I qualified as a speech and language therapist 15 years ago. As a newly qualified therapist, I was totally focused on clinical work and research couldn’t have been further from my mind. Having spent four gruelling years qualifying, I had finished with research, study and academia, and was eager to get on with the job. I loved clinical work and found it deeply interesting and satisfying. I worked predominantly in rehabilitation, shifting from inpatient units to outpatient teams.
As my career evolved, I outgrew my undergraduate knowledge and I found that I had questions about my clinical practice that training courses and superficial forays into the research literature didn’t adequately answer. The opportunity arose to be a consultant on a research project and I discovered satisfaction in critical enquiry. I undertook a masters course to develop my ability to search for evidence to support my clinical practice and to improve my critical thinking skills. A position came up which would allow me to further specialise my rehabilitation skills by leading on alternative and augmentative communication (AAC). I used this role to apply my learning from the masters course to evaluate and develop the processes that underpinned the clinical service. I was able to present our services’ development at the Communication Matters conference; a conference that focuses on sharing knowledge and developments in the field of AAC, where I was inspired by the technology, professionals and individuals who used AAC in attendance. But I still had unanswered questions about how I could continue to improve our service and the support we provided locally to people who rely on AAC.
I applied for and was successfully awarded a clinical academic internship with the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit. I used this opportunity to explore the literature about interventions for adults who use AAC. I also carried out interviews with people who were experienced users of AAC about what they felt supported and inhibited their use of AAC. I used the results of these two investigations to develop a research question and an application for further funding.
I was successfully awarded funding for a clinical doctoral fellowship by Health Education England and the National Institute for Health Research in 2016 and I started my PhD in April 2017.