American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Kirstin E. Chiasson

Director, Audiology Clinic, Cascade ENT and Facial Plastic Surgery

Klamath Falls, Oregon

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Audiology

Kirstin Chiasson 2000    PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
            Communicative Disorders

1994    MA, San Jose State University 
            Education/Communication Disorders

1992    BA, University of California, Santa Barbara
            Speech and Hearing Sciences


I chose an academic/research career because:

Two research audiologists, Janet Shanks and Cynthia Fowler, revealed the exciting world of research to me during a summer traineeship at the Long Beach VA (Veterans Affairs Healthcare System).

What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar, and/or researcher?
I am a clinic director, clinician, clinical researcher, and adjunct professor. As a clinical director and clinician, I spend time providing clinical services in a rural setting. Ninety percent of my time is spent with patients or providing education to our local medical community. When I am not in the clinic, I collect new data, work on data that were collected over the last few years, and try to dream up new, clinically relevant research questions that I can answer while working with a clinical population. I also have the pleasure of teaching anatomy, psychology, and medical terminology at a local university. The best part about teaching as an adjunct at a university with no speech and hearing program is that I can recruit students to careers within audiology and speech-language pathology.

What were the key factors in your academic/research career decision(s)?
For me the key factor in making career decisions has been balance. I enjoy living in small towns with access to outdoor activities. To date, I have managed to find jobs that are both career-friendly (e.g., allow me to be a clinician, researcher, and teacher) as well as located in an area that allows for cross-country skiing, boating, camping, hiking, etc. The wonderful thing about the field of audiology is that it can take you anywhere you want to go.

How did you get to the position you have today?
I wandered a bit from tenure-track position to tenure-track position. While I was in my second year of a tenure-track position, I met my husband. He was offered a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime position at a research center in Oregon. Unfortunately, the university that housed the position did not have a Communication Disorders department. I was, however, offered an adjunct position in the departments of Psychology and Natural Sciences. Even though I was giving up my own tenure-track position, I figured I had enough data to sustain me for a few years. Within 3 weeks of moving to the small town of Klamath Falls, the only local ENT called and asked me to be the director of his audiology clinic. The clinical offer included time for research as well as time to travel to national and international meetings. Following my husband to a small town helped me find the ideal job-a little teaching, a little clinic, and a little research.

What do you like most about your career?
My career has been one that has been flexible and family-friendly. I have been able to live in some amazing places, work with very seasoned researchers and teachers, and keep my clinical skills up to date. I have been able to work in tenure-track positions at both research institutes and teaching institutes. I have also been able to work in a large hospital and a small rural clinic. There are not very many careers that allow you to step from one role to another and back again.

What do you like least about your career?
I wish I had taken the time to do a postdoc. When I graduated with my PhD, money was an issue, and I did not see how I could work at postdoc pay while making ends meet. Not taking a postdoc is my one regret.

Who are your heroes/heroines?
My heroes are my patients. They remind me how far we have come, how much great research has been carried out, and how much more we need to learn.

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?
Get involved! Seek out your professors and volunteer in their labs. Don't be afraid to work outside of communicative disorders. If you enjoy a class, even one lecture, ask that professor if you can work in his or her lab. Make opportunities happen for yourself.

What was the best thing about your PhD program?
The people. I went to a program that had multiple doctoral students. Having classmates and colleagues really made the tough time easier. My classmates are now my colleagues and good friends. We even still collaborate on projects.

If you did your PhD program or your early career years all over again, what would you do differently?
I would definitely do a postdoc. Our field is full of open academic jobs, and the money is very alluring. But the experience gained from a postdoc is priceless. Many universities expect publications in the first year of hire. This means that you really need to come into the job with a publication about to be accepted and more data ready to be shaped into the next publication. Setting up a lab and starting to gather data is a time-consuming endeavor. Having data from a postdoc as well as experience running a lab makes the first several years of an academic job much easier.

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
My professional life has always allowed me time to have a personal life. This is because I have made it a priority to accept positions that are reasonable in the "productivity" expectation. I take work home, I work on the weekend, and I take work on the road. But I also ignore e-mail, leave my work at work, and take time to spend with my family-no interruptions. Right now my favorite way to relax is to chase my 17-month-old around a park. I am in training for skate skiing (cross-country), and keeping up with a 17-month-old is a fantastic aerobic workout.

What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
I will be a clinician, a teacher, and a researcher. I will be putting my research into practice, recruiting health sciences majors into the exciting field of audiology, and contributing to the field of pediatric audiology. I hope to be mentoring a new generation of research audiologists.

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