BBS Alumna to Share a Real-World Success Story

Researcher and Academic Built on Early Experience as a Callier Student

Sep. 27, 2010

UT Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) plans to offer seniors more than fun and food at its second annual Senior Launch. Real-world advice is on the agenda.

The Sept. 30 event will feature its share of free snacks, door prizes and chances to catch up with friends and faculty. But BBS leaders also want seniors to learn more about what’s ahead in the months leading up to graduation, as well as what to expect after earning their diploma.

Dr. Amanda Owen, who graduated with a BS in speech language pathology and audiology from UT Dallas’ Callier Center for Communication Disorders in 1997 and earned an MS two years later, will be BBS’ “Rising Star” speaker for Senior Launch. Owen obtained her PhD from Purdue University in 2004. She now is an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, where she directs the Grammar Acquisition Lab.

Owen will talk to seniors about her transition from ambitious graduate to successful faculty member. She shared some of her insights recently with News Center.

How has your career progressed since leaving UT Dallas?

I went to Purdue University, where I was a doctoral student. From there I applied for assistant professor positions and was fortunate to be offered a position at the University of Iowa. I’ve been at Iowa for the last five years, working toward tenure.

What are your responsibilities as an assistant professor?

I teach undergraduate and graduate students, do research and perform service (review articles, sit on departmental committees, meet with incoming students). I teach two to three courses per year in the area of child language. These include phonological development and disorders and language development. I also teach students by supervising researcher participation: I’ve supervised three undergraduate honors theses, a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation. Most of the studies focus on verbs, verb learning or the use of morpho-syntax.

What do you like most about your job?

Research-wise, I think the moment when a study is done and you run the statistics for the first time is one of my favorite moments. Even when the story is not crystal clear, and it usually isn’t, there’s a period where you know something that no one else really knows. As I look through the data and figure out what it means, I really enjoy the process of discovering how the data fits in with the other things that we already know and weaving a story around the results.

I also enjoy one-on-one and small group teaching tremendously. I like to see students understand or discover concepts for the first time and move from struggling with how to do something toward real mastery of a concept.

How do you think your experience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences influenced your career?

At UT Dallas I was given the opportunity to be fully engaged in a lab experience at the same time that I pursued clinical credentials. That clinical component shapes my thinking in a variety of ways and helps me to combine applied and theoretical approaches. It helped me to integrate well into the lab at Purdue and has given me a foundation on which to build my own questions.

Because the courses offered for the BS and MS degrees overlapped, I was also allowed to take a large number of electives. I took a large number of neuroscience courses as an undergraduate, which have helped me to understand and synthesize information that comes out in journal articles today. I also took several seminar courses on topics such as aphasia and autism as an MS student. The seminar courses exposed me to a broad range of research topics and helped me to understand the links between research and clinical practice. All in all, the diversity of coursework offered and the time that I had to take electives has helped to shape my ability to understand developments in a variety of areas.

Do you believe BBS and Callier prepared you well for your career?

I do. I still draw on many of the therapy techniques that I learned in the clinic when I see research subjects now. Social pragmatic approaches influence the way I set up the environment for collecting grammar data. The different ways the clinics were run across Iowa, Purdue and UT Dallas shape the advice I give to students about pursuing graduate training. The classes I took, the time I spent in (Professor) Bob Stillman’s lab, and the contact I had with a variety of faculty members prepared me well to pursue a variety of future directions.

Were there any particular faculty members who helped mentor you?

Several. Bob Stillman was probably the faculty member who invested the most time in me. My contact with him began before I was a student. He played an active role in recruiting me to come to UT Dallas. Once at UT Dallas, I worked in his lab and in the dean’s office as part of my assistantship. The work I did for him in the dean’s office as part of my assistantship helped me to have a big picture understanding of what make a university run – the logistics of course scheduling and the minutia of filing student records. In Bob’s lab, I had the chance to explore both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Bob was very generous in allowing me to pursue the quantitative approaches when his lab focused heavily on qualitative work. Bob made sure that we took projects from the lab to ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) each year, an experience that I really appreciate now for how broadly it exposed us to clinical and research issues within the field. I try to ensure that students in my lab have similar opportunities because I found that to be so valuable.

My experiences at UT Dallas were so rich primarily because of the people I was connected with at the time.

What are your goals for your future?

I hope to get tenure. I’d like to have a National Institutes of Health-funded grant that allows me to explore the ways that various factors influence accuracy of inflection marking on a moment-to-moment basis. Why do children, typical and language-impaired children, use verb endings correctly one moment and incorrectly later. We know that several factors influence acquisition rates, but it is not yet clear how these factors all coalesce when it is time to speak. I’d especially like to have an award that allows me to do some cross-training in the area of computational modeling in addition to one that supports data collection in the area of language development. I believe that if we have a strong computational model that can predict how input and acquisition influence use in the moment, we will be able to try out therapy approaches in a controlled environment before carrying out clinical trials. Perhaps this will make our progress towards developing effective and efficient therapies more rapid.

What advice would you give to students hoping to pursue a similar career?

Seek out schools that are excellent in your discipline, even if they are not the ‘big name’ or Ivy League schools. UT Dallas is top-ranked in speech and hearing. The research exposure and coursework I took here has served me well. Because UT Dallas is relatively small and at the time had relatively few undergraduate majors, I had a lot of personal contact with the faculty and was allowed to pursue many unconventional opportunities. Most programs would not be so flexible.

Take as much math and hard science as you can fit into your schedule. You’ll be surprised at when it becomes useful, even in a “people-oriented” profession. It trains a certain way of thinking that is hard to get later. I wish I had more advanced math and more statistics on a regular basis.

Is there anything else you might want to tell students who are just starting out their college careers or getting close to wrapping them up?

Seek out a diversity of experiences and pay attention to what you look forward to doing the most during each day or each week. I had both research and clinic going on simultaneously both during my PhD and MS degrees and discovered how much I enjoyed the discovery process of research. It clarified my career path in ways that taking the most efficient route would not have done. I have friends who did the same and ended up focusing much more heavily on clinical experiences.


Media Contact: Emily Martinez, UT Dallas, (214) 905-3049, emily.martinez@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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Dr. Amanda Owen

Dr. Amanda Owen prizes the  moment of discovery that comes with analyzing her research data. The UT Dallas alumna speaks to BBS seniors on Thursday.

 

BBS Senior Launch

The School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences will hold its second annual Senior Launch 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 30 in the McDermott Suite of the McDermott Library.

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