Tuesday, 30 September 2014

'Mind the Gap' RCSLT conference 2014

Every other year the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists hold a two day conference. It is attended by practitioners and academics from the United Kingdom and internationally. This event more than all others in the portfolio of RCSLT events, focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing the profession and provides a platform for dissemination of new innovations for evidence-based practice.

BSLTRU likes to support this event and is passionate about bridging the gap between research and practice, so it was a great pleasure to have a number of opportunities to present and be represented at the conference. 

Karen Davies, a PhD student associated with the 'Child Talk' programme presented findings from one element of her thesis - 'Partnership with parents: Speech and language therapists' role in changing behaviours and conceptions'.
Karen Davies presenting some of her PhD findings
Dr Ros Merrick gave an oral presentation of work from her PhD, and Dr Rena Lyons presented a poster outlining some of her PhD findings. Both of these programmes of work had been supervised by Prof Roulstone. Lastly Prof Roulstone also represented the unit as a co-author on a presentation about language and behaviour which used ALSPAC data.

With a lot to fit in over the course of the two days, it is a challenge to make the most of the networking opportunities.  However, the unit members are not shy in engaging with people, so we caught up with old friends (See photo of Profs Sue Roulstone and Pam Enderby) and made new ones at the conference social. 
Left - Pam Enderby, Right - Sue Roulstone
Last Dance at the Conference Social

As the past chair 'Bryony Simpson' of the RCSLT said 'you can't be a great therapist if you can't have fun!'

We hope that everyone we talked to had a wonderful time and learnt a lot. We know that the unit benefited from our discussions.  If you are interested the RCSLT is having a post conference round up using webinar technology which you can register for here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Blaire Hannan - My experience at Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the research unit. I felt very welcomed and supported, and all the colleagues were keen to ensure my needs were met.

ALSPAC and Children of
the 90's logo
During my time with them I was involved in organising, labelling and batching ALSPAC files to be sent off. This was a big task, as thousands of audio files had to be organised appropriately. Although, there were time limits, I did not feel any pressure, more a drive to finish the task. Colleagues were happy for me to approach the task in my own way.  This project took up most of my time with BSLTRU, but I also input feedback forms, did a reliability check on a research project, and read and summarised various research papers for a grant application.

The experiences widened my eyes as to what is involved in this sector of Speech & Language Therapy. I was made aware of the vast amount of data that are collected from population target groups, and how the same data are shared between different researchers to be used in their research – whilst maintaining confidentially procedures (i.e. saved onto special drives, password e-mails etc.). My understanding of the different roles within a research project increased i.e. it's good to get statisticians involved early, and good co-authors are vital to improve the credibility of your project. Also, the amount of work and procedures involved in accessing grants for various projects impressed and awed me. It seems that you could have someone doing a full-time job just to identify and access grants. I was made aware that despite the effort in applying for grants, it is a highly competitive task and even once funding is secured and the research undertaken, the research findings may not published anyway and if it is, then it may not be in the journal desired by the research team.
BSLTRU is currently still based on the Frenchay hospital campus,
part of North Bristol Hospital Trust 
The staff and their dedication were very impressive. They were very happy to answer any questions ad meet any goals you may have had.  I really value my experience with them and hope that I will work with them I the future.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Joe Leeder talks about his internship with BSLTRU

The University of the West of England advertised for students interested in undertaking a sponsored internship at a number of possible research facilities.  I applied for one of these internships at BSTLRU to get experience in a field of research that I found interesting, as well as boosting the credentials on my CV.  I was fortunate enough to be successful at interview and began my placement in August.  The hope was that I would experience many different aspects of research and working with different people during my time at the unit.

For the first two weeks I worked on a research technique called systematic reviewing - a way to gain an overview of all the research evidence into a particular topic.  After hundreds of papers from various resources are collected, it was my job to match each paper against carefully selected criteria. The systematic reviewing process is very time consuming and laborious. However it is worthwhile as the results allow researchers to understand what is already ‘out there’ in terms of evidence. It helps to determine what is missing and whether the research proposed is relevant. It was beneficial for me to see how this process of highlighting and understanding previous research is conducted in an academic environment.

