American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Mary Pat Moeller

Director, Center for Childhood Deafness

Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, NE

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Audiology

Mary Pat Moeller 2002    PhD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
            Child Language and Deafness

1973    MS, Purdue University
            Audiology

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, and/or researcher?
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 efforts.

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 career decision(s)?
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 disorders?
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 research skills.

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
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 now?
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!

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