Collaborative Training in Neuroscience and Communication Sciences: University of Colorado Offers Dual Doctoral Degree Recent neuroscience research has improved our understanding of normal speech and language production and perception as well as of many communication disorders, including aphasia, dysphagia, motor speech disorders, phonology, sensorineural hearing loss, and stuttering. To facilitate further advances, numerous universities have established or are in the process of creating opportunities ... Academic Edge
Free
Academic Edge  |   April 01, 2007
Collaborative Training in Neuroscience and Communication Sciences: University of Colorado Offers Dual Doctoral Degree
Author Notes
  • John B. Ellis, (john.ellis@colorado.edu) is a neuroscience doctoral students within the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder
    John B. Ellis, (john.ellis@colorado.edu) is a neuroscience doctoral students within the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder×
  • Ryanis Pollard, a neuroscience doctoral students within the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
    Ryanis Pollard, a neuroscience doctoral students within the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.×
  • Peter R. Ramig, is a faculty member in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
    Peter R. Ramig, is a faculty member in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.×
  • Don Finan, is a faculty member in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is also a member of the university’s Interdisciplinary Center for Neuroscience faculty.
    Don Finan, is a faculty member in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is also a member of the university’s Interdisciplinary Center for Neuroscience faculty.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Academic Edge
Academic Edge   |   April 01, 2007
Collaborative Training in Neuroscience and Communication Sciences: University of Colorado Offers Dual Doctoral Degree
The ASHA Leader, April 2007, Vol. 12, 8-23. doi:10.1044/leader.AE1.12052007.8
The ASHA Leader, April 2007, Vol. 12, 8-23. doi:10.1044/leader.AE1.12052007.8
Recent neuroscience research has improved our understanding of normal speech and language production and perception as well as of many communication disorders, including aphasia, dysphagia, motor speech disorders, phonology, sensorineural hearing loss, and stuttering. To facilitate further advances, numerous universities have established or are in the process of creating opportunities for graduate students in communication sciences to gain extensive training and expertise in the neurosciences.
The University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Iowa, the University of Maryland, and Northwestern University, for example, have instituted doctoral neuroscience programs that specifically include the speech, language, and hearing sciences. These interdisciplinary programs pool faculty with neuroscience expertise from several departments and institutes to permit meaningful collaboration. Typically, neuroscience doctoral students in these programs have the opportunity to take courses across numerous disciplines, such as biochemistry, computer science, engineering, biology, cognitive sciences, behavioral genetics, integrative physiology, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and speech, language, and hearing sciences (see Figure 1 [PDF]). Academic coursework is complemented by neuroscience research laboratory rotations, seminars, journal clubs, and conferences. As a result of curricular integration, these programs make it possible to earn a doctorate in neuroscience and communication sciences without the burden of seeking separate degrees.
Substantive neurological expertise will almost certainly prove a requisite skill for future researchers in our profession, as neuroscience research has already shed new light on many communication disorders. We are particularly excited about recent contributions by neuroscientists to our profession’s understanding of persistent developmental stuttering, which may serve as an illustrative example. Indeed, one needs only a passing familiarity with stuttering research over the past 10 years to note the important contributions by the neurosciences to our growing knowledge of this disorder.
Potential Benefits
To ensure continued discoveries and advances, not only in stuttering but in other areas concerned with disordered or normal speech and language functions, we strongly believe that educational opportunities for future faculty that include neuroscience training are of paramount importance. At the University of Colorado, this conviction is evidenced by the high percentage of our faculty who hold joint positions within the neuroscience program (70%) and the proportion of speech, language, and hearing sciences PhD students who are concurrently pursuing neuroscience doctorates (40%). These students’ research interests include aphasia, dysarthria, learning disabilities, otoacoustic emissions, and stuttering.
Although universities including the University of Colorado (CU) provide students with the option to complete a neuroscience certificate (analogous to a “minor” in neuroscience) that indicates additional coursework, we maintain that the benefits derived from intensive neuroscience experience at the doctoral level are indispensable. Indeed, there is a significant distinction between taking academic courses in the neurosciences and augmenting such learning by conducting neuroscience research within an area of specialization. At CU, for example, doctoral students specializing in stuttering are required by their advisors to pursue a concurrent degree in neuroscience. Exciting recent contributions made by neuroscientists interested in stuttering emphasize the importance of conducting additional research to illuminate the nature of the disorder and potentially guide evidence-based practice.
We believe that a graduate with doctoral-level neuroscience training will be more competitive when applying for faculty positions. Additionally, such applicants may be qualified to consider faculty appointments outside of communication sciences, as they will be qualified to teach neuroscience courses along with the requisite communication sciences courses and to fully integrate the two when teaching. The ability to teach in both areas may also help to increase an applicant’s initial salary and research start-up funding, and he or she may be better positioned to conduct collaborative research that spans across disciplines. Such an individual will be able to view our profession from a broader perspective and to apply current neuroscience theory and technology to his or her area of specialty.
Collaborative Neuroscience Programs
Today’s research in the neurosciences represents a multidisciplinary endeavor as potentially salient findings are published at a rapid pace across numerous disciplines. Broadening one’s own area of expertise, as well as consulting and collaborating closely with other neuroscientists to effectively augment one’s personal knowledge base, are all required to accurately place any single piece of research within its larger context, as ideas from various areas cross-pollinate and influence one another. Collaboration is a key element of a strong dual-degree neuroscience program, as it encourages students to expand their research interests beyond the usual confines of their specialty or department.
