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On the Minority of Researchers (And Academia Faculty)

16 August 2013

Upon entering my university's Communication Science and Disorders department, I was often asked which side I was more interested in: audiology or speech-language pathology. Being that I love linguistics (the mechanics and components of language, not languages in general), I've always  leaned more towards the speech-language pathology aspect of the degree. I also just don't feel like peering into someone's wax-filled ear for a living. And I admit, there is more to audiology than that, and that is just an exaggeration that barely gives them credit for what they do.What I've come to realize, though, is that this isn't just a double-sided coin, in fact, there are several other sides to this degree as well. Most students seem to look over the options of research and academia, which, in reality, are an enormous part of our community. We are continually told to use Evidence-Based Practices, which come from evidence-based research that in turn requires those who do the research. Plus, there has now been a distinction between a Clinical Doctorate (CsD and SLPD) and a research Doctorate (PhD) to differentiate those who obtain higher education for working with patients and those who desire to do research upon graduating. All of this requires those aptly trained to teach and mentor us in the process of our academic and working careers.
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This thought process of not including those interested in research or academia in questions similar to the above should change. There is a special need for this since there is actually a lack of researchers and professors in this field. In fact, I recollect the day when I attended the orientation for my program, where my Dean urged us to seek higher education and eventually be involved in research or academia. So, not only is there a large need for clinicians, but even more opens slots for doctoral candidates and graduates.

Here are some reasons why all undergraduates should begin asking "what are your post- undergraduate plans?" instead of the heavily biased "what side do you like more?", and consider a career in research or academia:

-Growing need. Basically what this whole post is about: there is a great need for more researchers and professors in this field. You're already in a field where clinicians are needed, and other professionals are needed as well! So you picked a good career path. There's also the growing need of up-to-date research on new technologies and methods that are entering the field.

-More in depth knowledge. With research comes the opportunity to broaden your knowledge about a given subject that you are interested in. If you're like me, this is a huge plus, as I love to continuously learn.

-Another way to help others. Your research has the potential to aid others, which is the main reason people enter this profession-- they have giving souls. This is your chance to find assessment and treatment techniques that will benefit those who suffer from a disorder and to better their therapy experience. It will assist therapists in their work as well. Not to mention, if you enter academia, you'll be able to help the next generation of clinicians and researchers find their calling and gain experience.

-Retiring academia professionals. As my Dean told us, the professors in most universities will be retiring in the next 10-20 ish years. Many spots will open up, meaning they need qualified individuals to fill the spots.

-Networking. This will allow you to network to a variety of non-clinical professionals who are valuable resources. You can befriend other researchers inside and outside of our field who may know information you desire or that need assistance with their research. Many professors are also fountains of knowledge and continue to do research as well. Over all, these are a superb group of people to know and connect with.

-Mentoring. Throughout your Master's degree thesis (if you opt for this option), you'll have the guidance of you mentor to aid you with problems that arise. ASHA also has some mentoring programs that you can utilize during this process as well. Once you've completed research, you may also be a mentor for future researchers, if you wish. This can be done in the academia world as well.

"Free" Education- Most, if not all, programs for PhDs provide funding for the research necessary to complete your PhD degree. Some even give you working or living stipends as well. These are great opportunities to snatch up on! Who wouldn't like to go to school for free and having a chance to do research in an interesting topic with some extra money on the side? (Of course, you do have to toil on research, but it is a great learning opportunity, as I keep mentioning.)

Now, I'm not saying that you should go straight into research upon graduating. In fact, I encourage everyone to be a clinician for some years to find what questions are being asked that need research. Rather, I pose that text time you want to ask someone what side of the metaphorical audiology-vs-speech-language-pathology fence they are on, perhaps ask what their future plans are. And mention these two possibilities as well. You never know where life may lead you in 5,10, or 20 years from now. Simply including these options could open you, and others, open up to a wider world of possibilities. (Don't forget, you could also complete a Master's thesis rather than taking a comprehensive exam in some schools!)