No one ever said being a doctoral student is easy, but getting support from your peers along the way makes a big difference. Based on personal experiences navigating the first four years of two different doctoral programs, we realized how much the support of other PhD candidates in communications sciences and disorders (CSD) will help us succeed as future independent researchers and university faculty.
Doctoral programs involve a significant amount of “learn-as-you-go” knowledge not directly passed on by your academic mentor or through courses. Peers provide a safe space to ask questions we might hesitate to ask to a professor or mentor, test out not fully formed ideas, and get advice about navigating tricky academic situations.
After realizing how much we both relied on our own close-knit student groups as we worked toward becoming clinician-teacher-scientists, we decided to create a social media space specifically for CSD doctoral students. We chose Facebook groups as our platform where we can share resources and support one another in completing the PhD journey.
PhD Students in CSD is a Facebook community for speech-language pathology, audiology, or speech & hearing science doctoral students and postdocs to network, share resources, and ask questions through public or anonymous posts. More than 300 current PhD students belong to the group and we average 15 posts per month.
Students share useful tutorials for statistical analysis and data visualization; discuss where to go for the cheapest poster printing; and ask questions about research methods, writing, or productivity.
As members share these types of insights, tips, and resources, we organize them and archive them in the “files” section, so new members can easily access a growing cache of information. In addition to sharing resources, we commiserate with one another about some of the more difficult aspects of PhD student life. We also use the group to organize meet-ups at conferences throughout the year. Later this year, we plan to use this platform to organize a larger networking event at the 2019 ASHA Convention in Orlando.
We hope our Facebook group helps CSD students complete their doctoral programs, which contributes to maintaining the health of the audiology and speech-language pathology professions. Admission to clinical graduate school programs is already fiercely competitive, but easing the existing shortage of PhD-level faculty—nearly one-third of open faculty positions go unfilled—can allow for expansion of CSD graduate programs to accommodate a growing need for clinicians in education and health care settings.
Despite ASHA’s efforts to address the shortage with creative recruitment of PhD students, research doctoral programs in CSD remain at around 45% capacity. We hope our group can alleviate the shortage of doctoral students in some small way by improving connections between students across institutions.
Compared to other disciplines like psychology, a university might only have a single doctoral student in a given sub-discipline of CSD—such as adult neurogenics—reducing opportunities for students with similar research interests to collaborate. Social support during doctoral training is crucial as feelings of isolation can contribute to student attrition. PhD students mention their academic peers and friends more often than families or doctoral advisers when asked about their support systems.
While completing a PhD is never easy, it also shouldn’t be a journey navigated alone. Come join us in the PhD Students in CSD Facebook community and benefit from a supportive network of peers.
Natalie V. Covington, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a postdoctoral fellow in speech and hearing sciences with a focus on adult neurogenic communication disorders at Vanderbilt University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Larissa M. Jordan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a doctoral candidate in speech and hearing sciences with a focus on adult neurogenic communication disorders at the University of Iowa.