LENA recording unit. This is worn in a vest/top by the child.
For the second two weeks I assisted Anna Blackwell, a student who is carrying out her PhD at the unit. Anna’s longitudinal study is looking at four language delayed children and aims to better understand the dynamic relationship between the child and the parents’ language. Whilst working with Anna, one of my tasks was to undertake a reliability check on some of the data she had collected from the children. This involved using a device called LENA (Language Environment Analysis) which captures audio for 16 hours and is worn by participants.

This audio was analysed using software which determines high conversational counts in 5 minute segments. I transcribed ten, five minute segments from the four different children and applied a series of codes which provided a range of linguistic data. Anna then checked ten percent of the analysis and I did the same for a transcript that she had completed.  This allowed her to obtain reliability statistics for this element of her study.

Working for Anna was particularly interesting; the coding process relied on my linguistic knowledge and helped to develop it, and it was really exciting to be working on a longitudinal project with speech delayed children. I think it’s really interesting to see how speech and language can develop over time and whether a change in the way adults engage with their children effects this development.
The research unit relies solely on grants and charities to fund projects. The third part of my placement was to read over and review a grant that was being processed to fund future research. Part of the skill of writing a grant application skill is to be able to write in clear, simple language. With this in mind, during my placement I was asked to summarise abstracts of papers in lay English. This enables a non-expert audience to understand more about the research which is undertaken, without having to worry about complex vocabulary. These lay summaries are then included in grant applications and on the unit web-site. Writing lay summaries wasn't my favourite task, although it was useful and interesting to be able to read some of the research that has already been written in the unit. It also improved my writing skills as I found it particularly hard to adjust the complex concepts to make them accurate.

Throughout the placement I learnt skills that will be invaluable to future work. Systematic reviewing has enabled me to develop a methodological approach to literature reviewing, and to be rigorous in critically assessing the evidence available. Reliability checking has taught me to be thorough, has improved my concentration skills and has allowed me to see how linguistics can be applied in the working world. Such skills will be transferable to any future career and I will use this experience of research to decide whether I want to go on to do study at postgraduate level.

Joe Leeder giving a presentation to the team at BSLTRU about his time there.
I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked in such a friendly, yet professional environment. The work that is undertaken in the unit is designed to provide speech and language therapists with up to date evidence and methods to help those who are speech and or language impaired.  Providing methods and solutions to help others is the underlying theme at the research unit and is what makes such an enjoyable and rewarding environment to work in. I have really enjoyed learning about research and speech and language therapy and hope to further improve my knowledge in the area by conducting my third year thesis at the unit.

Friday, 5 September 2014

My placement has been what could be called ‘eventful’ - Will Dance on his time with the Unit

Will Dance
When I first sent out an email to the Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit detailing my interests in Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) and that I would like to partake in some voluntary work experience, it was very daunting. Having visited the website beforehand and looked at the Research Team it was almost as if I were daring to ask to be placed amongst a team of such experienced people who between them seemed to have this massive expanse of knowledge.

Of course this sense of nervousness soon left when my email was replied to and I was told that there was an opportunity for work experience at the research unit. Immediately I felt a sense of excitement at the prospect of being able to gain work experience in a professional research environment that also has close links to my university.

I think of my three months of work experience as being split into two sections: pre and post my two week holiday/visit to Thailand in July.

View of central Bangkok from a bar I visited on the roof of a 63 story high hotel called the ‘Sky Bar’
Pre Thailand
Something that struck me on beginning my placement at the research unit was how female dominated SLT is. Having done research into SLT as a profession prior to my placement I had read that over 82% of speech and language therapists are female. To be completely honest this made for a nice break as having grown up with two brothers it was nice to move away from such a competitive environment to one where everyone was so welcoming and treated each other with such approbation.

