Faculty Spotlight: Peter Harrison, DDS
He earned his Bachelor of Dental Science Degree and his D.D.S. from Trinity College’s Dublin Dental School and Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.
Where were you born?
I was born and raised in Tullamore, Ireland. It’s a small town in the midlands of Ireland, most famous for its Irish whiskey Tullamore Dew. It was also arguably the scene of the world’s first aviation accident, in 1785, when the spoilt son of the local landlord crashed a hot air balloon and burned down most of the town.
Where did you go to school?
My mother was a teacher at a local infant school, so I went there first, then to two boys’ schools in the town. I completed my dental and specialist degrees at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
What’s your earliest childhood memory?
I remember sitting in our old kitchen watching my grandfather eat peas. I’m glad I have that memory, as unfortunately I never got to know any of my grandparents.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
English is my first language!
When did you decide to enter your profession?
In Ireland, you can enter dental school straight from high school. Every student can apply for any 10 courses they want, and acceptance is based on the results of a major school-leaving exam, and having specific subject requirements. I was torn between writing and dentistry as a teenager. I chose my exam subjects at 15, didn’t look back, and started dental school at 17.
I wanted to help others and be in a profession that was constantly developing. I also fancied the challenge of developing my coordination skills, as I was a pretty clumsy child!
How did you end up at the UF College of Dentistry?
Largely by happenstance – I had been trying to find an academic position without much luck while in the last year of my residency program. I was speaking with my professor on the day of my thesis defense when he received a phone call from Dr. Magnusson at UF, who was a former colleague of his. He mentioned there might be a temporary position available at the school, so I chased it up.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Renting a cottage in the Dingle peninsula in Ireland and finally writing my first novel. It’ll happen eventually.
What is your greatest fear?
I don’t have many fears. For a number of years I had a recurrent dream where I saw my funeral and the date of my death. When the day came, I was pretty anxious and didn’t leave the house. Some wise person later told me that “death” in a dream may have symbolized a “new opportunity,” I could seize on that day. Unfortunately, I must have missed that opportunity while cowering inside my house.
What historical figure do you most identify with?
The first person to receive unwanted spam email.
Who do you consider your professional mentor?
My mentor as a student was the aforementioned Professor Noel Claffey – a successful man with a brilliant intellect and a good attitude to life. My UF mentor is Dr. Luciana Shaddox, who has given me great advice and really helped me to increase my academic experience.
If you are a researcher, tell us about your research:
I’m a co-investigator on Dr. Luciana Shaddox’s research study team, evaluating response to treatment in African-American children with LAP, a rapidly progressing or “aggressive” form of gum disease. We’re learning a lot about the factors that influence treatment response of this relatively rarely investigated form of disease, and I like the fact that our research allows us to work with young people who may not otherwise be able to access care for their condition, and the potential for our findings to eventually impact on care of a poorly understood disease. I am also developing some educational research studies to investigate possible ways to improve students’ learning opportunities in periodontology.
If you are a clinician, tell us about your clinical work:
I serve as pre-clinical director in periodontology, which means my primary clinical involvement is with junior and senior dental students in their student clinics. I find it really enjoyable and feel privileged to watch and help as their skills develop.
What do you like best about yourself?
I am quite creative and have a lot of ideas to keep myself busy.
What do you like least?
Because my effort is always towards the next thing, I sometimes don’t take time to take satisfaction from the good thing that has already happened.
When and where were you happiest?
Traveling around Australia and New Zealand in 2010 – somewhat because of the place, more the company and the fact I had just finished years of study and was able to truly enjoy a trip with no background stress even imaginable!
If you could choose any talent, what would it be?
Saying no to cookies.
If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be?
Maurice Herzog, a French mountain climber who led the expedition that first climbed a peak over 8,000m. His book, Annapurna is often hailed as the book on mountaineering and documented an amazing tale of exploration, bravery and problem-solving that fascinated me growing up. I’m sure my dinner would go cold while I listened in awe. I tried mountain climbing a couple of years ago in the Cascade Mountains near Seattle. I ended up with frostbite hanging scared from a rock-ledge and decided not to chase down that particular dream any longer once I made it out alive!
Which living person do you most admire? Who are your heroes in real life?
I’m not really a hero-worship person. Anybody who uses their talents and makes positive change is good with me.
What is your favorite thing about your career?
I most enjoy the interaction with people who want to learn and improve, and working in a profession that is constantly developing.
Dentistry is a very portable skill, but issues surrounding licensure between countries make it difficult to progress your career without relying on others. I know that having foreign qualifications ultimately places a ceiling on my career growth unless I repeat my studies on U.S. soil.
What are you most proud of having achieved in your life (so far)?
I had no savings, no relatives and no contacts in America when I moved here to work at UF fresh out of university, so it was a major life transition. I’m proud I moved to a new job in a foreign country and made it work from a life and career perspective.
Editor’s note: Dr. Harrison, in addition to his teaching duties, occasionally brings a little world-flair to the college, writing emails about things like St. Patrick’s Day and most-recently, sharing information with us about the World Cup, the other kind of football that is, apparently, a big deal in some parts of the world.