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Speechie Spotlight 3 – Class of 2017

January 31, 2016

The Class of 2017 has officially finished (survived?) their first term with lots of support and encouragement from our beloved “Second Years”!

So who are we?  What brought us to study Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Alberta?

Here is the third in a series of posts profiling some of the fantastic people in the SLP class of 2017!  This time, we feature: Jeremy Davie, Karla Iannuccilli, and Tamara Paetkau.

JD Spotlight

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TP Spotlight A

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An Interview with a Clinician Scientist: Meet Brea Chouinard

January 30, 2016

chouinard_breaDespite being on maternity leave, Brea Chouinard, a clinician scientist who received the prestigious AIHS fellowship in 2013, generously agreed to answer an online Q&A session for OASIS.

1) When did you realize you wanted to study speech-language pathology?
I have a very unusual story (I think) about how I ended up in SLP. My undergrad degree was a math degree, and I had no idea what to do next. I ended up in Engineering, where I spent three whole days before I ended up crying (how embarrassing) in the office of the Dean of Engineering about how I wanted to work with kids. He wasn’t too pleased with me, but got me transferred as a special studies student back to the Faculty of Science. Now what was I going to do??? I sat down with my brother and we talked about my dream job (basketball coach) and the things about it that made it my dream job (instilling self-confidence in young people, team work, goal oriented, etc). We then flipped through the calendar page by page (yes, things were pen and paper back then) until we stumbled upon SLP. I had never heard of it, but apparently my cousin had seen an SLP. So, I spent the year doing pre-reqs and then applied. I actually didn’t get in (was devastated), but luckily, someone who got in had also applied somewhere else and had gotten in there, and had decided to go there instead. Lucky for me I was first on the waiting list. I was in :)

2) What degrees did you pursue and where?
BSc – Biological Sciences (U of A)
Master of Speech Language Pathology (U of A)
PhD in Rehabilitation Science (U of A)

Doing all your degrees at one institution isn’t recommended, but I had international clinical experience (2 years in Britain), so this made my situation a little less troublesome.

3) In what settings have you practiced?
School board (general and intensive classroom based); hospital (in Britain, on a unit that specialized in diagnosing and providing therapy for kidlets with ASD); private practice.

4) What is your specialty or area of research and how did you choose it?
I specialize in autism spectrum disorder and am super interested in how the brain develops and ends up functioning in individuals with ASD. It chose me! When I was in Britain (2006-2008) I had such lovely experiences with families of children with ASD that I was hooked. I had also studied a lot about brain plasticity and wondered how it could be applied to ASD therapy. The more I merged the two (neuroplasticity and ASD therapy), the more success I had.

5) Have there been any major shifts within your field of study?
When I graduated with my MSLP, I was so glad to be a “real person” making money and all that jazz. I swore I was done with Uni forever. (Ha ha, the Universe laughed at my naiveté). When I came home from Britain and was having so much success with the therapy I was providing for individuals with ASD, the parents kept telling me that I needed to tell the world what I was doing. I felt that I should come back to Uni and get some street credit before I did that.

6) How do you feel about the role of research in your own personal practice? In other words, why have you decided to be a clinician scientist?
I think that the more we know as a clinician, then the better we can be at tailoring our therapy to each individual to provide the most effective therapy. For the very few cookie cutter therapies that we do have in the field (PECS comes to mind), I think a clinician could be a thousand times more effective if they understood exactly why the therapy made the changes it did/how it was working.

7) What’s next for you?
Ireland or bust. I have decided to do a post-doctoral fellowship, which means that I get to continue some intensive training, but get paid for it (I am no longer a student). I have applied to work with some geniuses in Ireland (clinical trials and neuroimaging) so that I can boost my skill set and develop a mature network of collaborators and colleagues.

8) Do you have any advice for current or prospective students?
If you’re considering a PhD, don’t worry for a second whether or not you’re smart enough. You are. Anyone is!! The skill required to get you through a PhD is emotional resilience. Also, go out and be a clinician for a while. It is fun and it allows you to come back as a different kind of student: more self-directed and independent.

9) Have you found any strategies that help you maintain balance in your work and personal life?
Oh yah. This is sooooo important and it has been a high priority for me since day one. You just have to set boundaries and then stick to them. If you start off as the person who doesn’t reply to their e-mails after five or on weekends, then people get used to you like that and tailor their expectations around those boundaries.

