I’m going to deviate from my normal post format today to speak to a part of my audience that until recently I didn’t know was there: students in a speech pathology program. I have received numerous emails lately from speech pathology program students who are wanting advice on how to do the best that they possibly can to succeed in undergraduate or graduate school. Well today, it’s all about you, Students! It wasn’t that long ago that I was a student and I feel you pain, so here is my best advice on how to succeed in your speech pathology program.
Tips for Succeeding in Your Speech Pathology Program
1. Do Observations
The field of speech-language pathology is incredibly vast and covers a wide array of areas. Once you get out into the field, you will have to choose which area you want to focus on. If you are set in living in a particular area then you may be restricted to what jobs are available, but for the most part, the world will be wide open and you will probably have many job possibilities to choose from. One thing your speech pathology program may not have told you is that it’s best to start figuring out which areas you like now so you don’t feel so overwhelmed when it’s time to choose a job. One way to do this is to observe SLPs in a variety of settings. Ask to shadow an SLP at a hospital, in a clinic, in a school, in early childhood intervention, and in private practice. The director of your speech pathology program may be able to help set these observations for you, but if not, you are always welcome to set them up yourself. Just find some people in your area and call or email them. The great thing about our profession is that we all got into this field because we love helping people, and most of us are just as happy to help students as we are to help our clients. The other thing you should know is that you can never start this too early. Don’t wait until you get to grad school to start this process. Find out early on which settings or clients you tend to gravitate toward. Ask tons of questions while you’re there (though not at a time that’s going to interrupt the therapy session) so you know all of the ins and outs of working in that setting. Keep in mind that every SLP student must get a certain number of observation hours before they can begin treating clients (I think that’s 25 hours) and your speech pathology program may allow you to count observations of outside SLPs toward this number. If you simply do all 25 of your observation hours at your University clinic, you will not get a good feel for how speech pathology works in the real world.
2. Get Experience
Now you can’t exactly just go out and do some speech therapy before you’re licensed to get more experience but you can and should get experience working with the populations you like in other ways. Seek out volunteer or employment opportunities with the type of people that you think you want to work with. For example, if you think you’d like to work with the geriatric population, go volunteer at a nursing home or get a job at a group home. It doesn’t matter if you’re not doing speech pathology-related things, you just want to get experience working with that type of client. If you think you want to work with kids, volunteer your time tutoring children after school or work at a local preschool. If you really like the autistic population, become an ABA implementer and learn how ABA therapy works. The key is just to get in and start working with that population. The reason for this is two-fold. First, you will find out if you really do enjoy working with that population. Second, this will look good on applications for a graduate school speech pathology program or when you’re looking for a real job. Employers and schools like to see that you’ve gone above and beyond to get extra experience. Many schools also see volunteer work as a huge plus which can help you get in as well. For that reason, this is a step that you should be doing as an undergraduate as well as during your graduate school speech pathology program.
3. Work on Your Writing Skills
Ok, story time: I had a professor in college who was notorious for being super critical of written work. Every time we would turn in a clinic report, a paper, or anything else written, we would get it back covered in red ink. We would be expected to fix the errors and turn it in again. Then, we would get it back again but this time with slightly less red ink. We were expected to continue editing and submitting the paper until she had no more red ink left in her pen (or rather that we had fixed it to her liking). We all groaned and complained and sometimes would have rather just taken a lower grade than had to re-do our work so many times. However, once I got out of grad school, I was often praised for my writing and realized that all of those edits and re-writes had honed my writing skills so that I stood out above other job applicants and my coworkers who had not spent so much time on improving their writing. I have found this to be a tremendous leg up in the professional world because you are often judged on your writing in our field. The best thing you can do to improve your writing is to find someone like my professor who will tear it apart again and again to show you how to improve. Many colleges have writing labs where you can take papers in to edit if your professors don’t have time to do this for you. Make sure they know it is a professional document and you would like highly critical editing so it can be as good as possible. You can also find many online paper editing services by searching the internet.
4. Join Clubs and Extra-Curriculars For Your Speech Pathology Program
Most Universities have clubs, extra-curriculars, or volunteer opportunities available through the speech pathology program. I highly recommend getting involved in these types of organizations. This will help you get to know your professors better (a very good thing for a big program) and will help you feel connected to the people in your major. It will also look good on grad school applications and on resumes. Make yourself known as someone who gives back to your speech pathology program and you will be surprised how others will go out of their way to help you as well.
5. Offer to Help With Research
Check to see if the professors at your speech pathology program are involved in any research activities. If they are, they will need assistance from students to do the grunt work of the research. Volunteer your services for those research projects. This will help you get to know your professors better and will, again, look good on grad school applications and resumes. You don’t have to have a great interest in research in order to do this, it’s just a stepping stone to getting yourself farther along in the program. This will also help you by the time you get to your Research Methodology class in graduate school because you will already understand some of the basics about research.
6. Find More Information When You Need It
Once you start getting clients, you will find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed and like you have no idea what to do, at least with some of them. This is completely normal! When you’re feeling unsure, hit the books and the internet first to get more information before you go to your supervisor. Find information about the diagnosis and recommended therapies and make a plan for therapy based on this. Then, go to your supervisor with the information you found and the plan you created to see if it’s a good idea. Don’t pretend you came up with it all on your own, admit that you did some research and this is what you found. Your professors don’t want you to be a know-it-all, they want to see that you are resourceful and have the initiative to find more information when you need it. A bit of warning though: know your sources. There is a lot of really bad information out on the web and if you bring that to your professors, they will not be impressed. Start with your textbooks and if you need more information from the internet, rely on trusted sources. The ASHA website is a great place to start, especially if you use their Compendium of Evidence-Based Practices. This will give you a list of all of the different disorders and therapies and then summarizes the current research and evidence-based practices associated with each. If you haven’t already noticed, your speech pathology program loves Evidence-Based Practices. If you use other websites, check the author. Who wrote the information? Make sure it’s a licensed SLP, preferably one with their CCC’s. You also want to make sure they have experience in the area. For example, if I ever write an article on this site about performing a neurological check on a geriatric stroke patient, you should probably just look the other way because I do not have much experience in that area at all (don’t worry, I won’t do that!). You can check bio pages, most site authors will tell you their credentials and experience. If you can’t find it, don’t trust it.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to best make it through the speech pathology program at your school. Coming in November/December, I will be releasing my e-book which will be a how-to guide for teaching all kinds of speech and language skills. Keep checking back to see when it’s ready. It will be a vital guide for SLP students and the newly graduated. For now, leave a comment below and show a little school pride! Leave your name and what speech pathology program you are in!