August 1, 2013 Columns

Student's Say: Is There a Double Doctor in the House?

AuD in hand, this audiologist still had an unsatisfied thirst for understanding of her field. So she went back to school for a PhD.

Sam Gustafson celebrates with her mentor Andrea Pitman

One doctorate down, one to go: Sam Gustafson celebrates with her mentor, Andrea Pitman, after receiving her AuD from Arizona State University of 2012.

With eight years of college and two degrees under my belt, friends and family ask how it's possible that I'm still a student. My answer is simple: I still have questions.

Research was my gateway to audiology. As an undergraduate student working in an audiology research lab, I became interested in this wonderful field. Contrary to the view that all researchers dislike clinic, I thoroughly enjoy being a clinician. During my four-year clinical program, connecting with patients and their families was positive and uplifting.

However, I heard the all-too-familiar whisper of the research bug in my ear throughout my clinical education. Additional research experiences—volunteering in a lab and completing a summer research traineeship—satisfied my thirst for research during my first three years. It wasn't until my clinical externship that I discovered how much these research experiences meant to me. During my first taste of full-time clinic, I quickly realized that I look at situations with a research eye. When issues arise in clinic and patients ask me questions, I think of these as personal challenges.

Making the decision to pursue a PhD after my AuD required a bit of soul searching. Could I really return to school a short three months after I graduated? Am I crazy to sign up for another four-plus years? What does this extra degree really mean for me?

Based on my graduate school experiences, I know this choice is right. Having both degrees will open doors for me that neither degree can open alone. In obtaining an AuD before my PhD, I am able to ask more clinically relevant questions, and will always be able to supplement my career as a researcher with my skill and qualifications as a clinician.

Perhaps even more daunting than the decision to pursue a PhD was the task of choosing a school. As I discussed my situation with professors and researchers, I compiled some consistent advice:

  • It's all about the mentor, so make sure you're a good match. If you are considering a PhD, talk with potential mentors—be honest about your interests, even if you are uncertain about them.
  • Don't be nervous about contacting someone—people love it when someone is interested in their work.
  • Talk with current and previous students of your potential mentors, and ask them to be honest about their experiences. They were in your shoes, once—learn from their challenges and successes.
  • Visit the campus and meet with people in the department. This place will be your home for a number of years, and it is important to feel comfortable and supported.

When I first decided to pursue my AuD, I received skeptical encouragement from friends and family members who didn't quite understand why graduate school needed to be four years. This skeptical encouragement turned into confusion when I explained that I was earning a clinical doctoral degree, not a PhD. Now that I've begun my PhD program, friends and family have come to terms with what they see as my career choice: professional student. I am excited to say that I am beginning to agree with them.

Of course, I have rough days when I find myself browsing for clinical openings around the country, but then I remember why I'm here: to better equip myself to find answers to my many, many questions.

Samantha Gustafson, AuD, CCC-A, is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University.

cite as: Gustafson, S. (2013, August 01). Student's Say: Is There a Double Doctor in the House?. The ASHA Leader.


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