Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology
Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language
2004 PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
2000 MA, University of Central Florida
1998 BS, University of Central Florida
I chose an academic/research career because:
An undergraduate professor took the time to mentor me.
What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar,
I am an Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology at Vanderbilt
University. My responsibilities include research, clinical
service, and clinical education. I have a 60% research and 40%
clinical appointment, which allows me to spend 3 days each week
developing my research program and 2 days involved in patient
care. While I do not have classroom teaching responsibilities, I
am involved in the clinical education of speech-language
pathology graduate students, clinical fellows, medical students,
and residents. Among the most rewarding aspects of my job are
dedicated research days, which allow me to work in the lab,
pursue research collaborations, and set aside time for grant
writing. My research interests include vocal fold biology, vocal
anatomy and physiology, and evidence-based practice.
What were the key factors in your academic/research
Although my academic and research interests were ultimately
shaped by my academic advisors, perhaps the single most important
factor that influenced my decision to pursue an academic research
career was a conversation I had with Kenyatta O. Rivers, PhD,
during my undergraduate education at the University of Central
Florida. One afternoon while walking along campus, Dr. Rivers
stopped to ask me if I had ever considered a career in
research/teaching. Dr. Rivers went on to tell me that I displayed
certain qualities that he felt would serve well in academia. It
was the first time someone had ever pointed this out to me.
Doubtful at first but curious to find out more, I met with Dr.
Rivers regularly to discuss the career path that I would soon
How did you get to the position you have today?
What were the key factors in your academic/research career
decision(s)? I received undergraduate and graduate training in
communicative disorders at the University of Central Florida
(UCF). I became interested in voice disorders after taking a
course with Christopher R. Watts, PhD, and completing a clinical
practicum with David B. Ingram, PhD, at an otolaryngology
practice in Orlando, Florida. After completing my studies at UCF,
I found out about the American Speech-Language-Hearing
Association's summer mentoring program that allows students
interested in a research career to pair up with a seasoned mentor
for up to 2 weeks of mentored research experience. Earlier that
year, I met Diane M. Bless, PhD, at the Florida Association of
Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists annual meeting in
Orlando. I was very familiar with Dr. Bless's contributions
to the literature in voice disorders and with her extensive
involvement in the mentoring of doctoral students and
postdoctoral fellows throughout her career. After finding out
about ASHA's summer mentoring program, I contacted Dr. Bless
about the possibility of spending time in her lab over the summer
to learn more about conducting research in voice. I was fortunate
enough to be selected to participate in the mentoring program and
spent 2 weeks over the summer in Dr. Bless's lab at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison learning about laryngeal imaging.
I later enrolled in the communicative disorders PhD program at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, I was introduced to
grant writing and encouraged to submit a dissertation grant while
enrolled in a grant writing course taught by Jon F. Miller, PhD.
The grant was funded by the National Institutes of Health through
the National Research Service Award mechanism. This grant allowed
me to receive training in histology, cell culturing,
immunohistochemistry, and laryngeal modeling. I also received
training in the responsible conduct of research, protocol
submission, managing a laboratory, and writing up results for
publication. After completing the PhD, I was recruited to
Vanderbilt University to complete a clinical fellowship and
offered a faculty position.
What do you like most about your career?
The opportunities I have to make a meaningful contribution,
through mentoring a future academician, performing an experiment
that yields new knowledge, or having a publication cited. The
field is young, and opportunities abound in it to leave a legacy
behind and to be an important part of its history. I enjoy
learning about the academic lineage of my mentors, interacting
with peers at national meetings, and celebrating the
accomplishments of my colleagues.
What do you like least about your career?
I have less interaction with students as I spend much of my time
in lab or clinic and do not have traditional classroom teaching
responsibilities. While some might consider this to be ideal, I
find great joy in my interactions with undergraduate and graduate
students. To me, these interactions provide the perfect avenue
for mentoring, and I believe mentoring is one of the most
rewarding aspects of an academic/research career.
Who are your heroes/heroines?
My heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. I
consider Cameron Frueh to be a hero. Cameron is a 4-year-old boy
who opened a lemonade stand and raised over $1,300 for victims
displaced by Hurricane Katrina. I also consider Mattie Stepanek a
hero. Mattie, who passed away at the age of 13, started writing
poetry at the age of 3 to cope with the death of his brother.
Despite suffering from a rare neuromuscular disease, Mattie
inspired many through his writing.
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
Actively seek mentoring. As busy as academicians are, professors
are very approachable people. In fact, I would say that a large
majority of academic researchers were drawn to this field because
of their love for teaching and the opportunities to influence the
lives of others. Mentoring is a critical aspect of professional
development. We all need mentoring throughout the various stages
of our careers. You may be fortunate like I was to have a
professor approach you early on in your career to offer
mentoring. Yet, this is not always the case. More often than not,
mentoring relationships result from a mentee's active
involvement in seeking out opportunities to receive advice from a
What was the best thing about your PhD program?
I was fortunate to have had many students going through the
doctoral program with me. As a result, I never felt isolated. If
I was having a tough time in a course or a hard time with a lab
project, there was a good chance that one of my peers was
experiencing the same or had experienced it at some point. This
made those little frustrations we all experienced a lot easier to
handle and provided the opportunity to develop lifelong
If you did your PhD program or your early career years
all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more courses in the biological sciences. I
might have even majored in molecular biology, chemistry, or
physiology as an undergraduate. I had no idea that you could use
techniques that a molecular biologist, chemist, or physiologist
uses in the lab to solve problems in communication sciences and
disorders. I just figured the research you did had to be
behavioral. I realized during my doctoral program that there were
plenty of opportunities outside of behavioral research for
someone in the field of CSD. Because the research that I do now
has a biological focus, I must read literature from outside the
field, sit in on courses, and visit laboratories to learn new
techniques. Yet, I have no regrets. Had I majored in something
other than CSD as an undergraduate I may have never found out
about the field of CSD and might be doing something else right
now. Instead, I have an opportunity to incorporate approaches
used in other disciplines in my area of interest. CSD researchers
are well familiar with the questions that need to be answered in
their respective areas. This offers a unique opportunity to learn
new methodologies and provides a vehicle for interdisciplinary
collaboration. This is one of the great things about a CSD career
in academia. You are free to allow your scholarly interests to
change over time, and you play a significant role in the
direction of your career.
How do you find balance between your professional
activities and your personal life? What do you do to
Believe it or not, there is actually a great deal of flexibility
for those in research careers. However, you have to make time for
yourself and learn how to say no. Of course, this is easier said
than done, and I think it is especially difficult for junior
faculty because of a sense of obligation to stay busy. But the
bottom line is that no one is going to make time for you. I try
to balance my professional activities and personal life by
relaxing on weekends and weeknights. I avoid e-mail as much as
possible while at home. My wife and I set time aside on
weeknights to go for walks, cook dinner together, pack lunches,
and catch up on TiVo. On weekends I enjoy working in the yard. We
also try to plan a ski outing each year or a trip home to see our
friends and families.
What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from
I'll be teaching a graduate seminar in voice disorders and an
undergraduate course in research methods. I'll be in a
laboratory dissecting larynges. I'll be advising graduate
students and encouraging undergraduates to pursue research
careers. I'll be receiving mentoring. I'll be enjoying
vacations with my family. I'll be at home reading to my kids.
My wife and I will be going on walks, cooking dinner together,
and packing lunch boxes. I'll be training for The Hawaii
Ironman (who says you can't dream big?).