It goes without saying that we need to maximize research
productivity in communication sciences and disorders to grow the evidence base
for our practice. However, this task is not easy because of the shortage of
doctoral-prepared CSD scholars, as noted in a 2008 joint report [PDF] of ASHA and the
Council on Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders.
The professions need to recruit more students into doctoral
training—to meet current and future teaching demands in CSD departments and to
conduct research to inform evidence-based practice and improve client outcomes.
Indeed, ASHA has stated that developing new researchers should be a top
In an effort to fill this need, CSD faculty often try
drawing more graduate students into the doctoral pipeline by involving them in
research projects. Student-produced and faculty-mentored thesis and capstone
projects often become published work, potentially putting students on a
However, not enough of our graduate students are interested
in doing research. Why? Potential student researchers may not recognize the
rewards of doing research. To some, it may seem pretentious to envision
themselves in the role of researcher.
One possible way to address this issue is to get students
started earlier with research—in their undergraduate years. Indeed, research
indicates that conducting research as an undergraduate can act as a catalyst
for pursuing doctoral-level studies (see sources online).
Beyond this outcome, undergraduate research experiences
benefit students in other ways, research indicates, by:
- Bolstering their comprehension of content within courses.
- Helping them develop collaborative relationships with
- Increasing their understanding of specific areas of interest
- Developing their aptitude for conducting data-based
Traditional mentoring and beyond
In the past, undergraduate research has been done as small
individual projects conducted by a select few outstanding juniors or seniors.
These projects are expected to be original, independent research—completed in
one year under the mentorship of a faculty adviser. They typically include
proposing a research question, designing a research study, obtaining
Institutional Review Board approval, collecting and analyzing data, and writing
up the research results.
Although the sole mentorship model is certainly effective,
there are a broad range of other opportunities for involving undergraduates in
research—ways that allow more students to participate and consume less of their
time. In these models, students often contribute to only a part of a research
study. A faculty member's research program often involves large studies that can be assigned to students and done well with appropriate training and oversight. And when undergraduates contribute to team efforts, they can begin individual projects earlier than usual—sometimes as early as the freshman or sophomore year.
Specific ways undergraduates can contribute to larger,
ongoing projects are:
- Conduct a literature review and write a summary to aid in
the eventual write-up of the project. This process helps undergraduates gain
experience searching for, reading and interpreting published research.
- Perform prescribed tasks in data collection or analysis.
Through these tasks, undergraduates can help graduate students complete their
thesis work, and at the same time receive mentoring.
- Replicate studies. Students can select or be assigned a
published paper and address the same question, conducting either an exact
replication with the same procedures or proposing some variations to the
design. Through such a practice, students are relieved of the burden of finding
an original research topic but still get to learn about design, experimental
procedures, data analysis, data interpretation and writing up the project.
Experienced researchers often think that data collection and
measurement can be dull. However, early-stage students often do not share that
view and are instead pleased to join the team and learn from experienced
researchers. Undergraduates can benefit from attending laboratory meetings or
just being in a laboratory where they meet others and discuss ongoing research
projects. They should also be encouraged to attend the research team's social functions and go to meetings and conferences and help present poster sessions.
ASHA's push for undergrads
Speaking of conferences, ASHA's annual convention has seen a notable increase in undergraduate researcher attendance—a result of ASHA programs such as PROmoting the next GENeration of Researchers, or PROGENY. This program promotes undergraduate research by providing students with mentorship and support to drive continued research efforts. Undergraduate researchers are eligible if they are first authors on convention poster presentations. Once signed up, they pair with a faculty researcher, who attends the student's poster presentation, participates in discussions of the student's research project, and provides information about academic and research career options in the field. Thirty-eight students participated in this program in 2012, including:
- Lauren Zanfardino (Iona College), "The Use & Subsequent Efficacy of MLU in Clinical Choices."
- Leah Craft, Holly Forst and Rebecca Schulz (University of
Wisconsin-Eau Claire), "Instructional Strategies for Facilitating Literacy in Children Diagnosed With Autism."
- Hilary Sandberg (Old Dominion University), "Rehabilitation of Listening in Noise: A Case Study in Aphasia."
- Brittany Frazer (Bowling Green State University), "Phonation vs. Collision Threshold Pressure: A Modeling Study."
- Kathryn Young (Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania), "Greetings: Video Social Stories Via iPad for Children With Autism."
For a comprehensive list of recent PROGENY participants and
their research projects, go to the PROGENY page.
Undergraduate students also are eligible for other ASHA
programs, including the Students Preparing for Academic and Research Careers
Award and the Student Research Travel Award. Undergraduate research provides
exciting learning opportunities for students and can vary and enhance the
teaching approaches of undergraduate faculty. Undergraduate research
experiences will continue to be enriched through faculty collaboration and
discussion about new ideas, greater support, and additional strategies for
undergraduate research mentoring.