Undertaking an intercalated degree, Jignesh Panchal speaks to Keerut Oberai about taking a year out of dental school to pursue a BSc in philosophy.

Dental schools can often be relatively detached from the rest of the university and as such dental students may feel they are not experiencing university in the traditional sense. Staying on top of lectures, clinics and patients can be demanding and students may feel that there is little time and energy left to pursue other interests.

One option some students may have considered is to undertake an intercalated degree. I spoke to Keerut Oberai, who has suspended his dental studies at the University of Liverpool to pursue a BSc in philosophy at King’s College London.

Jignesh Panchal (JP): Firstly, what made you decide to take a year out of your studies to pursue a philosophy degree?

Keerut Oberai (KO): I had always held a passion for philosophy outside of dentistry, regularly reading philosophical books and journals. I felt that doing the intercalated BSc (IBSc) at King’s College London would give me a fantastic opportunity to further my interest and knowledge on the subject to a higher level than I would otherwise be able to achieve.

It was a tough decision to take the year out with the main worry being that I may lose my clinical skills and knowledge of dentistry, however, on balance I felt that the overall benefits outweighed the potential negatives. When I return to complete my BDS at Liverpool, I will be having a few weeks of extra sessions to make sure my clinical skills are back up to scratch.

JP: Now that you are a few months into it, what can you tell us about the experience so far?

KO: So far it’s been a fantastic experience and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Initially it took some adjustment having come from a scientific and clinical background to doing a subject based in the arts. However, as the weeks have progressed I’ve started to find the material more manageable and it’s been a pleasure to delve into such a broad tapestry of topics ranging from ethics and values to metaphysics.

JP: What have you enjoyed the most and what have you found the most difficult/challenging?

KO: Philosophy presents more abstract problems to tackle than dentistry and other scientific based disciplines. At first it was difficult to adjust to this and I found myself having to develop new skills, such as writing a philosophical paper, in a relatively short space of time.

I think what I’ve enjoyed most is developing a new skill set and adopting a logical way of critical reasoning, which can be used in contexts both within and outside of philosophy.

JP: How do you think these skills will help you in the future, both within and outside the field of dentistry?

KO: When I decided to do philosophy, many people were surprised that I was doing a subject they viewed as being completely unrelated to dentistry, but the experience has made me realise that the two seemingly different subjects overlap in many ways. For example, both involve critical thinking and tackling problems in a structured way whether it be tackling a philosophical paradox or treatment planning a difficult case in dentistry.

There’s also been the chance to learn about topics that are directly related to dentistry such as ethics, which is a field that is becoming a more prominent and contemporary issue for dentists and dental students alike. In the future I hope to apply the skills and knowledge I have acquired in a dental context, perhaps looking into areas such as professionalism and ethical principles.

JP: What advice would you give somebody considering undertaking something similar?

KO: I think the most important thing is that you must really believe in what you’re doing and have a keen interest in the subject you wish to pursue. It’s a big decision to take a year out of dentistry so you must be sure that an intercalated BSc is something that you really want to do. Many people perceive it as potentially losing a year from your career timeline, but ultimately I do feel that the hard work and dedication will come to fruition and pay its rewards in more ways than one.

I began the process of looking into it by writing a list of pros and cons as well as consulting many of the tutors at my dental school, which proved to be very useful. I also found that this approach helped me consider the process as a whole and whether it was for me. Ultimately, it’s a very personal decision that may not be right for everyone but one that can present a unique opportunity to gain new skills and develop your knowledge in another discipline.