Shelley I. Gray
Assistant Professor, Department of Speech and Hearing
Arizona State University
Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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