from various diverse backgrounds. I felt that the skills that I developed over the years working at various culturally diverse places helped me a lot. As a faculty advisor, I not only encouraged the students to take active participation in the research but also provided research project opportunities for them. As a result, a student from one of my research groups not only presented at the 2018 IADR meeting in London but also won the Bloc Travel Grant based on the scientific excellence of the abstract. It was a great achievement for her, our group and our institution not only because she won the award but more so that she belongs to a minority group (Middle-eastern origin). This provided an inspiration to many other students and the following year we had 11 students who presented at the 2019 IADR/AADR/CADR meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, many of which were from underrepresented groups.
I am also a member of the AADR Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, where we identify the inclusion and diversity strengths, issues and opportunities and develop strategies and plans to examine ways in which we can include members of underrepresented groups.
Based on your experience, how would you encourage AADR members to help increase the diversity of the research workforce?
The positive impact of diversity in increasing the effectiveness of the research workforce has been undeniably demonstrated to be an essential element for achieving health equity. One of the sustainable ways to achieve diversity in the workforce is through training, education and career development for all interested individuals including minority, underserved, underrepresented and populations with special needs.
What role do you think professional associations can play in supporting its members who are members of underrepresented minority/ethnic groups?
Nearly every organization today would state that diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority, however, many organizations still have not been effective at increasing diverse representation. There is no two-hour training remedy for this challenge. Professional associations need to assess their current systems and processes to mitigate bias. Associations should provide clear career paths and steps to advancement, exposure to senior leaders and mentors and long-term career support to their members of underrepresented minority/ethnic groups.