Mary Pat Moeller
Director, Center for Childhood Deafness
Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, NE
Certificate of Clinical Competence, Audiology
2002 PhD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Child Language and Deafness
1973 MS, Purdue University
1972 BS, Purdue University
Speech and Hearing Sciences
I chose an academic/research career because:
I was curious. I had worked with deaf children and their families
for many years. I could see so many questions that we needed to
answer in order to do a better job in serving these families. I
wanted to be some part of finding novel solutions to problems. I
have always loved to learn, and I knew that a career in academics
and research would ensure lifelong learning.
What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar,
I am the Director of the Center for Childhood Deafness at Boys
Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. At Boys Town,
we work to integrate research with everyday clinical practice, so
this has been an exciting work environment. The Director part of
my job involves overseeing our programs, budget, and staff, and
providing leadership as we develop new initiatives. The research
part of my job entails working on grant-funded projects to study
infant development. I investigate early vocal and verbal
development in infants with normal and impaired hearing. I am
particularly interested in first word learning and what factors
influence children's ability to acquire new knowledge from
those around them. Thanks to newborn hearing screening, we now
have a fascinating opportunity to study infants with hearing loss
from a very young age. I thoroughly enjoy the interaction with
both the infants and parents. Our work is helping us understand
how to modify hearing aids and other interventions for infants
with hearing loss. I also study children's early social
development (theory of mind), and I create and disseminate
tailored resources for the medical community related to newborn
hearing screening. My work in research and dissemination also
includes travel to national and international conferences. I
write grants to continue to ensure funding for my research
How did you get to the position you have today?
I began my undergraduate studies in speech and hearing sciences
at Purdue University. I became intrigued with the needs of deaf
children and interested in the integration of information from
the fields of audiology, speech pathology, and deaf education.
That led me to pursue a degree in rehabilitative audiology at the
master's level and postgraduate studies in deaf education. I
then worked for 25 years in clinical/educational settings, always
with deaf and hard of hearing children and their families. I
served in roles such as parent-infant specialist, preschool
language teacher, aural rehabilitation specialist, evaluator on a
multidisciplinary team for deaf and hard of hearing children,
parent educator, and clinical supervisor. There was much to learn
to meet the diverse needs of this population of children, and
this kept me fascinated for many years. However, my curiosity got
the best of me, so later in my career I decided to pursue
doctoral studies. That took me to the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, where I focused on child language development.
I was a "nontraditional" student, being more senior
than my classmates. However, my extensive experience in the
clinic allowed me to put my studies in a broad context. My
clinical background assisted me in posing interesting clinical
research questions. During my dissertation, I explored
mother-child interaction and effects of talk about the mind
(e.g., beliefs, dreams, wishes) on children's social
understanding of others. Following graduation, my position at
Boys Town changed from a clinical focus to a clinical research
focus. After so many years in the field, this was a challenging
but rewarding shift in my career. Every day at work brings new
mysteries and opportunities for fascinating explorations.
What were the key factors in your academic/research
During my clinical years, I received excellent mentoring from
several doctoral level researchers-Dr. Noel Matkin, Dr. Pat
Stelmachowicz, Dr. Mary Joe Osberger, Dr. Arlene Carney, and Dr.
Brenda Schick-who schooled me in clinical research methods. Each
of these individuals inspired me to integrate scientific
disciplines in order to understand deafness from unique
perspectives. They challenged me to be the best I could be. I
felt that I had the ability to pose interesting questions, but I
lacked the research tools to pursue them. Their models helped me
understand the importance of pursuing a doctoral degree so that I
could achieve my research goals.
What do you like most about your career?
I have loved clinical work throughout my career because, time and
time again, I witness families "rising to the occasion"
to do what is best for their deaf children. It is inspiring.
Through research, I am able to contribute to children and
families in new ways. I enjoy the challenge of designing new
projects and the excitement of analyzing the data to discover
what it all means.
What do you like least about your career?
There is very little that I dislike. I am not fond of the
controversies that exist over the management of deaf children. I
think we need better methods for understanding which approach
works best for which children and families. We need more evidence
to support our practices.
Who are your heroes/heroines?
I have always been inspired by people who are creative and who
strive for excellence while maintaining high levels of integrity.
The mentors I mentioned above fit that category, as do Olympic
athletes who push themselves past incomprehensible limits. But my
older sister is truly my heroine. She is a model of resilience in
the face of quadriplegia from multiple sclerosis. She teaches me
every day that happiness comes from within.
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
Personally, I would encourage students to get some clinical
experience before pursuing doctoral studies. That experience base
allows you to put your studies in a broader context. Figure out
what you are good at. What are you passionate about? Be sure
about why you want a doctoral degree. I would also encourage
students to include cross-disciplinary studies, which will expand
one's thinking and may prompt one to consider atypical
solutions to problems.
What was the best thing about your PhD program?
The best experience in my doctoral program was the dissertation
process. It was invaluable to take a seedling of an idea and see
it through research design, implementation, analysis,
interpretation, and write-up. The doctoral program, as a whole,
taught me to think in new ways, and that is something no one can
take away from you.
If you did your PhD program or your early career years
all over again, what would you do differently?
Perhaps I would have pursued a doctoral degree earlier in my
career than I did. This would have given me more time to hone my
How do you find balance between your professional
activities and your personal life? What do you do to
It is challenging to find a balance when you have a busy academic
life. I try to keep my values in sight and plan well so those
needs do not take a back seat to other commitments. I start every
day at a Masters swimming practice, which provides wellness and
stress relief all in one. I have a big group of friends there,
and we socialize and laugh a lot. I enjoy biking with my family
and knitting while I relax. I remind myself each day that I can
be more creative and productive in my work when I balance life by
"unplugging" from academia for a while.
What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from
In 5 years, I plan to have published a number of papers from our
current work and will submit grants to continue to fund this
work. I hope to have fresh perspectives on children's social
and linguistic development and new, interesting questions to go
after. I plan to be a grandmother who spends lots of times
charming little ones. I will still be swimming, and I hope to
find some new competitions and new challenges to try in my sport.
In 10 years, I will retire from the profession; then I plan to
embark on many new adventures. There are so many in my
imagination at this point, I am certain I will never be bored!