How a recent graduate achieved the 3 research milestones of her PhD program

The AAC Doctoral Program is designed to develop high-quality researchers, teachers, scholars, and future leaders in the field of AAC. As part of the program, Ph.D. students complete three mentored research projects, which are structured to result in conference presentations and publications.

Today, we are featuring the research of a recent graduate, Dr. Kelsey Mandak, who was a student in the AAC doctoral program from 2015-2018. Kelsey completed her research projects under the mentorship of Dr. Janice Light. Throughout Kelsey’s doctoral studies, she established an important line of research to investigate family-centered services to improve results for children with complex communication needs who require AAC. 

As doctoral students progress through the Ph.D. program, the 3 research projects are viewed as key milestones which must be achieved in order to obtain your degree. The research projects are described below, along with a closer look at how Kelsey achieved these milestones. 

Qualifying Examination

During the first year of the doctoral program, students begin preparing for the Qualifying Examination. The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to assess early in the student’s program whether the student is capable of conducting doctoral-level research based on evidence of critical thinking and other necessary skills to be a successful researcher in the AAC field.

Kelsey Mandak at poster

For Kelsey’s qualifying examination, she designed and implemented a study to investigate the perspectives of speech language pathologists on family-centered services. Kelsey’s study highlighted the significant gap between what should be happening and what was actually happening in the field. 

Kelsey disseminated her findings at the 2016 Annual ASHA Convention and in the AAC Journal


Comprehensive Examination

The next milestone in the doctoral program is the Comprehensive Examination, which occurs when the doctoral candidate has completed all course work requirements. The goal of the Comprehensive Examination is to evaluate the candidate’s knowledge in both major and minor content areas and the integration of these areas within the larger discipline of communication sciences and disorders. 

Kelsey’s comprehensive project focused on a study that investigated the perspectives of parents of children with ASD and minimal speech and the perspectives of SLPs who provide services to children with ASD and minimal speech. Results indicated that, according to parent report, most SLPs were not delivering family-centered services.

Kelsey disseminated her findings from this study at the 2017 Annual ASHA Convention and in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Doctoral Dissertation

The final milestone in the doctoral program is the doctoral dissertation, which represents the culmination of the student’s doctoral studies. The doctoral dissertation marks the transition from a doctoral candidate to an independent research. The intent of the dissertation is to evaluate the candidate’s ability to independently conceptualize and conduct a study that contributes substantially to the field, and to present the dissertation in writing in a scholarly manner.

For Kelsey’s doctoral dissertation, she developed an online training designed to teach pre-service SLPs how to demonstrate family-centered skills during interactions with parents of children who use AAC. After a relatively short period of instruction via the online module, all of the pre-service SLPs improved their demonstration of the family-centered skills skills.

In addition to disseminating her findings from this study at the 2018 Annual ASHA Convention, it was recently published in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology

As shown, Kelsey’s participation in the AAC doctoral program allowed her to develop the skills and expertise to conceptualize a research study, to rigorously conduct the study in a scientific manner, to critically analyze and interpret the results, and to disseminate her research to stakeholders to ensure the successful translation of research to practice.

We can’t wait to see the continued positive impact that Kelsey’s research makes on the AAC field and on the quality of services and outcomes for children that require AAC and their families!

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