How did you get started in implementation science as a speech-language pathologist and an early-stage investigator?
So, it wasn’t something that I knew I was doing when it happened.
When I was doing my doctoral research, I happened to write a conceptual paper about how we could use knowledge about children who have language impairments and the different kinds of difficulties they have. So, looking at what they have in language, but also looking at issues they have in other areas of their daily functioning and their social participation.
I came up with a conceptual model of how you could take that knowledge and put it into place in an educational system to do collaborative service delivery. I had written this paper, and was very inspired by it, had gotten it published. And then, just by happenstance, a person on my committee happened to be a member of CanChild, which is an interdisciplinary research center. At that time, I wasn’t that familiar with CanChild or its work. She took my paper to them, and said, “You know, here’s something I think you should read.” They got in touch, and it turned out that a researcher at CanChild, Dr. Cheryl Missiuna, was putting into practice the kind of conceptual model I had talked about. It happened to be with occupational therapists, and not speech language pathologists, but it was like seeing the life come into this conceptual work I had written.
Over the years that I’ve been with CanChild, I’ve turned that experience from a postdoctoral fellowship into a faculty position, and I’m now a scientist with that center. I’ve been able to go from being a trainee on the grant to actually being a co-investigator on those projects. It’s been an incredible path of career development, because I followed the trajectory of the project. It’s gone from being a collaborative service delivery model that was in development to one that now the phase we’re at is how do you actually implement this on a large scale, how do you actually sustain that and put that evidence into practice.
It wasn’t a planned trajectory when I started. When I took this opportunity at CanChild, the model of service delivery was what I had written about, but the profession was different. I had to be willing to step outside the walls a little bit — because in CSD we don’t have that scope available right now. I had to be willing to step outside and explore other avenues. And it’s been wonderful, and I don’t regret a minute of it.
What’s the next step in your research career path?
In my research personally, I’m hoping to begin to take the knowledge that I’ve gleaned from working with this wonderful team. In the process of doing this project, I’ve been able to meet and interact with some wonderful speech-language pathologists in our local community. And there is some interest in looking at how this kind of model could apply to them. Could they adapt parts of it? What would it need to look like to work for that community? So I am at the beginning stages of my own journey of setting up my first stakeholder symposium, getting my first grant, engaging my local partners to see what we could take from this. Because I think many of the issues around how we best provide services to children in schools will extend to speech- language pathologists as well.
What advice do you have for other scientists or doctoral students looking to break into implementation science?
I reflected on this a bit more, and I think mentorship is another thing, if you’re looking to break into this. Certainly for myself at the doctoral level, I learned a lot about how to design a really good study and do small-scale research, and write it up, and publish it, take it to conferences, all of those things. But in terms of building partnerships in the community, doing research that’s going to change practice, working with different stakeholder groups that have different needs. You have to be able to interact with people at very different levels. You have to be able to talk about your work in different ways. Having a good mentor who can guide you through that process, who can be an example, is going to be very important as an early investigator.
On a personal level, it is more time-consuming than testing your innovation in a very structured environment, in a lab setting, or using only research dollars where you have control of many more of the elements. When you do implementation science, it gets messier. It’s bigger. It requires more work. It requires more people, more minds. But it is incredibly rewarding. I am delighted that I was able to get involved in it, and will continue that on my path.