BECOMING A SPEECH-LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST (SLP) - ALUMNI PROFILE
Erin started her degree in September 2013, and she finished her classes in December 2017, graduating with a major in Linguistics, an extended minor in Psychology, and a Certificate in the Linguistics of Speech Science.
Why did you study linguistics?
I knew when I started my degree that I wanted to pursue SLP. I decided to major in linguistics because most of the prerequisite coursework for Canadian SLP programs is in linguistics. I also wanted to take the opportunity of a BA to learn more about language than I otherwise would have, if I had only taken the prereqs. I’ve always been a language and especially phonetics nerd, so linguistics was a natural fit for me. And in all my classes, I’ve loved all the non-speech specific courses more than I ever thought I would.
How did you find out about SLP as a career option?
I don’t really have a moment of discovery for SLP. My mom talked quite a bit about an SLP who treated my brother and how much she helped with his speech as a child, so it’s always been on my radar as a career option that can really make a difference. It just took me a while to realize that it’s what I want to do.
What attracted you to SLP?
I originally went to college for Equine Sport Therapy. In my second year, I interned with a veterinary chiropractor who specialized in hyoid and TMJ dysfunction. With the horses, I saw how much tongue issues can interfere with whole body health. I really want to be able to help people to live better, so I’m interested in working with people with dysphagia to eat successfully and improve their overall health.
I also have some family members with traumatic brain injuries. I saw the effects of them not getting the help they needed for their speech. I don’t want to see that happen to other people, so I want to focus on medical SLP where I can treat neurogenic communication disorders as well as swallowing difficulties.
What do you think made your SLP application successful?
I think my application was successful because I gained experience in many relevant positions throughout my undergrad. I volunteered in multiple SLP-related settings, including two health units, a stroke recovery club and an elementary school, and I got to know my supervising SLP well enough for her to write me a strong reference letter.
I continued to volunteer in other places, such as a youth program that I had been involved in as a teenager.
The research experience I gained in Dr. Henny Yeung’s lab was a huge help in my application and my development as a consumer of research. I also spent a semester working for Dr. Taboada’s Discourse Processing Lab. I think my varied experiences in research, and SLP and non-SLP volunteering and the skills I learned there helped me to be a well-rounded applicant. These experiences also gave me insight into my own reasons for becoming an SLP and what scope of practice I’d like to pursue, which informed my letter of intent.
What advice would you give to new undergraduates who aspire to be SLPs?
1. Don’t rush through your degree! Sometimes you need to be strategic about your course load if you’re going to balance grades, volunteering, work, etc. Give yourself the best chance to succeed in all areas without burning out, even if it means taking an extra semester.
2. Volunteer and get experience – if you need to cold call, do it. I found most of my volunteering and observations through calling and emailing off the branch lists for Fraser Health and the Stroke Recovery Association of BC as well as some private clinics. It took a few months to coordinate sometimes, but patience, planning, and initiative do pay off.
3. Get to know profs. Not only to get a reference, but to learn more. I wish I’d gone to more office hours during my degree.
4. The difficult part of the application for me was the letter of intent. Start early and do your research on the programs you’re applying to. It’s important to understand why you want to be an SLP and show that you’re a good fit for each program you’re applying to. Be specific and positive about your strengths, plans, and experiences.
Out of all the linguistics courses at SFU, was there any particular lecture, topic, or professor that left a significant impression on you?
Dr. Munro’s LING 330 Phonetics and LING 411 Forensic Phonetics courses were some of my favourites. I enjoyed how he made a point of applying what we learned in class to real situations, which gave me the chance to see some of the different analyses we can do with speech before I had any lab experience.