Can you tell us a bit about your educational and professional background?
I have a BA in Drama from the University of California at Irvine and I was a professional musical theater performer on Broadway prior to becoming a speech pathologist. I received my MS in Speech-Language Pathology from University of the Pacific and my PhD in Speech and Hearing Sciences from the University of Washington.
Why did you choose the University of Washington?
I attended an Open House and was fortunate enough to be able to meet with Dr. Tanya Eadie who eventually became my PhD mentor. I knew that I was passionate about studying voice disorders, and the research that was being conducted in her lab was fascinating to me. Dr. Eadie is incredibly humble, but there is no other researcher that has contributed more to the study of auditory-perceptual ratings of voice than she has.
What was the focus on your research while you were here?
I focused on the specific neurological voice disorder known as spasmodic dysphonia (SD). Individuals who live with SD often report that they feel others judge them more negatively because of the quality of their speaking voices. Some also report barriers to finding and maintaining employment. I conducted listener studies during which participants rated the voice quality of individuals with SD. I also traveled around the Seattle area and interviewed employers about what advice they might give to someone with SD during the job interview process.
Were you well supported by your PhD mentor? What did you enjoy most about the student/mentor relationship?
I felt as if I had won the lottery by working with Dr. Eadie. Any PhD student will tell you that the most important aspect of doctoral work is the mentor/mentee relationship. I was unsure about what my dissertation topic might be when I first entered the program, but Dr. Eadie was incredibly patient and supportive throughout the process. I tend to be a "big picture" person with grand ideas, yet she helped me hone those ideas into manageable projects that could be accomplished in a timely fashion. When you graduate from Dr. Eadie's lab, you essentially become part of her extended family. She even introduced me to her own mentor, Dr. Phil Doyle, who she affectionately refers to as my research "grandfather." I not only received an incredible education from Dr. Eadie, but I have gained a professional colleague and lifelong friend as well.
Was there a sense of community within your cohort? Did your classmates support each other?
There were two PhD students in the Vocal Function Lab when I began, but we grew as time went on. Students in the MS program would often complete a thesis under Dr. Eadie's guidance, and those students have also gone on to become wonderful friends on mine. In fact, I was able to see one former student perform a brilliant stand up comedy routine to a packed house here in California! Let the fact that a former lab member is now both an SLP and a comic tell you how much fun we had in the Vocal Function Lab. :) Other PhD students have also become incredible friends of mine. Even if we were in different labs at UW, meeting every week for Doctoral Research Forum allowed us to watch each other present and form a bond. It's such a joy to bump into former PhD students at our national conferences every year.
What was the culture like in your research lab?
I felt like we were incredibly productive and also collaborative in the Vocal Function Lab. We often had multiple studies happening at once, so we would help run participants for each other. We had a big whiteboard that showcased all of the various studies and where in the timeline each researcher was. I have to say that the lab was incredibly organized. I look back and am amazed that we accomplished so much during the four years I was there.
Were you able to engage in any interdisciplinary activities during your program? If so, how did those experiences influence you?
Thanks to the relationship that UW has with UWMC, I was able to participate in a study with Dr. Tanya Meyer and shadow Dr. Merati in the otolaryngology clinic. I was a practicing speech pathologist when I entered the doctoral program, but my experience was primarily working with the pediatric population. I had never seen how a busy voice clinic truly operates, and so having that opportunity to work with patients in the otolaryngology clinic was so important to me.
What kinds of broader research opportunities were made available to you both inside and outside of the UW community?
Dr. Tanya Meyer was working at Harborview Medical Center during my time as a PhD student, and so I really appreciated being able to collaborate with her on a study involving work productivity in patients with spasmodic dysphonia. I also received a travel grant from the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association which allowed me to present my research nationally. In addition, I was fortunate enough to be granted a New Century Doctoral Scholarship from the ASHFoundation. Those funds helped to support me as I finished my studies at UW.
Were you able to present or publish your research while enrolled?
I presented posters at both ASHA and the Voice Foundation during my time at UW, and I was also able to be published in the American Journal of Speech Language Pathology and the Journal of Voice.
Were you able to gain teaching experience in the PhD program?
I absolutely love teaching, and so I was able to either teach or be a teaching assistant virtually every single quarter that I was enrolled in the PhD program. Dr. Pat Dowden served as a teaching mentor for me, and I was fortunate enough to co-teach a course with her.
Did the UW SPHSC PhD program help you achieve your research and/or educational goals?
I was able to secure a tenure-track faculty position at a university in my hometown (University of the Pacific), which has become a dream come true for me. In fact, I go up for tenure this year and hope to be promoted from Assistant to Associate Professor. Thanks to the preparation I received at UW, I was able to hit the ground running both in terms of my teaching and research.
Did you feel your teaching and research experiences and faculty mentorship prepared you for an academic career?
Absolutely! Many PhD programs don't offer explicit instruction in best teaching practices, but UW does. Here at my current university, the Center for Teaching and Learning has asked me if I would be willing to serve as a faculty mentor to help newer faculty members navigate the teaching process for the first time. I feel that UW set me up quite well to be able to provide that type of mentorship.
What is your overall evaluation of the PhD program?
I often tell students who are interested in pursuing a PhD that it was perhaps the best decision of my life.
What advice would you provide a prospective Ph.D. student to help them determine if this program is the right fit for them?
I often recommend that prospective students seek out the individuals who are conducting the type of research that most resonates with them. You certainly don't need to know your specific dissertation topic when you first begin, but it helps to be inspired by the work of those who are interested in answering the same types of research questions that you are. Ask a prospective mentor if there might be an opportunity for you to be supported during your studies via grant funding or teaching assignments. Also, ask yourself where you might want to spend the next 4-5 years of your life. I know this might sound strange, but your quality of life should be an important factor. Seattle is such a vibrant city so I'm sure location factored into my decision making on some level. As you research various PhD programs, find out if the program offers specific training/coursework on grant writing and teaching methodology. Ask to get in contact with current or past PhD students who can relay their personal experiences of what it's like to be in the program. The culture of a department can best be conveyed by those who have experienced it themselves. If after all your research you are still on the fence about spending additional years in school, my advice is that you take that leap of faith. The time will fly by, and from my personal experience you will be rewarded with friendships and a career that will continue to bring you joy for a lifetime.