Navigating Change: How One SLP Found Renewed Purpose in a Pediatric Neuroscience Lab

Emily Harford was a pediatric SLP who realized during the pandemic that burnout and frustration with the school system were preventing her from being her best self as an SLP.

Continue reading to learn about Emily’s transition from SLP to her role as a research coordinator, how she reworked her resume, and tips for separating from your career “identity” to find peace of mind.

Interview written by: Kate Paolini

What’s your backstory? What got you into SLP, what did you like about it, and what drove you to seek a career change?

I discovered the field of speech-language pathology relatively “late” during my sophomore year of college. I entered undergrad thinking I wanted to apply to medical school, but after a difficult first semester, I quickly decided that particular journey wasn’t for me.

I considered becoming a nurse or physician’s assistant because I wanted to be in healthcare in some capacity, and in the meantime, I took classes in Spanish and linguistics since language has always been an interest of mine. I eventually found that speech-language pathology was a wonderful mix of those interests.

When I started my graduate program, I was pretty set on working with adults in acute care and really enjoyed all of my placements in those settings. However, I fell in love with two placements working with children in special education schools. I completed my CF and worked for six more years as an SLP in a school serving children with disabilities. Most of my caseload had very complex needs, so I spent a great deal of time working on interdisciplinary teams and providing evaluations, treatment, and support with AAC.

Changing careers during the pandemic.

I decided to transition away from being a practicing SLP during the pandemic. I still love the population I worked with and appreciate the years I spent as a therapist in the field, but the pandemic exacerbated a lot of issues that I think already existed for SLPs in schools.

I felt almost constantly stretched thin at work and found that I was bringing that stress home with me. This frustration made me feel that I wasn’t bringing my best self to the job every day and, even more unfortunately, that I wasn’t doing the best I could for the students I served. This all led to some late-night soul-searching and Googling, which eventually led me to my current position.

How did you change your resume when job-searching? What do you do now?

I currently work as a research coordinator for a pediatric neuroscience lab. I found myself gravitating toward research positions in my job search as I was involved with a lab in undergrad/graduate school and almost considered applying directly for a PhD after my master’s.

I had no familiarity with this job title prior to applying, but based on job descriptions, I felt it would be a good fit with some of the skills I already had as an SLP. I reworked my resume to highlight my strengths in organization, record-keeping, data collection, and building rapport with patients and families.

What do you do as a research coordinator? How do you use your skills as an SLP in your current position?

The position involves a lot of interfacing with IRBs (institutional review boards), corporate sponsors, and collaborating investigators to seek approval for new research studies, keep them within regulations, and ensure that data collection runs smoothly.

I also have the opportunity to talk to patients and their parents to obtain consent for research, provide payment and questionnaires at follow-up, and even collect data during research sessions with participants.

There is no specific training or education required to become a research coordinator and there is a bit of a learning curve, but many of the skills and responsibilities involved are things I’m sure all SLPs could list as strengths already!

My position, in particular, ended up being a wonderful fit because our lab studies speech and voice processing. Having a connection to our group’s key

areas of interest was definitely something that I think made me stand out during the interview process and has even led to being actively involved in formulating future research questions.

Overall, this job has been a great fit for my personal interests and strengths and has been far less stressful than my previous position. I miss building the level of rapport I was able to have with my students as an SLP, but I feel that my quality of life has significantly improved.

What advice do you have for fellow SLPs looking to transition to your new career path, or transition in general?

My best piece of advice for SLPs looking to transition to a new career would be to not be afraid of applying and giving something new a shot. I had intermittently considered looking for a new job over a number of years but was afraid of admitting that I wasn’t in love with being an SLP and that I would be putting my degree to “waste.”

There are plenty of ways to apply some of your interests as a therapist to a career that isn’t necessarily therapy. You already have tons of skills that can be transferred to another position, so play those up on your resume, cover letter, and during your interview. I’ve had moments of identity crisis wondering if I can still call myself an SLP, but I do still actively use the knowledge and training I received in school and the earlier years of my career.

At the end of the day, I think it’s most important to find a job that meets your needs and makes you feel content. If that job isn’t as an SLP, there is no shame in seeking out another opportunity. Even if you decide to transition to a career that is entirely unrelated to speech-language pathology, know that your identity doesn’t have to be wrapped up in your job if you don’t want it to be.

Thank you, Emily, for sharing your story!

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