American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Karen Iler Kirk

Professor, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences

Purdue University

Adjunct Professor, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language Pathology

Karen Kirk 1991    PhD, The University of Iowa
            Hearing Science

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, and/or researcher?
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 conferences.

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 career decision(s)?
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 disorders?
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 relax?
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 now?
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.

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