American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Christy L. Ludlow

Chief, Laryngeal and Speech Section
Medical Neurology Branch, Clinical Neurosciences Program, Intramural Research

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language Pathology

Christy Ludlow 1973    PhD, New York University
            Psycholinguistics and Speech Pathology

1967    MS Applied, McGill University
            Speech Pathology and Audiology

1965    BS, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
            Physiological Psychology

I chose an academic/research career because:
I love to learn new things and get answers to questions; there is so little known about speech, voice, and swallowing functions and disorders that we can have a great impact on patient care by doing research in this field.

What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar, and/or researcher?
I work at the National Institutes of Health, one of the premier research institutions in the world. I am fortunate to be in the Intramural Program on the Bethesda campus in the research hospital here, referred to as the Clinical Research Center. My Section is in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is largely a Research Program in Neuroscience. As a Principal Investigator, I have a laboratory that includes both basic and clinical investigators. By being able to do both basic neuroscience and clinical research, I can answer questions that are complementary at the same time. For example, we can develop a hypothesis about the cause for a disorder affecting laryngeal function and then test it in two ways, by doing a case control study in patients for risk factors while testing out some agents in an animal model in the laboratory.
I work with postdoctoral fellows in speech pathology, neuroscience, and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. We study laryngeal physiology, how the larynx is controlled by the brain and how changes in laryngeal function interact with brain function both in animal models and in humans. In humans, we use functional and structural brain-imaging techniques including functional magnetic resonance imaging. We also study speech production, how people learn new speech utterances, and brain function changes with speech learning in adults and children. Finally we are working to develop new treatments for persons with chronic swallowing disorders. We are studying how training patients to use stimulators inside their muscles can augment airway protection during swallowing after stroke or brain injury.

How did you get to the position you have today?
I took a somewhat unusual route to get to where I am currently at the NIH. When I came to the NIH, there weren't any intramural research programs in my field. At first, I did some research administration while also doing some laboratory research for the first 10 years of my career. The administrative side of my position allowed me to get a big picture of the field and develop ideas on how best to contribute to the development of new understanding about normal and disordered speech and voice. I started out interested in aphasia but soon moved to speech and voice disorders. When I entered the field in the late 1970s and 1980s, there were exciting new technological developments that could be used to measure speech and voice, making this an excellent field for research. I was particularly intrigued by physiology using electromyography, and kinematics to study speech and voice. More recently, functional neuroimaging now allows us to study brain function during normal speech and voice production, in persons with disorders, and to learn how to change brain function for effective treatment of these disorders. We now have the tools to study neuroplasticity of brain function to learn how to make lasting improvements in patients with these disorders.

What were the key factors in your academic/research career decision(s)?
I have been very fortunate to have mentors all along the way. Some showed me the way, others gave me advice, and a few actually supported me by helping me gain the tools to learn how to be a good scientist. Luckily, I was exposed to clinicians and scientists who all had different backgrounds and viewpoints. Some were in speech science, others were speech pathologists, some were neurophysiologists, and finally physician-scientists such as otolaryngologists and neurologists.

The other key has been never to leave any stone unturned, I have found it beneficial to take advantage of every opportunity available and to always do my best. Lots of hard work, of course, has been and is required all along the way.

What do you like most about your career?
The ability to come up with new ideas, discussing them with others, solving problems, and helping patients is a wonderful, exhilarating experience.

What do you like least about your career?
Paperwork for administrative purposes.

Who are your heroes/heroines?
Professionally, I learned from wonderful role models such as Martha Taylor Sarno, a wonderful professional speech pathologist who is an advocate for her patients and for research; Dr. Ralph Naunton, an otolaryngologist who cared for patients and loved research and ideas; Dr. Erich Luschei, who loves science and solving problems; and Dr. Mark Hallett, who has it all-an amazing scientist, physician, mentor, and skilled administrator.

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?
Find a top school and an outstanding mentor, listen carefully, and never assume anything.

What was the best thing about your PhD program?
It gave me the freedom to try new things, take courses and seminars in new areas, and find mentors outside of my field.

If you did your PhD program or your early career years all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have done a postdoctoral fellowship to learn more about research earlier in my career.

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
I have learned to protect my personal time, to try and keep personal things separate from professional things. I try and keep my social life independent from my work life so I can have a break.

What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
Hopefully I will have completed some research studies and started new ones. I look forward to seeing my postdoctoral fellows become leaders in the field. I am also working on some new technological developments that should become available for patients in the next 5 to 10 years.

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