Higher Education in Dentistry and Engineering in the UK - Dr. Sherif Elsharkawy
Hometown: Alexandria, Egypt
Undergraduate: Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) - Alexandria University
Masters: MSc at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in Oral Biology
PhD: Bio-engineering and Materials Science - Queen Mary University of London
Clinical speciality training: Prosthodontics - King’s College London
Field: Biomaterials and Prosthodontics
Bio: Dr. Sherif Elsharkawy is a Clinical Lecturer and Principal Investigator in Prosthodontics and Biomaterials at the Centre for Oral, Clinical and Translational Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences at King's College London (KCL). Dr Elsharkawy graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) with honours from Alexandria University, Egypt, and practiced in both hospital and private practices for about three years. Dr Elsharkawy then pursued his MSc at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in Oral Biology with Distinction, followed by PhD studentship and postdoctoral fellowship in Bio-engineering and Materials Science under the supervision of Prof. Alvaro Mata at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Dr Elsharkawy worked as a Clinical Teacher in Restorative Dentistry at QMUL before moving to King's, where he is currently funded by the prestigious NIHR integrated academic clinical lectureship scheme. Clinically, Dr Elsharkawy has special interests in dental implants, tooth wear, and prosthodontic rehabilitation for oncology patients. Also, Sherif is a principal investigator, where his lab aims to understand mineral-protein interactions in physiological and pathological biomineralization, and to develop hierarchical mineralized structures. The lab comprises one PhD student and one postdoc who are currently funded by Wellcome Trust and NIHR.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am from Alexandria, graduated from Saint Marc and joined the Faculty of Dentistry at Alexandria University. In university in Egypt, I was an average student. I considered university in Egypt to be a “fun” and a casual thing. I did not take it so seriously, despite that I have received very good grades with Honours. After completing my undergraduate studies, I worked in various private clinics and public hospitals. After some thinking and reflection, I felt I did not like the capabilities I saw, and I wanted to think outside the box completely.
I attended a 3-day course on “Tissue Engineering,” a field that is multidisciplinary with Prof. Mona Marei https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGJOOBPym5U. This 3 day course somehow changed my life. I became very passionate about this field and found myself on Youtube watching videos to learn more.
When did you start considering applying for a masters abroad?
I started looking up programmes and applying online very casually. I found one good program in London and casually applied, which was the only course I applied for. I somehow got accepted, and could not really believe it at the time. From a personal side, I left my wife and son in Egypt and was alone in London pursuing my masters. I was laser focused on my studies.
How did you prepare for the application process for your masters?
The application was relatively straightforward.
The IELTS exam tends to be a requirement, although some people apply without it and get a conditional offer until they get it.
For the personal statement, I shared my story and was very honest about my experience and why I wanted to join the program. The personal statement needs to be unique - and it needs to be about you. The admission committee can detect when the personal story is dishonest or cliche. It has to be your story. Your friends and mentors can help you with structure, proofreading, etc. But the content itself has to come from you and has to tell your story, why you chose this particular program and your goals for the future.
The competition is much higher if you are applying for a scholarship. There are other candidates, and you have to make a strong case for why they should hire you over others. You need to show the committee/professor that you know the place, the professors’ work, and clarify why you want this position.
How did you decide to apply for a PhD following your masters?
At the end of my program, I worked on a research project and by the end of my research project, I felt that I was discovering something new. Thankfully, my professors were impressed with my research findings and I got accepted with a full scholarship and a stipend to work on my PhD in the Engineering Department. My advisor felt I was a good fit for the program, and it was a very multidisciplinary opportunity.
My research was focused on developing novel biomineralization platforms to mimic human hard tissues, such as dental enamel and bone. I was able to receive a patent on my findings and had the opportunity to travel to different countries, receiving prestigious awards, and to attend conferences. I also published a few papers including one in Nature Communications, which was picked up well by the media globally.
How did funding fit in the picture? Tell us more about this process and any advice you may have for others?
For my masters, I wanted to apply to scholarships such as Citadel, but I was too late for the deadline. I discussed this with my family, and they were very supportive. My parents felt it was a good investment and they supported my first masters in 2013.
As a side note, I learned about Chevening and I would say Chevening is hard to get for those in dentistry. I think they are more interested in people who will be in positions of decision making, so perhaps those in public health. Citadel, on the other hand, tends to select people who want to return to Egypt and to benefit the country.
For my PhD, there are many scholarships in the UK. If your PI has a grant that does not restrict him or her from recruiting international students, then you might have an opportunity. They can hire international students, and they will not only be covering your studies but also offering you a stipend. There is a site called findaphd.com which lists different positions for PhD.
It is also worth noting that Egyptians can get full scholarships funded by the Egyptian government especially for faculty staff (be3tha). If you are a student you should also check out the Newton-Mosharafa Fund, which is a collaboration between the British council and the Egyptian government to fund PhD students. If you are interested in doing research in biomaterials or dentistry at PhD or Postdoc level in the UK, please don’t hesitate to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What about your dentistry practice. How did accreditation work?
I left dentistry for years during my PhD and had not seen a single patient then. However, I knew that I did not solely want to be a researcher. I wanted to continue to practice and to see patients. In 2016, I decided to do (“mo3adla”) to be able to practice. Honestly, the process requires a lot of dedication and hard work. I took two exams - a theoretical exam of everything I had studied and a follow up practical part. The practical part includes assessment of how you handle patients and whether or not you are safe for patients. For example, as a dentist, can you do a good treatment plan? For more information about how this process works, check this link https://www.gdc-uk.org/registration/overseas-registration-exam.
I would say that any dentist in Egypt can complete this process by taking the two exams I had mentioned. The total cost is around 4,000 sterling pounds. Additionally, you need to take the IELTs as the minimum requirement. If you are a fresh graduate within 2 years of graduation, you’ll be exempt from the English exams. Once you finish the process, you can work as a dentist and register with the General Dental Council (GDC).
Is there anything that you wish someone had told you to consider when applying to universities abroad?
Be proactive - I had not realized that human resources are very important. What I mean is that students should never feel shy to send emails and network with professors and supervisors. For example, it is possible for a student to come for 3 months to a university here to work as a researcher.
Tailor your applications - My advice for students is that you should now throw applications around - make every application tailored and specific.
Choose what makes sense for you - for example, some people might choose to practice dentistry without a masters or a PhD. Others might choose to pursue a masters and stop there. Others might skip a masters and jump to a PhD. It is worth noting that students can jump to do a PhD without pursuing a masters, but they need to have had extensive research experience.
It is worth noting that after Brexit, opportunities increased for people like us from Egypt. Before Brexit, there were benefits to choosing EU citizens over others. With Brexit, opportunities increased for students from outside the EU.
Reflecting on your experience, what are the main advantages of studying in London?
London is very international and diverse which is something I appreciate.
I have never experienced any racism especially in the heart of London.
London has a huge network and many universities. There are many opportunities.
The lifestyle here is fun with different restaurants to explore
It is a hub so you find many people coming in and out of London.
It is relatively close to Egypt.
It is beautiful, but it is very expensive. If someone is concerned about financials for their masters, I recommend they research opportunities outside of London where living costs are cheaper.