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The Low-Down on SLP Grad School Visits

24 July 2014

Although I am no expert at grad school visits (I just went on my first one this past week), I've read quite a bit of tips and general information on some forums and programs websites. After this past week's visit I realized that everyone was different in their view on the process of visiting as well as their level of preparedness for the occasion. This got me thinkin'-- is there really such a thing as a one-size-fits-all way to attend a grad school visit?

I doubt there is, but from my own experience, thoughts (and advice from others) there are some things that I just would or wouldn't do. As said before, I'm no expert, but here's my thoughts:

What should you wear to a grad school program visit?
Okay, this can depend on what type of visit it is -- is it just an open house, are you doing a one-on-one visit, are you meeting faculty?-- and how laid-back the department is. Although, even if the department is laid-back, that doesn't mean you should be... after all first impressions count! At my latest visit, which was an open house, I saw prospective students wearing shorts and tanks tops. To me, that wouldn't make a great first impression. That attire is okay for visiting undergraduate programs, but graduate programs are meant to prepare you for a career, so I wouldn't do that. If anything, I'd suggest at least nice jeans and a blouse + cardigan... if you want to dress more nicely, then opt for a dress or slacks and a blouse. You don't need to go all out and wear dress pants and a blazer/jacket, but you don't want to look like you strolled in from the beach either. (Several others on SLP student forums agree with me on this as well.)

What should I bring to the visit?
Come with at least some background knowledge of the program. Know if you'll need pre-reqs if you're an out-of-major applicant. Figure out the length of the program beforehand. Find out if they have an on-site clinic. Most of your questions can be answered by a simple visit to their webpage, and if you're truly interested in going you want to show you've done the basic homework. There were quite a few at my visit that didn't know the basics of the program (and didn't look at the FAQ sheet provided), and thus asked about these when the information was in their hands and a few clicks away.
Notepad and Pen. These can be helpful when you find something interesting about the program and don't want to forget it... like a state-of-the-art lab or new technology that they are implementing. This is also helpful for writing down any questions that you have during the presentation, as well as contact information of the faculty or admissions correspondent.

When should I arrive?
Treat it as a job interview. If you know it's in a high traffic area, try to leave you house earlier. I'd suggest 15 minutes prior to the event, that way you have time to sign-in, go to the bathroom, find the room and get a seat. It's understandable that you might get caught up in some traffic, but it's always better to be there very early than late, so try to plan accordingly.

Should I come with questions?
This is entirely up to you. If you have scoured the website and know what faculty you are interested in but find that you don't have questions, then don't worry. Or, if you're just going to check out the area, the program/clinic and dynamics and feel as if you have no questions, that's fine. Just make sure you introduce yourself and perhaps mention some faculty, class or research you are interested in. You can even try to see if a student is there that is willing to give you their contact information.
If you do want to ask questions, make sure they aren't already answered on the website. Personalize them if you want-- for example, I'm interested in the medical track so I asked how we are placed in the clinics and if they offer any additional certifications in MBSS or LVST.

Hopefully some of these help! If you can think of any other visit do's or don'ts (or perhaps think the opposite about one of mine) feel free to comment below!

Why You Should Join in on #WeSpeechies Chats

16 July 2014

With the influx of social media use by academics and non-academics throughout the past couple of years there has been an increase in knowledge sharing and discussion. Recently I found out about the @WeSpeechies Twitter handle and the related #WeSpeechies hashtag. They both are responsible for weekly talks that revolve around numerous topics under the speech-language pathology umbrella. These have included discussions based on different disorders (this week's was Aphasia), while others are about topics like Evidence Based Practice (and how to determine good research).

These provide such a good learning opportunity not just for practitioners but students as well. The curator of each chat is an expert in the field and is the leader of the chat. This person poses the main questions of each chat for fellow chatters to discuss. This often leads to more questions and discussion throughout the chat and for the week that follows, which is great for learning whether you can join in on the actual chat or catch up on your own time!

So far I've only been able to join in on a few of the chats as they are typically held in one of the Australian time zones. The chats I have joined led to wonderful learning opportunities and even a few new speechie friends from abroad. (I love that it's gaining international attention. We can learn from the different and similar practices in each country.) As said before, you can catch up on the chats after they've occurred, you just have to look at the #WeSpeechies hashtag (or go to the website to see an archived version of the chat a few days later). You can then join in by adding your own thoughts to the questions or comments that others posed.

If you'd like to see what future chats are about and when they are being held (or seeing archived past chats) be sure to check out the website!

Tying in "Non-SLP" Experiences In Your Statement

12 July 2014

Like many others, I'm currently in the process of preparing for the grad school application season. (How is it senior year already?!) For some majors, this might just begin and end in one month in the middle of the semester... for speech-language pathology or audiology, this 'season' begins in the summer. There are just so many things to prepare and tick of the checklist before the school year begins. One of the items we were told to at least brainstorm is the statement of purpose (sometimes referred to as the 'letter of intent').

