American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Ruth Bentler

Professor, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology

The University of Iowa

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Audiology

Ruth Bentler 1987    PhD, University of Iowa
            Speech Pathology and Audiology

1973    MA, University of Iowa
            Speech Pathology and Audiology

1971    BS, University of Iowa
            Speech and Hearing Science

I chose an academic/research career because:
My experiences in the clinical setting made it clear to me that not only did I NOT have all the answers, I didn't even know how to ask the questions!

What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar, and/or researcher?
A faculty position in a Division I research institute and a No. 1 (or 2) graduate program is challenging, to say the least. At the same time, the prestige of such an environment brings excellent students, outstanding faculty, and a variety of resources. My workload is roughly broken down into 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service. While those proportions are always negotiable, there is actually a lot of overlap in what constitutes teaching, research, and service. On the way to tenure (as an assistant professor), some of the teaching and service proportion might be reduced to ensure the time and energy for the research productivity. After tenure (as an associate professor), there is a greater expectation to take on more of the departmental teaching and committee efforts. After the final promotion to full professor, there is a university-wide expectation that the faculty member will be a leader within the department, the university, and the field (both nationally and internationally).

At the University of Iowa, we have an undergraduate program (approximately 200 majors), a master's degree in speech-language pathology, a clinical doctorate in audiology (AuD), and a PhD program with multiple foci. Although I teach only a few lectures at the undergraduate level, I serve as an academic adviser to that and all levels of students. Most of my classroom teaching is in the AuD program; most of my research teaching is at the PhD level. In short, each level of student brings both challenge and reward. Oftentimes, students comment on the strong clinical program we provide (if they come for the research) and the strong research program we have (if they come for the clinical training). For one who calls herself a "clinical researcher," the presence of both is fortunate!

How did you get to the position you have today?
My pathway to academia was somewhat cluttered. I chose clinical audiology as my career objective, somewhat by default, in my senior year of college. The course work and the faculty were interesting and challenging, and the work satisfying, but then so was motherhood several years later. After balancing limited effort in audiology with extensive effort in motherhood by providing part-time supervision in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology (here), my interest and determination to learn more grew. Nearly 20 years later, I have the "job" of my dreams.

What were the key factors in your academic/research career decision(s)?
A number of factors led me to the academic/research career. Since I already had a career, the change to this setting was mostly influenced by my need to learn more in order to do a better job. Once I had the PhD in my pocket, I did not plan to leave my clinical setting. The prospect of working with students, and being a policy maker in the department (and the field), convinced me to seek the faculty position.

What do you like most about your career?
The best part? It would have to be the combination of the parts. I love student interactions (lab and classroom and clinic), I am passionate about my research, and, finally, I appreciate being in a position (academia) wherein I can decide my area of focus (for research), the content of my teaching, and the direction of my life.

What do you like least about your career?
Any academic will tell you the least favorable part is the minutiae-paperwork, reports, surveys, meetings, committees, etc.-that eat up time and have few tangible outcomes.

Who are your heroes/heroines?
I have heroes and heroines in many arenas of my life. Re: audiology, I suppose I could limit the number to three, at least for now. Charlie Anderson, a senior faculty in my early days, encouraged me to Go for it! both during the grueling doctoral program as well as the grueling interview with my own department! David Hawkins, a junior faculty at the same time, encouraged me to Learn more! while we ran the Iowa clinic in the late 70s and early 80s. And both he and Robyn Cox (my peer at Memphis) continue to encourage me to be a good teacher, a good researcher, and a good friend with their enthusiasm for all things important in life.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate or master's student who expressed an interest in an academic/research career in communication sciences and disorders?
Know yourself and your strengths. Self-discipline may be the most important trait for success in an academic/research environment. A sincere interest in the chosen field might be the second. Every aspect of living involves sound. That fascinates me.

What was the best thing about your PhD program?
A couple things come to mind: the quality of the faculty, and the camaraderie of the fellow PhD students. Without either of those, the road will be long and hard(er)!

If you did your PhD program or your early career years all over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Without a grand plan, I managed to have my family (three children and a tolerant husband) and all that goes with it, and still managed to have a rewarding career, albeit a little later in life. Too often I see female students trying to make hard decisions in those two arenas. If I had stuck with my original life plan, I would have been a mom only. I am glad I didn't limit my options.

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
One advantage of academia is that you will never punch a clock (well, you need to get to class on time!); the disadvantage of academia is that the work never ends. I have had students tell me they don't want "to work that hard" (as I do). Yet, I have opportunity to travel the world, interact with some of the most interesting people alive, and (hopefully) affect the field of audiology in some small way. I also love to read, run, and refresh my palate with fine red wine; all of those activities fit in nicely with my current lifestyle!

What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
Five years from now I will be doing what I am doing now (hopefully). Ten years is a little far out there to predict. Because of my age, I could be living in my retirement hut on some nice sandy beach; because of my enthusiasm for what I do, I suspect you will be able to reach me at the (same) office.

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