American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Shelley I. Gray

Assistant Professor, Department of Speech and Hearing Science

Arizona State University

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language Pathology

Shelley Gray 1998-2000 Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Arizona
            National Center for Neurogenic Communication Disorders

1998    PhD, University of Arizona
            Speech and Hearing Sciences

1989    MS, University of Arizona
            Speech and Hearing Sciences

1975    BS, University of Arizona
                                                       Public Administration

I chose an academic/research career because:
It allows me to dedicate time to developing new knowledge that will help people, to interact with interesting colleagues, and to teach and learn with students.

What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar, and/or researcher?
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at Arizona State University. We offer undergraduate, master's, AuD, and PhD degrees. I enjoy teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses, usually teaching one course per semester. I also mentor students who are completing undergraduate honors theses, master's theses, or their doctoral program of research. About half of my time is spent planning research projects, working to fund them, collecting data, and presenting and publishing results. Undergraduate and graduate students work with me in my research lab. I also provide professional service to our department and college by serving on committees and to our profession by reviewing research articles, grants, and by serving on committees.

How did you get to the position you have today?
My undergraduate degree was in correctional administration, a career I was interested in because I could help people. Soon after graduating from college, however, my husband and I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where positions in this field were not available. I began working as an administrator for a nonprofit organization for children and adults with developmental disorders. We had a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist on staff. I observed three things about their professions: they really enjoyed their work, it was based in science, and they weren't wearing a beeper 24 hours per day like I was. Three sons later, after a move back to Tucson, I was able to return to school for a master's degree. Speech and hearing sciences met my criteria for a helping profession based in science. After completing my master's degree, I worked as a speech-language pathologist in preschool, elementary, and middle schools for 5 years. During this time I developed a number of questions about why children were having such difficulty learning language and vocabulary, in particular. In the back of my mind I remembered that several of my professors had encouraged us to think about a PhD degree, and one in particular, Linda Swisher, told me that if I was ever interested in returning for a doctoral degree I should contact her. I did, and she worked with me to develop a combination of funding that would permit me to realize the dream of conducting research to answer those questions I had been wondering about and to teach at the college level. During my doctoral studies, I worked as a clinical supervisor for the Scottish Rite-University of Arizona Child Language Center. This helped me gain valuable experience mentoring students. The faculty in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Arizona were generous with their time, and I had the opportunity to work in many different labs and to interact with other doctoral students as we learned the ins and outs of grant writing, teaching, and preparing for a future in academia. After completing my PhD, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to complete a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Elena Plante in the National Center for Neurogenic Communication Disorders at the University of Arizona. This provided protected time to write for research funding, and I received an R03 from the National Institutes of Health to further the research I had begun on word learning by young children with language impairment. During my postdoc I interviewed for tenure-track faculty positions and was offered a position at Arizona State University.

What were the key factors in your academic/research career decision(s)?
The desire to learn and to work in higher education probably began early in my life because of my family. One of my grandmothers was a nurse, and one worked for a college sorority. Both expounded on the necessity and benefits of college for as long as I can remember. My parents and other family members always encouraged us to work hard in school. So I think this helped me have confidence that I could be successful in college. Once I found speech-language pathology I was impressed with the intelligence and dedication of people who worked in this field, and I loved the content. So it was a great match. I had professors who encouraged me to participate in research during my master's degree by doing a thesis and by working as a research assistant. Dr. Ralph Shelton was a patient and wonderful master's thesis mentor. Because I enjoyed research and teaching so much and because professors encouraged me to think about a doctoral degree, after gaining clinical experience, I felt it was possible to return to school. I could not have done this without the strong support of my husband, who assumed more than his share of family and financial responsibilities so that I could study and write.

What do you like most about your career?
I have the freedom and flexibility to conduct research in areas that are most interesting to me. I get to share ideas with colleagues from around the nation. I teach talented students who have inspiring stories. I work with colleagues who I respect and who are friends. University settings are exciting places to be. Finally, we have fun doing all of this!

What do you like least about your career?
There is considerable pressure to achieve in teaching, research, and service in academia that presents a challenge to preserving other priorities in your life.

Who are your heroes/heroines?
Lois Bloom and Margaret Lahey, two pioneers in child language disorders, were heroines to me. I was also in awe of Liz Bates each time I heard her speak. Her amazing intellect, the way she approached research, and her blinding speech rate stood out in the crowd. Another hero is one of my undergraduate students, Urbano Rios. He was a Mexican immigrant working in the fields in the U.S. picking apples, strawberries, green chilies, and tomatoes to support his family. He also was going to school at night to learn electronics. But when his 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism, he became determined to go to college to learn how to help her. While earning his undergraduate degree in speech and hearing science, he worked two jobs, sleeping five hours a night, and spending as much time as possible with his daughter. That kind of determination is an amazing inspiration to me, and Urbano will begin his master's degree this fall.

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?
Volunteer in research labs and clinics. Ask your professors if they have research assistant positions available. Speak up in class, and visit with your professors about class content. Don't be shy. Professors are nice, and we'd love to talk about our research with you.

What was the best thing about your PhD program?
The faculty had interesting, funded research projects. This provided the opportunity to see how different people approached research and how they ran their labs. There were several other doctoral students completing their program at the same time. This provided support from friends. I had a primary mentor who was responsible for my progress through the program. I had the opportunity to teach and to help write research grants.

If you did your PhD program or your early career years all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have gotten involved in research as an undergraduate student, and I would have taken statistics courses as an undergraduate and master's student.

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
In truth, I don't think balance between professional and personal life is realistic when you are an assistant professor if balance means an equal share of time. It takes lots of time to get your program of research under way, to set up your lab, to develop courses, and to participate in professional activities. The good news is that you'll love the work you're doing and there are cycles in education so you have times when you're not teaching and when you have quiet time to think and plan and vacation. You have to be disciplined to take time for your family and for your personal interests, but it will be less time than you spend on work when you're "learning the ropes." As with most careers, with experience you become more efficient and learn how to get things done. To relax we love to camp in the mountains, we plant and garden, we babysit for our family, and I love to read.

What will you be doing 5 years from now?
10 years from now? Five years from now I'll be working on new research questions having gained insight from our current research, I'll be teaching using technology we probably can't even imagine today, I'll be writing a book, I'll be serving on professional committees and mentoring lots of students.

Ten years from now I'll be watching our current doc students contribute to our field, I'll be thinking of new directions for my career during retirement. I'll be traveling, volunteering, and spending lots of time with our children, grandchildren, and my husband. I'll be mentoring junior faculty.

Share This Page

Print This Page