10) Have you had any mentors in your career?
Yup, yup. I am a huge believer in mentorship, in being both a mentor and a mentee. I will take this opportunity to give a big shout out to Dr. Hopper who was always a believer in me, even when I was off in clinical practice. Dr. Al Cook (who you poor souls never got the fortune to work with, since he’s retired and in California now), was also a huge believer. At one point I confided in him that I was considering leaving the profession and he made me promise that I would consider Academia before I did that. Good ol’ Dr. Cook.

11) Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Oh, I could go on for hours! I love to talk about research and how it can influence your clinical practice. Alas, I need a nap. (Work-life balance in action!) Best of luck in your studies and in your careers.

Want to learn more about Brea’s publications? Click here.

An Interview with a Clinician Scientist: Meet Gabriela (Gabi) Constantinescu

January 22, 2016
Gabi image

Photo credit: Bill Hodgetts

On January 8, 2016, I (Jo Reimer) had the pleasure of sitting down for tea with one of the CSD department clinician scientists, Gabi Constantinescu, a head and neck cancer speech pathologist and PhD candidate at the U of A.

Gabi’s path toward becoming a speech-language pathologist was not a straightforward one. Despite being a successful third-year undergraduate student in genetics, on her way to becoming a basic scientist, Gabi stared into a test tube one day and realized this life simply wasn’t for her—she knew she wanted to be helping people directly, not isolating DNA.  After a visit to a career fair on campus, where there was no mention of speech pathology, Gabi had an impromptu chat with her German professor, who suggested she look into becoming an SLP. A friend suggested Gabi shadow her friend’s aunt around for a day, who turned out to be none other than Dr. Jana Rieger, who now holds a joint appointment between the U of A and the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine (iRSM) as a clinician scientist. And an aspiring speech pathologist was born!

Gabi followed the thesis stream, and, attracted by the opportunity to work with state of the art technology, she chose a project under the supervision of Dr. Carol Boliek studying entrainment with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Did you know that neurotypical conversation partners will change their breathing patterns to match that of the other speaker, rather than following their own tidal breathing patterns?  Gabi’s study showed that this was not necessarily the case for children on the spectrum, an interesting preliminary result that really needs more work (hint hint future SLPs).

After her Master’s, Gabi spent a great year with Alberta Health Services, working with kids from grades 1-6, and loved working in the schools, which is small wonder since her reception was generally accompanied by an excited greeting of “Hooray! The speech pathologist is here.  She’ll know what to do!” Although Gabi enjoyed this work, and found it strengthened her confidence, she knew in her heart that she needed to get back to school herself, and enter the world of the clinician scientist.

I told Gabi that one of the competencies our professors are emphasizing is the need to contribute to the field, to accept that no matter how busy one’s clinical practice is, research must be a part of it, and Gabi agreed, stating “clinician scientist should be synonymous with clinician,” adding that you can’t advance the field without critical thinking and research skills.  This is her passion, and, in light of the fact that she specializes in head and neck cancer, research is fundamental to her work.

Gabi credits the immense progress in the work of the iRSM to Dr. Rieger, who took the field from a focus on pure survival for the patients to where it is today.  Initially, a nurse would ask clients how their speech and swallowing was, and that response is all that was reported—there were no objective measures taken, no assessments done to determine how the client was actually doing and if there were any real progress. Dr. Rieger introduced intelligibility ratings and assessments, and, in collaboration with the ENT department, began using an assessment battery for tracking data on her patients so research and care could be informed by objective data. In light of the new emphasis on client-centred care in our field, Dr. Rieger enhanced her protocol to include an assessment of the quality of life of her clients, including their interests, priorities, and participation goals.  Gabi has witnessed firsthand the positive changes inherent in focusing on patient-driven outcomes, and her passion for working with people with head and neck cancer is clear.  In her words, “I love this population.”

So where is she now?  Gabi is completing a PhD at the U of A through the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. While working in iRSM, Gabi was bothered by the accessibility issues for their dysphagia clients who were expected to visit the iRSM clinic 2-3 times per week to work on their swallowing. These people need intensive therapy, but the demands of taking time off work, or travelling long distances into the city were problematic, never mind the fact that they only had one machine and could rarely find appointment times to schedule everyone.  Over lunch one day, Gabi shared her frustration with a biomedical engineer, who offered to create a smaller prototype device so that they could have more machines onsite.  This led Gabi and her team to her PhD project, the development of a mobile device that will allow clients to receive the intensive therapy, which is vital to their rehabilitation, in their own homes on an intensive schedule. We have some amazing CSD students who have joined Gabi and Dr. Rieger on this incredible journey as their project for their Master’s.