My first task was checking pairs of transcripts of the same audio transcribed by different people for reliability and working out the percentage of same or equivalent phonemes transcribed and also working out a percentage for the difference between the transcripts. This work introduced me to the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children or ‘ALSPAC’.  Having grown up in Bristol my whole life and being (along with all my friends) ‘Children of the 90s’ it was incredibly interesting to learn of such a world-leading study in my own city.  ALSPAC is one of the most in depth studies of its kind and holds a wealth of information about the environmental and genetic factors that affect health and development and so to be involved  in anything to do with it was a privilege.

After checking the reliability of 48 pairs of transcripts,  I moved on to a data management and processing task which involved using a computer to locate, identify and relocate ALSPAC audio files to then be later sent off to America. In this task, I managed to successfully move or ‘batch’ 322 sets of three audio files.

These data management and processing tasks were quite laborious and required considerable time and effort but the knowledge I gained made that irrelevant as I know I have learnt so much from working on them whether it was honing my phonetic skills or researching about ALSPAC in my own time. At times it was challenging to do quite repetitive work but the pros far outweighed any cons. I completed the ALSPAC work the day before I left for Thailand (4th July).
View from the port of an island in the south of Thailand I visited for two days called Koh Larn

Post Thailand
On my return on the 23rd July I immediately began work on transcribing audio of an aphasia discussion group where interviewers were asking four people who had aphasia following a stroke ‘If you could change one thing about your communication, what would it be?’. I found myself learning a vast amount from the task as it introduced aphasia to me, something which I knew little about previously and is greatly focused upon within SLT and psycholinguistics.

Upon completing the transcription task, I started writing lay summaries for published journal articles written by members of the research team. I managed to complete six lay summaries, ranging in focus from what it is like living with a a person with semantic dementia to defining communication disability response to the World Report on Disability. This writing not only taught me a huge amount regarding speech and language therapy but also aided me in developing my skills for both academic writing and writing for a lay audience.

When I finally completed all the work I was asked to do (and more as I completed much of it ahead of schedule) I felt a sense of achievement I had not experienced before. The reason for this was because at university it is very straight forward: you study hard and as a result you get a good grade and whilst you are happy with that good grade you are not surprised as it is the result of the effort you put in; similarly if you achieve a poor grade it is because of the effort that was not put in. Whereas when I completed a large piece of work the result was that I felt I had accomplished something more because I was in a professional environment completing work that had importance. Completing a task to a high standard in such an environment was very rewarding as I had to use not only knowledge but apply intuition, use professional skills and even judge and identify problems, aspects that are rarely tested at university and therefore to be told I had excelled in such a task which tested me beyond anything I had done before was incredibly fulfilling.

Interesting life events
My placement has also been what could be called ‘eventful’. Just five days after I started I was driving to the unit through Frenchay with my windows open and a low flying (what some may call suicidal) pigeon flew into my driver’s side window managing to hit me in the side of the head and tumble down into my foot well and become trapped underneath my pedals. I of course immediately slammed on my breaks narrowly missing crashing into the wall that ran alongside the road; I had the rest of the day off and written on the whiteboard my absence was noted as plain and simply ‘hit by pigeon’. Just over a fortnight later I finished work to come out to my car to see my off-side mirror had been what can only be described as destroyed, presumably by someone who decided to drive just a few inches to close. I am pleased to say after these two ‘events’ my placement went without any more major problems.

Summary & Looking ahead
My time at the Bristol Speech & Language Therapy Research Unit gave me an invaluable insight into both what it is like to work in a professional environment and also what it is like to work in a research based environment. I was able to talk about speech and language therapy as a career with members of the research team and I really do feel I have gained a wide understanding of speech and language therapy and many of the different aspects it covers. 

Looking ahead to the future, this work experience has allowed me to acquire transferable skills and the experience to enable me to hit the ground running when I start my first 'proper' job after my studies, something which not many students can say.  The experience I gained from my placement was not only academic and professional but also personal. I have gained a lot of confidence throughout my placement and also I proved to myself that I am an able and capable person that can rise to the occasion.

I am very thankful to have worked at the research unit and to have completed my time there with such ease and I am indebted to everyone there for helping me learn so much and develop myself on both a knowledge and personal level.