Although numerous students say that the GRE and GPA are weighed more heavily in the process, many agree that the statement of purpose helps play a decent role in picking out more suitable candidates. It's essentially a written elevator speech, so you want to write it wisely. There's the usual tips of: minimize the sob stories, limit cliches and over-used phrases, specialize it (or at least some of it) for each school, and focus on the prompt. A good amount of the schools, at least those in the CSDCAS system, want you to write about why you want to do this as your career and why you want to study at their school. Naturally, most of the applicants like language and helping others, so you may want to find other key points. You may also want to focus on something that stands you out from others so that you are memorable... did you spend a summer in Costa Rica or can you make handmade crafts? Consider adding a small tidbit about this special thing, but make sure you tie it in with speech pathology or your goals.

So how can you tie it in? Or what if you don't have any experience with children or disabled citizens? Focus on the key traits of the job and one experience that illustrates them. Here are some examples from my life that you can draw from:

1. Working in the school cafeteria.
 Not so glamorous of a job, but certainly something that has been needed throughout my undergraduate career! I've done several of the stations, including: dish room, cleaning tables, salad bar, the specialty station and the sandwich station. I've spent most of my time in the sandwich station, so we'll go from there.

Key traits: communicate clearly with others, patience when filling orders, understanding dietary or cultural restrictions, being friendly to all customers

Experience: Some international students have dietary restrictions that I must follow. This has included taking off gloves (since they touched meat) and looking at ingredients on food items. Their accents may be difficult to understand, or their culture requires one to not look people in the eye for reassurance, so patience when asking for repetitions is necessary.

2. Freelance Writing. 
I dabble in freelance writing in my free time. This has ranged from blog posts for other websites to articles of varying lengths for an Asian pet supply company's magazine.

Key traits: prompt replies, professional correspondences, adjusting to different styles of writing, researching topics in further detail, international client base, adhering to deadlines

Experience: Throughout my experiences as a freelance writer I have had clients from a variety of countries. Each client has had different views of time and deadlines that I had to adhere to. Some projects have required interviews and exchanges with professionals in the related field to gain knowledge. These experiences have strengthened my level of professionalism, my ability to work independently and in a group, as well as molding my writing to the style they desired-- whether it be a short, witty introduction or an informational piece on pet dental hygiene.

Both of these examples showcase novel ways to view ordinary tasks and would help make me stand out to potential schools. Remember, everything requires communication, so you're already one step ahead! All you have to do is try to find other key characteristics that might illustrate how you can either  (1) adapt to grad school education (like writing notes and papers), (2) prove that you'll be a good clinician (hence the multicultural cafeteria experience), (3) demonstrate what brought you to this point, or (4) has helped you prepare for your future goals. I'm not sure if I'll use either of these, but at least these may help you with your statement!

Building Up Your Professional Network

08 July 2014

We all know networking is important in any business, and that doesn't exclude speech-language pathology. But how are we supposed to find ways to build our professional network while partaking in classes and extracurricular activities? It can sometimes be an issue, especially for those that transfer (like me) or just aren't sure how to go about making professional contacts. Luckily, you can make a professional contact from almost anyone at any place and any time! Even if the person isn't a Speech-Language Pathologist, they can still be a valuable resource for other jobs or connecting with related professionals. Each person is another step closer to more people, as each connection shrinks your six degrees of separation.

The Usual Places:

Of course you can start with friends and family. Some might be in your field of study, others may not. Either way they may have a doctor or related professional in their network that can help you down the line. For example, your friend's mom might work at a school that is looking for a speech therapist when you graduate. Or she can even put in a good word for you when they aren't hiring so they can keep you in mind. Also consider your current job. Your boss and other coworkers can be valuable resources for information on available jobs elsewhere, and your boss can be a great reference. (So be a good worker and stay off your phone!) Another option would be the supervisors of your observations or volunteer experiences. The SLPs you shadow are of course a great place for networking, and if you manage to get a volunteer position or long-term observation scheduled there, they can be even more valuable. The longer, the better as they will get to know you at a deeper level. If you happen to stay in the area for grad school, then perhaps you can do a clinical placement there, which is good for CFY references (or doing your CFY there!)... This is wishful thinking, but helpful either way.

Of course there are also your professors and classmates. Going to office hours, volunteering in the lab, doing a thesis or small research project, or being a teaching assistant can be great ways to get to know your professor. Once they know you well enough, they can be a reference or even tell you of good schools or employment options to look into when the time comes. Classmates are also great. Even those who aren't in the major (catching on to the theme?). All of them can have ties.
One example: I recently rented an apartment with 3 nursing majors. They told me of patient care technician jobs that had openings where I would do basic care that didn't require certification, just a high school degree. It's not 100% SLP, but it is still in the medical field and hands-on with patients, so those jobs could've helped with my resume. If I hadn't roomed with them I wouldn't have known that the hospital had jobs like these!)

