Karen Iler Kirk
Professor, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing
Adjunct Professor, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck
Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis
Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language
1991 PhD, The University of Iowa
1987 MS, University of Southern California
Speech Science & Technology
1980 MA, University of California, Santa Barbara
Speech and Hearing Sciences
1978 BA, University of California, Santa Barbara
Speech and Hearing Sciences
I chose an academic/research career because:
Of the varied experiences and the impact it has on our field. My
work as a clinical researcher informs clinical care and the
education of future clinicians and scientists. For example, my
research led to the development of new methods for assessing
speech perception in children with hearing loss and helped to
broaden cochlear implant candidacy criteria. Students in my
courses learn to apply the principles of evidence-based practice
in making clinical decisions.
What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar,
I joined the faculty of Purdue University this year. Purdue is a
major research institution offering undergraduate and graduate
degrees in speech, language and hearing sciences. Prior to
joining the Purdue faculty, I served for 12 years as the Director
of the DeVault Otologic Research Laboratory at the Indiana
University School of Medicine (IUSM). I was part of a
multidisciplinary team of surgeons, audiologists, speech-language
pathologists, and linguists conducting NIH-funded cochlear
implant research. My responsibilities at Purdue are equally
divided between teaching and research activities. I teach
graduate courses for the AuD program. I continue to conduct
collaborative cochlear implant research with colleagues at the
IUSM, and I also am developing some new research projects at
Purdue aimed at improving speech perception assessment methods
for adults and children with hearing loss.
How did you get to the position you have today?
I had an interest in research during my undergraduate and
graduate work at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I
was fairly certain that I wanted to pursue a PhD eventually, but
I didn't know in what area. I spent my clinical fellowship
year as a speech-language pathologist at a public elementary
school in Los Angeles. What happened next completely changed my
career goals. In 1981, Dr. William House of the House Ear
Institute in Los Angeles hired me to be the first speech-language
pathologist on the first pediatric cochlear implant team in the
United States. This was back in the days of single-channel
cochlear implant systems. I created and administered a protocol
to measure the speech and language development of children with
cochlear implants. With guidance from more senior colleagues, I
helped write manuscripts and gave presentations at scientific
I chose the University of Iowa for my PhD because of the
program's reputation and because they had a strong cochlear
implant research program. I remained at Iowa as an Assistant
Scientist on the cochlear implant program for about 2 years after
completing my PhD. I then joined the faculty of the Department of
Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the IUSM. Again, I chose
this position because of the opportunity to participate in
NIH-funded cochlear implant research.
During my time at Indiana, I began teaching a graduate course
in cochlear implants for Indiana University, Bloomington and for
Purdue University. I realized that I enjoyed the interaction with
students in my own discipline. Several years ago, faculty from
the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at Purdue
University and the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck
Surgery at IUSM entered into a formal agreement to jointly
develop an AuD program at Purdue. Faculty from each campus teach
courses, and students rotate through the medical center for part
of their clinical training. When a senior faculty position became
available at Purdue, I applied. My new position allows me to
recruit and train clinicians and scientists in my field while
also continuing my cochlear implant research.
What were the key factors in your academic/research
Several people have played key roles in my academic career. Dr.
William House gave me my entry into the field of cochlear
implants. He had faith in my abilities despite my youth and
relative inexperience. My decision to obtain a PhD was a direct
result of my experience at the House Ear Institute. I needed a
better understanding of auditory and perceptual processing in
order to investigate the effects of cochlear implant use on
speech and language development. I loved working on cochlear
implant research at the University of Iowa, and that led me to
accept the position at IUSM where I could devote nearly all of my
efforts to research. Shortly after joining IUSM, I was asked to
become Director of the DeVault Otologic Research Laboratory when
another faculty member resigned that position. I was fortunate in
having a mentor, Dr. David Pisoni, Chancellor's Professor of
Psychology and Cognitive Psychology at Indiana University,
Bloomington, who helped me gain the research, grant writing and
administrative skills needed to carry out those responsibilities.
As I mentioned previously, I accepted my current position at
Purdue in order to have more interaction with students.
What do you like most about your career?
The ability to pursue research that interests me and to help
guide the development of young professionals in our field.
What do you like least about your career?
Obtaining funding for research is becoming more and more
difficult, and that is a worry.
Who are your heroes/heroines?
(1) My husband, Dr. Jerry Kirk, for his willingness to be an
equal partner in our home and family life, thus enabling me to
have a successful career. (2) Dr. David Pisoni, for his
outstanding research contributions and his many years of
successfully mentoring predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows. (3)
The children with cochlear implants and their families for their
courage and perseverance.
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
I think gaining some practical work experience before pursuing a
PhD is very valuable.
What was the best thing about your PhD program?
There were so many wonderful things about my experience at the
University of Iowa. The environment was intellectually
stimulating because of the outstanding interdisciplinary faculty
and the caliber of my fellow students. Most of the faculty had
extramural research funding that helped support students and
provided "real-world" research experience. Having a
speech and hearing department and a medical school in close
proximity definitely enhanced my clinical research training. My
dissertation research with cochlear implant recipients was
carried out in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck
Surgery, just a short walk from my office. And finally, living in
a Big 10 college town is really fun.
If you did your PhD program or your early career years
all over again, what would you do differently?
How do you find balance between your professional
activities and your personal life? What do you do to
I try to use my work time as productively as possible. Although I
frequently spend part of each weekend in preparation for the next
week's classes, I do make time for personal activities as
well. My husband and I have one son in college and two children
in high school. Most of our personal time was devoted to their
sports and activities when they were younger. We still enjoy
those activities, but we have other hobbies as well. We take long
walks, socialize with friends, and travel a bit. I play in a
women's tennis league that competes in the evening and on
occasional weekends. I love cooking for friends and family,
especially on Sundays.
What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from
For the next 10-12 years I will be teaching and conducting
research. After that, my husband and I would like to retire. We
hope to divide our time between the Midwest and California.