What’s next for Gabi? I don’t think I have ever met a person with a greater passion for learning, so her next step is likely going to be a post-doc. Although we will be sad to lose her from Edmonton, imagine the knowledge she will be able to bring to her next placement.

I had a few other questions for Gabi that related to the current SLP students.

Me: “The workload in the program is intense and sometimes it is hard to step outside the ‘is this going to be on the test?’ and the ‘worry-about-grades’ mindset.  Do you have any advice for us?”

She laughed and pointed out that it is so hard to get into the program, and we have all been focused on grades for so long that we need to give ourselves time to adjust. As for any vestiges of competiveness, she recommends staying focused on the friendships and camaraderie of the program, as there will inevitably come a time when we are in the field, and your classmates will be your colleagues, perhaps even your boss. Ultimately, she suggests we need to try to permit a shift between the focus on yourself to the focus on the patient or client. Try to think about their needs and less about how people perceive you, and just do your best in the moment.

Me: How can we balance the needs of being a clinician and a researcher in our careers?

She suggested we remember that being a clinician should be synonymous with being a clinician scientist.  In your clinical work, continue to be a critical thinker, ask questions, and build relationships with others around you.

Me: Speaking of relationships with others, what do you think about IntD (our interdisciplinary studies class)?

Gabi stated that it is easy to build great friendships within the department, and sometimes it feels like you are working in a silo. But in the field, you won’t work alone, so embrace it.  Her one regret in her placement at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital is that she didn’t socialize more with people in other fields and become really comfortable with that early on, because it is an essential part of her work today.

Me: Do you have any advice on maintaining a work-life balance?

She replied that obviously balance is important in life, and even if your personality makes you a work-focused person, you still need to step out of that every now and then to bring back that creative focus.

Me: Any final advice?

Gabi: “Find a good mentor.  It’s where I have grown the most and learned the most.”

CAS Website Launches

January 16, 2016
happy kids boys brothers reading together at home

OASIS is pleased to share the news that a new website has been launched regarding Childhood Apraxia of Speech. According to Dr. Qudsiyyah Bhayat, the website is “meant to serve the Edmonton community with regards to severe speech disorders and access to services,” as well as helping parents navigate the system between Alberta Health Services, Alberta Education, and so on.  This website will not only be a helpful tool in raising awareness and promoting early detection and treatment of motor speech issues, but it will also be a great resource for SLPs to offer parents.

Dr. Bhayat told us “the website is the initiative of the Apraxia Parent Committee of Alberta, a group of parents involved in advocacy and raising apraxia awareness.  We are parents who are health care professionals of different stripes, including a family physician, RN, and an SLP trained in apraxia, and other parents with varying talents. We hope the website is a valuable tool, and welcome suggestions to help improve it, and welcome any parents who would like to join our committee.”

The website contains valuable resources for parents, including parent support, links to their Facebook and Twitter pages, Apraxia-KIDS Webinars, evidence-based information on CAS and its treatment, and a link to parent-friendly information on knowing the signs of autism.

Please check it out at   or


Speechie Spotlight 2 – Class of 2016

June 24, 2015

New year, new people entering the wonderful program at the University of Alberta!
I know there’s a ton of questions on your mind:

What is the Class of 2016 like?  What do we like to do? Why are we here?

This is the second of a series of posts profiling some of the amazing people that make up the SLP Class of 2016!

This time, we feature: Rebecca Cooper, Brenna Cowden, Kate Dumbrell, and Heidi Williston!

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Speechie Spotlight 1 – Class of 2016

April 1, 2015

New year, new people entering the wonderful program at the University of Alberta!
I know there’s a tonne of questions on your mind:

What is the Class of 2016 like?  What do we like to do? Why are we here?

This is the first of a series of posts profiling some of the amazing people that make up the SLP Class of 2016!

This week we feature Michelle Andrews, Paulo Arago, Kaetlyn Dahlke, and Genevieve Roberts. Stay tuned for more!

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Speechie Spotlight #3

September 5, 2014

What is the Class of 2015 like?  What do we like to do? Why are we here?

This is the third of a series of posts profiling some of the amazing people that make up the SLP Class of 2015.

This week we feature Beatrice Yip, Caterina Minaudo, and Chelsey Salli.  Stay tuned for more!





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