One Step Further:

Your school's career development office in an invaluable resource! I can't stress this enough. If your school has a well-made career development office, then you should be able to find some internships through them. There probably won't be any for SLP, but definitely some for related fields or organizations that aid disabled people. Interning at these places is sure to expand your connections. Your career development office might also have  alumni or local connections for students to talk to. Mine has a database that you can search for professionals that are alumni of the school that are willing to talk to students. If you can find something like this in your school, use it and find a professional to talk to and get to know.

ASHA also has some mentoring and development programs. If you look at their site, there are some for minorities, research, learning about a speciality, or just to learn more about a certain aspect of SLP. If you sign up and happen to be accepted, these programs can provide a great professional network for you to learn from.

Social media like Twitter, LinkedIn,and even blogs or forums can help you find like-minded people to talk to. Twitter now has a host of chats and hashtags related to our field that you can follow and partake in to learn about this field and maybe make a few friends and professional contacts. In fact, I recently participated a WeSpeechies chat and talked to a few students and professionals from Australia and abroad! Many blogs are also on Twitter, so you can talk to their author and catch up on info they post about. LinkedIn has several groups that even students can join. If you'd like more information on all the social media outlets you can check out this post and also this one.

Special events like talks, conventions and networking get-togethers have a plethora of professionals that you can meet and chat with. The linguistics club that I'm a leader in recently had Bill Labov speak (he's a big name if you're in that field), so I actually got to meet him! If you're interested in a specific subfield of SLP like neurogenic disorders or autism, then consider going to a talk that a professor or professional is giving. Just look for details from a local organization or your school's Neuroscience department (for neurogenic topics). If you like the person's research, then go up an talk to him/her and discuss how you can get involved. Of course, conventions, like the annual ASHA convention, ASHA Schools Convention or your state's convention will have many professionals that you can talk to. Like I said, if you are interested in a specialty, try to find a convention of a related organization to meet other professionals with a non-speech pathology point-of-view.

*Of course, as with any relationship, this isn't a one-sided thing. Don't expect that talking to someone one time will give them the drive to help you find a job or give a reference for a grad school interview. They might not even remember you if you met at a convention. You should bring something to the table or continue talking to them and discussing their research, if applicable. Don't go hoarding contacts either, you want to have strong connections, not 1,000 acquaintances.

Perception of Words and Their Weight

05 July 2014

Have you ever thought about how certain words, and more specifically the sounds within them, play a role in our perception of what that word symbolizes? Part of this concept is called 'sound symbolism', where certain sounds can convert different perceptions. It's an interesting topic, and has been researched by several different fields. It's even recently caught the eye of a Reader's Digest writer, Alison Caporimo, who wrote a little ditty on this concept in the December 2013 issue (page 55).

She mentioned that researchers from NYU used the pseudo-words 'frish' and 'frosh' to describe a fake product and asked subjects to rate which they thought seemed like more of an ice cream brand. Can you guess which fake word subjects felt more keen to eat as a snack food? Frosh.

Now why is this? Caporimo goes on to state that these researchers believe that it is due to something deemed as the "Frequency Code". This term has been used by other researchers, even  as early as 1994 by John J. Ohala, a UC Berkley Linguistics professor. It is used to describe the phenomenon of associating front vowels (like 'i') with smaller (and thus healthier) things. Following suit, this is why words with back vowels like 'frosh' sound heavier, creamier and/or bigger.

It does make sense, as our oral cavity is much smaller when creating the front sounds, which could partially be the reason why we associate words with these sounds as 'smaller' or 'lighter'. Whereas, when we create sounds that are further back, our oral cavity is larger and we even open our mouth more, relating to larger, heavier objects that take up more space. At least, that's what I think.

Although this concept isn't 100% speech-language pathology related, what do you guys think? Conjure up some words that fit this or even some that don't. I believe most food brands follow suit with this. John J. Ohala even mentions in his article that it is seen cross-linguistically and he showed similarities in the vowels of words meaning "large" and "small" across several languages, it's worth a check (Table 22.2, page 336).

This does come with a  disclaimer that the author of the Reader's Digest article didn't mention who the NYU researchers were or provide a reference. I tried to find who they were for referencing through some online research, but couldn't. I did find John J. Ohala's article that discusses this concept, and other linguistic phenomena, that contribute to sound symbolism. There is a research article by two Marketing professors, one of which is from NYU, that used the terms 'fresh' and 'frosh' in their research... so perhaps that is who Caporimo is referring to? I've added it below.

Reader's Digest Article:

John J. Ohala, "The frequency codes underlies the sound-symbolic use of voice pitch" :

Eric Yorkston & Geeta Menon, "A Sound Idea: Phonetic Effects of Brand Names on Consumer Judgments" :

* I'd also like to thank my lovely mother, who is an avid reader of several magazines and found this article. She's always looking out for linguistics and speech/medical related articles for me. :)

There is also a disclaimer that I wasn't paid by any of these people or their affiliated organizations or publications. This is solely a reflection of my own interest in this subject and the desire to share this information with others.