Interdisciplinary Research Frontiers: Introduction: Building Research Capacity The critical shortage of new doctoral faculty to replace the retiring PhD faculty is not news. In December 2002, a jointly appointed ad hoc committee of ASHA and the Council of Academic Programs (Joint Ad Hoc Committee, 2002) produced a report on the doctoral crisis in the discipline. Since then, ... Features
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Features  |   April 01, 2007
Interdisciplinary Research Frontiers: Introduction: Building Research Capacity
Author Notes
  • Elaine R. Silliman, is professor of communication sciences and disorders and cognitive and neural sciences at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She was elected to the first Specialty Board on Child Language. Contact her at silliman@cas.usf.edu.
    Elaine R. Silliman, is professor of communication sciences and disorders and cognitive and neural sciences at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She was elected to the first Specialty Board on Child Language. Contact her at silliman@cas.usf.edu.×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   April 01, 2007
Interdisciplinary Research Frontiers: Introduction: Building Research Capacity
The ASHA Leader, April 2007, Vol. 12, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.12052007.6
The ASHA Leader, April 2007, Vol. 12, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.12052007.6
The critical shortage of new doctoral faculty to replace the retiring PhD faculty is not news. In December 2002, a jointly appointed ad hoc committee of ASHA and the Council of Academic Programs (Joint Ad Hoc Committee, 2002) produced a report on the doctoral crisis in the discipline. Since then, ASHA has dedicated resources to developing strategies to meet this challenge (e.g., ASHA Focused Initiatives, 2006). However, as of 2007, we are still confronted with significant jeopardy in our future capacity to generate new knowledge across a broad domain of human communication and its disorders, much less interface this knowledge with other disciplines.
For example, the most recent information on unfilled PhD slots in doctoral programs comes from a 2002 Joint Ad Hoc Committee survey. At that time, there was a total of 333 vacant PhD openings for students, a situation that likely has not improved. In 2004, Ringel reported that on average from 1999–2004, PhD programs in the discipline had produced fewer than 100 PhD graduates per year in the speech, language, or hearing sciences. Moreover, the number of applications across the 61 doctoral programs in the discipline averaged nine per year. Even this average is spurious, since students often apply to multiple programs.
The implications of these reduced numbers are immense for the scientific future of the discipline and the overall quality of our academic programs. Numerous solutions have been proposed to reduce the crisis, including increasing recruitment of those who will pursue a doctorate and increasing the availability of new educational models for professional preparation and doctoral education (ASHA Focused Initiatives, 2006). Still, in spite of new initiatives, we have not addressed the fact that our real academic culture is the preparation of master’s level practitioners. Over time, this established culture has reduced attention to a number of areas cited in the Joint Ad Hoc Committee report, such as:
  • The role of research instruction across the curriculum

  • The relevance of the PhD as a feasible choice for intellectually talented students

  • A systematic sequence of preparation from bachelor’s to post-doctoral levels, unlike other disciplines, such as the psychological, natural, and medical sciences

  • Consensus on rigorous academic goals for doctoral programs in an era when the traditional boundaries among disciplines are blurring

  • The visibility of our research and journals to other disciplines

In effect, the absence of explicit discussion of our academic culture has restricted our ability to build the research capacity necessary to allow PhD graduates to become full participants in interdisciplinary research communities, if they choose. Doctoral programs with research capacity have an infrastructure in which a “process of individual and institutional development…leads to higher levels of skills and greater ability to perform useful research” (Frontera et al., 2006, p. 2). In a research capacity model, the prime academic value is the continuous building of a strong cadre of qualified researchers who hold passionate beliefs about scientific inquiry, have the skills to participate in interdisciplinary partnerships, and are recognized for their productivity at the institutional level. At the same time, a research capacity model requires national professional organizations that value scientific discovery as an unequivocal priority and promote collaborative doctoral education and research as central to their strategic planning (Frontera et al., 2006).
The question is whether our current academic culture, as well as our associated doctoral education and organizational strategies, can lead to assembling the necessary research capacity that will open the doors for our doctoral students to become stakeholders in emerging interdisciplinary research frontiers. The remainder of this article presents two different, but overlapping, perspectives external to communication sciences and disorders—language and literacy learning and neurology (stroke intervention) as illustrations of possible pathways to consider in reaching towards the research capacity vital for full participation in cutting-edge science.
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April 2007
Volume 12, Issue 5