Christy L. Ludlow
Chief, Laryngeal and Speech Section
Medical Neurology Branch, Clinical Neurosciences Program,
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language
1973 PhD, New York University
Psycholinguistics and Speech Pathology
1967 MS Applied, McGill University
Speech Pathology and Audiology
1965 BS, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
I chose an academic/research career because:
I love to learn new things and get answers to questions; there is
so little known about speech, voice, and swallowing functions and
disorders that we can have a great impact on patient care by
doing research in this field.
What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar,
I work at the National Institutes of Health, one of the premier
research institutions in the world. I am fortunate to be in the
Intramural Program on the Bethesda campus in the research
hospital here, referred to as the Clinical Research Center. My
Section is in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke, which is largely a Research Program in Neuroscience.
As a Principal Investigator, I have a laboratory that includes
both basic and clinical investigators. By being able to do both
basic neuroscience and clinical research, I can answer questions
that are complementary at the same time. For example, we can
develop a hypothesis about the cause for a disorder affecting
laryngeal function and then test it in two ways, by doing a case
control study in patients for risk factors while testing out some
agents in an animal model in the laboratory.
I work with postdoctoral fellows in speech pathology,
neuroscience, and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. We study
laryngeal physiology, how the larynx is controlled by the brain
and how changes in laryngeal function interact with brain
function both in animal models and in humans. In humans, we use
functional and structural brain-imaging techniques including
functional magnetic resonance imaging. We also study speech
production, how people learn new speech utterances, and brain
function changes with speech learning in adults and children.
Finally we are working to develop new treatments for persons with
chronic swallowing disorders. We are studying how training
patients to use stimulators inside their muscles can augment
airway protection during swallowing after stroke or brain
How did you get to the position you have today?
I took a somewhat unusual route to get to where I am currently at
the NIH. When I came to the NIH, there weren't any intramural
research programs in my field. At first, I did some research
administration while also doing some laboratory research for the
first 10 years of my career. The administrative side of my
position allowed me to get a big picture of the field and develop
ideas on how best to contribute to the development of new
understanding about normal and disordered speech and voice. I
started out interested in aphasia but soon moved to speech and
voice disorders. When I entered the field in the late 1970s and
1980s, there were exciting new technological developments that
could be used to measure speech and voice, making this an
excellent field for research. I was particularly intrigued by
physiology using electromyography, and kinematics to study speech
and voice. More recently, functional neuroimaging now allows us
to study brain function during normal speech and voice
production, in persons with disorders, and to learn how to change
brain function for effective treatment of these disorders. We now
have the tools to study neuroplasticity of brain function to
learn how to make lasting improvements in patients with these
What were the key factors in your academic/research
I have been very fortunate to have mentors all along the way.
Some showed me the way, others gave me advice, and a few actually
supported me by helping me gain the tools to learn how to be a
good scientist. Luckily, I was exposed to clinicians and
scientists who all had different backgrounds and viewpoints. Some
were in speech science, others were speech pathologists, some
were neurophysiologists, and finally physician-scientists such as
otolaryngologists and neurologists.
The other key has been never to leave any stone unturned, I
have found it beneficial to take advantage of every opportunity
available and to always do my best. Lots of hard work, of course,
has been and is required all along the way.
What do you like most about your career?
The ability to come up with new ideas, discussing them with
others, solving problems, and helping patients is a wonderful,
What do you like least about your career?
Paperwork for administrative purposes.
Who are your heroes/heroines?
Professionally, I learned from wonderful role models such as
Martha Taylor Sarno, a wonderful professional speech pathologist
who is an advocate for her patients and for research; Dr. Ralph
Naunton, an otolaryngologist who cared for patients and loved
research and ideas; Dr. Erich Luschei, who loves science and
solving problems; and Dr. Mark Hallett, who has it all-an amazing
scientist, physician, mentor, and skilled administrator.
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
Find a top school and an outstanding mentor, listen carefully,
and never assume anything.
What was the best thing about your PhD program?
It gave me the freedom to try new things, take courses and
seminars in new areas, and find mentors outside of my field.
If you did your PhD program or your early career years
all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have done a postdoctoral fellowship to learn more about
research earlier in my career.
How do you find balance between your professional
activities and your personal life? What do you do to
I have learned to protect my personal time, to try and keep
personal things separate from professional things. I try and keep
my social life independent from my work life so I can have a
What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from
Hopefully I will have completed some research studies and started
new ones. I look forward to seeing my postdoctoral fellows become
leaders in the field. I am also working on some new technological
developments that should become available for patients in the
next 5 to 10 years.