Douglas Sladen, PhD ( ’93 BA and ’95, MA in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology), Director of the Cochlear Implant Program Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, is changing lives every day through his work with hearing loss patients and the use of prosthetic devices called cochlear implants to manage severe hearing loss. Dr. Sladen is also researching aural rehabilitation and how it benefits children and adults with hearing loss. Specifically, he is interested in how speech understanding ability can be improved through various forms of auditory training or communication strategies. (Photo: Douglas Sladen with Patsy Heller, one of his patients who can now hear after receiving a cochlear implant.)
He shares with us below how he chose Western and why he found his experience so impactful:
At the time I was exploring degrees in hearing and speech sciences, the only program in my home province of British Columbia and was at the University of British Columbia, and though it is a reputable program now, it was not in 1991. In contrast, Western had built an excellent reputation for producing excellent Audiologists, one of whom was a family friend. We chatted about Western and by the end of our talk I was convinced that Western was the school for me. I transferred to WWU my junior year and received a reciprocity scholarship for both junior and senior years. During graduate school I was appointed to be the coordinator of the Aural Rehabilitation Clinic Schedule. The reciprocity agreement and the graduate position meant I always paid in state fees, thus saving me from a sizable student loan debt.
Graduate school at Western was amazing. The cohort of students who entered the Audiology masters degree program alongside me were all women. In fact, we had all become friends as undergraduates so it was a very familiar group. There were eight of us, and I cherish the time with them. We spent a lot of time together, both in the classroom and at the local hangouts. There are a lot of good memories with that crew and am thankful they have remained good friends all these years.
There were several faculty members who influenced my ultimate decision to pursue a Ph.D. First, Dr. Barbara Mather-Schmidt, who had just joined the faculty, introduced me to research. She taught a class on research methods in hearing and speech sciences. I was not a strong math student and was intimidated by the class title, but Dr. Mathers-Schmidt was so enthusiastic about the class it was contagious. She explained that research was a puzzle, and there can be several ways to solve puzzles. I caught that same enthusiasm for research in her class, and I thank her for providing the introductions. Amongst the Audiology faculty Dr. Carol McRandle definitely influenced my career. She was my adviser, and her concentration was aural rehabilitation and pediatric audiology, which are two of my own passions. She was the first person to suggest I consider a Ph.D. program. The idea was no where near my radar. I was floored, and honored, and surprised that she had that degree of confidence in me. She wrote it on the back of one of my papers. Next to the grade she wrote "have you considered going on for your Ph.D.?" That seed she planted, that vote of confidence, went a long way.
I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am I went to Western. Every experience I had after graduate school confirmed I had made the right choice with WWU. For example, my first job was at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, TN. I quickly gained independence, much sooner than colleagues who had also just graduated from other institutions.
Getting back in touch with Western has given me a new sense of pride and urge to give back to a community who strengthened me on academic and personal levels. I am excited to mentor current students and, if I can help them, offer advice about graduate school or maybe even arrange opportunities for internships at the Mayo Clinic!