American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Bernard Rousseau

Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology

Vanderbilt University

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language Pathology

Bernard Rousseau 2004    PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
            Communicative Disorders

2000    MA, University of Central Florida
            Communicative Disorders

1998    BS, University of Central Florida
            Communicative Disorders



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, and/or researcher?
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 career decision(s)?
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 discover.

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 disorders?
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 mentor.

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 friendships.

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 relax?
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 now?
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?).

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