American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Craig A. Champlin

Professor and Chair, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

University of Texas at Austin

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Audiology

Craig Champlin 1989    Postdoctoral Training, University of Texas at Austin

1987    PhD, University of Kansas
            Audiology and Hearing Science

1982    MA, University of Kansas Medical Center

                                  1978    BA, St. Olaf College
                                              Biology and Psychology

I chose an academic/research career because:
It allows me to explore and discover. I strive to learn something new every day, and then I try to pass this knowledge along to others.

What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar, and/or researcher?
I work at a major research university. I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses in audiology and hearing science. Additionally, I conduct research in a lab on basic properties of hearing. While I currently have administrative responsibilities, I see this role as relatively short-term and plan to return full-time to my professorial activities soon. I am mainly interested in temporal resolution in audition, which is to say I want to know how we parse the incoming stream of acoustic information into meaningful units of speech or music. I also want to understand how certain hearing disorders affect temporal resolution and what can be done to overcome such impairments.

It is helpful for me to divide the work week into three segments. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach classes; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work in the lab or my office; on Fridays, I attend faculty meetings and engage in professional service (e.g., I am a journal editor). This form of block scheduling helps me focus on the activities of the day and lets other people know where I am. On "teaching days" I attend classes and give lectures. I also make it a point to be in my office on these days, so students can find me. The one-on-one discussions we have during office hours are often quite illuminating for me. I am generally less accessible on "research days." I typically attend lab meetings or journal groups, work on developing experiments, and write or review papers. Although I am a certified audiologist, I rarely supervise clinical practica. My accomplishments are reviewed annually by the Budget Council of the department and by the Dean. I am rated in each of three categories-teaching (40%), research (40%), and service (20%). Although the Dean is technically my boss, he is not meddlesome; I may go a week without seeing him. Working in an environment of loose supervision is very appealing to me as is the diversity of experiences I have on a daily basis.

How did you get to the position you have today?
As an undergraduate student, I was fortunate to assist a professor who was testing the balance systems of astronauts. This was my introduction to the study of the ear. From there I became interested in auditory perception. Specifically, I wanted to integrate the physiological knowledge from my biology classes with the perceptual knowledge gained through my psychology classes. Because hearing is the primary sense in communication, I found it much more compelling than vision, touch, or the chemical senses. I discovered that one could go to graduate school to study hearing science exclusively, so off I went. There were few hearing science students, but numerous audiology (and speech-language pathology) students. They showed me the value of studying impaired communication systems as a way to better understand normal processes. In fact, I got a degree in audiology, became certified, and practiced as an audiologist in a large metropolitan hospital. During my stint in the "real world," I came to see that numerous holes existed in our knowledge base. The hospital, however, did not encourage research. Eventually, my curiosity and need to experiment drew me back to school where I completed my PhD degree. Although my doctoral program was excellent, the research training was not quite as extensive compared to other scientific disciplines (psychology, biology, biomedical engineering, neuroscience, linguistics, etc.). I felt I needed additional research experiences, so I wrote a grant and subsequently became a postdoctoral fellow. This latter experience has been invaluable, and I would encourage all doctoral students to seek such opportunities.

What were the key factors in your academic/research career decision(s)?
As an undergraduate, I was permitted to teach a laboratory section of a course in physiological psychology. The professor in charge was beset with personal problems, so I was permitted to teach the course more or less unfettered. There were both teaching and research components, which I found extremely interesting. This experience more than any other pointed me in the direction of a career in academics.

What do you like most about your career?
As an academician I am literally free to investigate whatever I choose. My colleagues undoubtedly appreciate the fact that I confine my study to topics in audition. The point is that I could study continental drift if I so desired. Because I am tenured, I can express myself freely without worry of retribution. I cannot think of any other job where this freedom is possible and even encouraged.

What do you like least about your career?
Occasionally, I become overwhelmed by the lack of what I call vocational closure-knowing that I can work hard my entire lifetime (hopefully contributing something meaningful from time to time) yet there is always more to be done. It's not like building a house or sorting letters at the post office. The job of the academic by definition has no end.

Who are your heroes/heroines?
I have two professional heroes-Larry Feth, my doctoral advisor, and Dennis McFadden, my postdoc sponsor. Both men are extraordinarily smart, flexible, and have great senses of humor. They have been extremely generous with their time whether discussing experimental ideas, philosophies of science, or reviewing my manuscripts. They were also gracious in introducing me to people at scientific meetings. I continue to collaborate with both mentors.

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?
My advice would be to find a lab that's active and get involved. Any good investigator or lab group can always use another pair of hands (and a brain). Seeing what others are doing and talking to them about it is the best way to learn about research.

What was the best thing about your PhD program?
The best thing about my doctoral program is that my advisor and committee allowed me to explore a wide range of topics and course work in many different departments. I was able to tailor my program to fit my interests. This is what distinguishes a doctoral program from any other degree (HS, BA, MA, etc.) plan where the curriculum is highly prescribed.

If you did your PhD program or your early career years all over again, what would you do differently?
I would take more courses in mathematics. Math and physics are central to many aspects of hearing and speaking, so understanding the fundamental concepts is essential.

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
My spouse, who is not an academic, and my children understand that my job is not 8 to 5, Monday to Friday. They know that there are times when I need to bear down (e.g., grant deadlines); however, they also realize that I need to take breaks. My schedule is reasonably flexible, especially in the summer, and my calendar matches up with the children's school calendar. Although there is some work-related travel, it is not unbearable, and often one or more family members accompany me. The invention of the laptop computer has enabled me to accomplish much in my home office where I can squeeze in an e-mail note between Seinfeld reruns.

It may sound odd but because I like my job, the need to take a vacation doesn't often cross my mind. Nonetheless, I am truly grateful for having a family who can remind me to unplug.

What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
Hopefully, I'll be doing in 5 years what I'm doing now. Each academic year arrives with new students and new things to learn. Ten years from now I hope to have successfully applied chaos theory to the prediction of number patterns in lottery drawings. I am looking forward to becoming a professor/philanthropist.


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