The interdepartmental approach typically permits students to work within their home departments while engaging in learning with other disciplines within the field of neuroscience. Research projects involving multiple disciplines enable students to learn from and share their knowledge with scholars whom they would ordinarily not meet. Such opportunities and endeavors have been facilitated by universities’ efforts that include neuroscience seminars in which talks are given by renowned faculty or researchers. Within this collaborative atmosphere, students can meet and network to learn more about current neuroscience projects in the area and elsewhere. To further stimulate cross-disciplinary work, neuroscience programs typically require their doctoral students to complete several laboratory rotations or research practica before graduation.
Another advantage of collaborative neuroscience programs is that students may complete a dual degree in neuroscience and communication sciences in approximately the same time required to complete one degree. Integrated neuroscience studies allow students to learn in a parallel fashion, as theories and applications from one field routinely inform the other. Also, the reduction in overall financial obligations and time invested may help make the possibility more attractive.
However, it may take additional time to gain specialized neuroscience expertise (e.g., through courses, apprenticeships, and mentorships) prior to designing and conducting advanced research projects. In contrast to traditional approaches commonly employed in the communication sciences, neuroscience research often utilizes advanced PET, functional MRI, volumetric MRI, magnetoencephalography, diffusion tensor imaging, electromyography, electroencephalography, event-related potentials, neural network modeling, or behavioral genetic techniques. These methodologies have the potential to uniquely advance our knowledge of normal function, etiology, diagnosis, and treatment.
Academic Requirements
Given the important benefits of such collaborative work, how specifically is an interdisciplinary neuroscience program structured? The Neuroscience Community at CU-Boulder, for example, was formed by several subdisciplines, including the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS). There are 58 participating faculty members, seven of whom are within SLHS. Students within one of the participating departments are eligible to apply to the neuroscience PhD while still maintaining their status within their home department. Students who complete the neuroscience doctoral program receive a single diploma that indicates a PhD with a double major. Within this structure, a dual degree in both neuroscience and SLHS can be earned in far less time than it would take to earn double doctorates separately.
CU neuroscience doctoral students are required to complete a set of common core courses to master the fundamentals of neuroscience, survey and integrate various theoretical perspectives, and facilitate the study and exchange of disparate research methods and results. These core neuroscience courses are augmented by a series of research seminars that permit students to interact with eminent researchers who visit from across the country and abroad. Additional elective neuroscience depth courses provide students with the means to individualize their course of study and to gain advanced expertise in several fundamental areas of neuroscience that are of particular interest. These depth courses cover detailed examinations of genetics, computational cognitive neuroscience, electrophysiology, and motor control, for example.
Finally, students complete a series of neuroscience-related, discipline-specific courses that provides advanced specialization. Examples of these courses include acquired language and cognitive disorders, communication neuroscience, auditory neurodiagnostics, models of speech production and perception, motor speech disorders, and dysphagia.
Similar to other doctoral students, neuroscience doctoral students are required to pass a comprehensive exam to advance to doctoral candidacy status. The dissertation should represent original, state-of-the art research with a neuroscience focus that addresses both areas of study. For example, a suitable neuroscience dissertation may incorporate various neuroscientific technologies, including neuroimaging, behavioral genetic techniques, acoustic brainstem responses, or physiologic measurements to address a neuroscience-based question pertaining to communication disorders.
Other requirements concern the composition of the student’s doctoral committee. The student’s dissertation advisor must be a participating faculty member of the neuroscience program, and the committee must include at least one additional neuroscience faculty member from outside the student’s area of specialization. It should be noted that not all faculty within a participating department are also members of the neuroscience program.
If the student’s advisor within his or her area of specialization is not part of the neuroscience faculty, then another professor within the same department who also is a member of the neuroscience faculty can serve as a co-advisor. These co-advisors help ensure that the student’s research sufficiently addresses both areas of interest.
Meeting the Challenge
We have received numerous inquiries from students and faculty from other universities who are interested in incorporating the neurosciences more fully into their curricula. Because most universities have the academic departments that typically contribute to an interdisciplinary neuroscience program, the initial challenges are to espouse the benefits of collaboration among seemingly disparate professions and to foster a shared desire to find answers to important questions that no one discipline could address alone. This process could potentially be facilitated by recruiting neuroscientists from other disciplines to help address the critical shortage of doctoral-level faculty and researchers within our own profession, an idea offered by Ludlow at last year’s ASHA Convention in Miami (2006).
Undoubtedly, past contributions by the neurosciences to our understanding of communication disorders have been profound. However, a stronger base of knowledge and experience is needed to ensure that the speech, language, and hearing sciences are irrevocably part of a larger neuroscience community. As a result, we should give serious consideration to how current and developing neuroscientific thought can best inform our academic courses, research interests, clinical practica, and fellowships. Through continued collaboration with other neuroscientists, we will produce even more competent clinicians and researchers, to the benefit of our clients, patients, and caregivers.
For more information about the Neuroscience Community at the University of Colorado, visit the program’s Web site.
Neuroscience and Stuttering

