PhD Spotlight: Brittney Dullard, AuD/PhD
Name: Brittney Dullard, AuD/PhD
Program: University of Connecticut--- Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences
Mentors: Drs. Kathleen Cienkowski, Kristin Vasil-Dilaj, and Gabrielle Saunders
- Can you share a bit about your educational and clinical background?
I completed my undergraduate education at the University of Connecticut in what was then known as the Communication Sciences Department. I continued my graduate education as a Husky and completed my PhD in August 2014 and AuD in May 2015. My clinical and research interests are in adult aural rehabilitation. I recently completed my 4th year externship at the VA Portland Health Care System in Portland, OR where I was able to spend six months in the audiology clinic seeing patients and six months at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR) conducting clinical research. The VA Hospital was a great fit, as it really fulfilled my clinical and research interests.
- Why did you decide to pursue your PhD?
As an undergraduate, I was a research assistant in the Aural Rehabilitation Laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Kathleen Cienkowski. I was tasked to complete a mini research project and present a poster at an undergraduate research forum. It was the first experience that peaked my interest in the research process and gave me an outlet to answer my own questions. The rest is history!
- What is your topic of research?
My research focuses on adult aural rehabilitation including amplification and psychosocial factors related to hearing aid use, such as self-efficacy and hearing aid stigma. My dissertation specifically focused on the measurement of self-efficacy and its relationship to hearing aid management. As a result of my clinical experiences in the VA healthcare system, I also have an interest in dual sensory impairment and use of amplification among Veterans who receive chemotherapy.
- What are some of the clinical applications of your particular research question(s)?
Well, it’s no secret there is a large percentage of individuals who either don’t use, or are unsuccessful with amplification. By investigating factors related to hearing aid use and how these factors may influence management of hearing loss, I hope to provide evidenced-based solutions that will advance rehabilitation outcomes. Hopefully, clinicians can use my research to improve their patients hearing loss management and communication.
- Would you recommend a simultaneous AuD/PhD program to other students?
My program supported a simultaneous AuD/PhD curriculum. I’ll be honest, the program is challenging! However, I would encourage those interested in research to pursue a combined program. I felt a strong connection between my courses, curriculum, teaching, and research. While intensive, I was able to narrow the focus of my research based upon my courses and clinical practicums. My advice to students considering the dual program is to sketch a preliminary timeline for AuD and PhD requirements with your mentor as early as possible. This helped me to stay on track and achieve milestones on time.
- How did you choose a mentor? What did that process look like?
For many reasons, choosing my PhD mentor was an easy decision! Dr. Cienkowski is an expert in the field of adult aural rehabilitation, which just so happened to be my area of interest. Due to my experience working in her lab as an undergraduate, I had a chance to observe how she interacted with her doctoral students at that time. When I expressed interest in the PhD program, she was very supportive of my academic endeavors. When choosing a mentor, it is important to ensure you have similar objectives and goals, feel supported, and can communicate easily. Find someone who will push you to be an independent and critical thinker but will always be there to provide guidance.
- Were you able to secure funding for your PhD studies? Challenges?
Ah, funding. There is always the anxiety around the end of spring semester when funding letters for the next academic year are mailed. From budget cuts to new PhD students entering the program, I always worried just how much funding would be available. Luckily, I was able to secure a teaching assistantship each year, which included a tuition waiver and stipend throughout the academic year. However, I often applied for scholarships, travel funding, and research grants for other activities. It can be stressful knowing there are a limited pool of funds, not to mention finding the time to complete applications!
- How was your time as a teaching assistant?
The challenge with a teaching assistantship was finding the 15-20 hours per week to dedicate to teaching responsibilities for 2 courses a semester on top of clinic, coursework, and research. However, I quickly realized the teaching experience was invaluable, and I am extremely grateful I was able to hold that position for all four years. Not to mention, the financial burden that was lifted was a huge stress relief!
- Where do you see yourself in ten years? What are your professional goals?
If experience has taught me anything, it’s that you cannot predict the future! That being said, it is good to have both short- and long-term goals. I entered this field with the vision of helping others. Whether that occurs from a clinical, educational, or research perspective remains to be seen. I hope to be able to fulfill my goals through each of these avenues, and I am excited to see what opportunities lie before me as the audiology profession grows.
- Do you have any tips for students who might be interested in academia?
As I contemplated applying for the PhD program, I found talking to current AuD/PhD students to be the most helpful, especially those who were enrolled in UConn’s program. Getting a realistic “snapshot” of the life of an AuD/PhD student helped me to understand what I was signing up for. Another helpful tip is to take an Academic Affairs/Grant writing course. This type of course discusses a variety of topics related to academia including how to interview, negotiate job offers, write and review articles and grants, and interact with colleagues. I believe the more information you are armed with prior to entering a PhD program or academic setting, the better!
- If your focus is not to work in academia, what opportunities do you think the PhD will afford you in your career path?
Regardless of what setting I choose to work in, a PhD equips me with the knowledge, capability, and skills to critically evaluate research, utilize evidence-based practice, disseminate knowledge to others, and open doors to leadership and higher level positions. Ultimately, it allows me the flexibility to work in a variety of professional settings!