The groundbreaking stuttering research emerging from those with expertise in the neurosciences—many of whom are not speech-language pathologists—demonstrates the value of background in the neurosciences.

Early neurological explorations of stuttering date back to the era of Lee Edward Travis, but one of the first cadre of researchers to employ technologies such as positron emission tomography (PET) to observe the stuttering brain at work were Fox, Ingham, and colleagues (e.g., Fox et al. 1996). They found that regions of the brain associated with speech planning and auditory self- monitoring may function differently in those who stutter as compared to fluent controls. In contrast to functional studies, Foundas and colleagues (e.g., Foundas et al., 2004) have employed volumetric MRI in a series of experiments testing the hypothesis that those who stutter have anomalous anatomy in cortical speech-language areas. Recent findings from this group indicate at least two subgroups of persons who stutter, suggesting that brain anatomy may influence treatment success and that the degree of auditory processing deficits in this population varies widely.

Neuroimaging has also been used to examine linguistic differences related to stuttering (e.g., Weber-Fox, Spencer, Spruill, & Smith, 2004), as well as changes in neural activation patterns following traditional stuttering treatment (e.g., De Nil, Kroll, Lafaille, & Houle, 2003).

Other Methodologies

Although imaging research has been the predominant neuroscience-based approach in the field of stuttering, other methodologies have also proven fruitful. For instance, Drayna and colleagues have investigated stuttering etiology through genome-wide linkage surveys in attempts to isolate the mutational origins of the disorder (e.g., Shugart et al., 2004), while ongoing research is investigating the value of pharmacologic approaches to treating the disorder (Indevus Pharmaceuticals, 2006).

Along with the obvious methodological influences, neuroscience theory has also influenced several theories about the mechanisms underlying stuttering. One such example is Per Alm (2005), who has forwarded a unified theory of stuttering etiology based on Gary Goldberg’s dual premotor systems hypothesis and Alm’s own biochemical and electromyographic research. Neuroscientists studying other populations have also influenced the interests of researchers within the realm of fluency disorders into issues related to sensitivity and temperament (e.g., Anderson, Pellowski, Conture, & Kelly, 2003).

Figure 2. Academic Requirements for a Dual SLHS and Neuroscience Degree at the University of Colorado

Neuroscience Core Courses

Introduce the fundamentals of neuroscience, survey and integrate various perspectives, and facilitate the study and exchange of disparate research methods and results.

Neuroscience Depth Courses

Provide students the means to individualize their courses of study and gain advanced expertise in several fundamental neuroscience areas of particular interest.

Discipline-Specific Courses

Give students expertise within a specific discipline of neuroscience. Courses in communications disorders may count towards both areas.

Comprehensive Exam

To advance to doctoral candidacy status, each student must pass the neuroscience survey courses and a comprehensive exam in the area of specialization, as determined by the student’s advisor(s).

Doctoral Dissertation

Must contain a neuroscience focus as applied to the student’s area of specialization in communications disorders.

References
Anderson, J. D., Pellowski, M. W., Conture, E. G., & Kelly, E. M. (2003). Temperamental characteristics of young children who stutter. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 1221–1233. [Article]
Anderson, J. D., Pellowski, M. W., Conture, E. G., & Kelly, E. M. (2003). Temperamental characteristics of young children who stutter. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 1221–1233. [Article] ×
Fox, P. T., Ingham, R. J., Ingham, J. C., Hirsch, T., Downs, J. H., Martin, C., et al. (1996). A PET study of the neural systems of stuttering. Nature, 382, 158–162. [Article] [PubMed]
Fox, P. T., Ingham, R. J., Ingham, J. C., Hirsch, T., Downs, J. H., Martin, C., et al. (1996). A PET study of the neural systems of stuttering. Nature, 382, 158–162. [Article] [PubMed]×
Ludlow, C. (2006). Recruiting PhDs from Other Disciplines. Presentation to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Miami, FL.
Ludlow, C. (2006). Recruiting PhDs from Other Disciplines. Presentation to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Miami, FL.×
Indevus Pharmaceuticals. (2006). Pagaclone. Retrieved Oct. 6, 2006 from http://www.indevus.com.
Indevus Pharmaceuticals. (2006). Pagaclone. Retrieved Oct. 6, 2006 from http://www.indevus.com.×
Weber-Fox, C., Spencer, R., Spruill, J. E.III, & Smith, A. (2004). Phonological processing in adults who stutter: Electrophysiological and behavioral evidence. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 1244–1258. [Article]
Weber-Fox, C., Spencer, R., Spruill, J. E.III, & Smith, A. (2004). Phonological processing in adults who stutter: Electrophysiological and behavioral evidence. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 1244–1258. [Article] ×
0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
April 2007
Volume 12, Issue 5