Communication sciences and disorders graduate combines clinical and research

December 20, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While a student at Penn State, Alaina Eck realized that she wanted a career that would allow her to engage in both clinical practice and individual research.

Eck, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2016 and her master’s degree in 2018 in communication sciences and disorders from Penn State, is currently a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She also is a speech-language pathologist at Union County Public Schools in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Eck sees her two roles — as student and clinician — as complementary, rather than opposing. In doing research while working as a speech-language pathologist, Eck is able to more easily take the problems she encounters in her clinical practice and translate them to questions that will inform her research.

“There was an emphasis on both research and clinical at Penn State, so it wasn’t hard for me to make the connection between the two,” said Eck, who completed a clinical placement at Matternville Preschool Center while at Penn State, an experience that inspired her to continue to work directly with children. “I never felt pigeon-holed and was able to really see this unique path for myself.”

“I can see how the research we’re doing may or may not be translated into clinical practice, depending on the different constraints on clinicians,” she added. “It has helped me develop more empathy and sympathy for clinicians, and I really want to support them so they can take the things we’re learning through research and apply them in a more tangible way.”

The seed for this dual pursuit was planted by Erinn Finke, who at the time of Eck’s graduate degree was an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State.

“Dr. Finke and I met during my time at Penn State, and she has played a critical role in my development as a student and researcher,” said Eck.

In 2017, Finke moved to the University of Tennessee and continues to serve as Eck’s mentor.

“[Finke] has played a critical role in my development as a student and researcher,” said Eck.

Through her research, Eck is interested in supporting children with language impairment, autism or other developmental disorders who may need augmented or alternative methods to communicate.

For Eck, asking questions — whether through research or as a speech-language pathologist — is at the core of her confidence.

“Starting your career does not mean you have to know all the answers. Rather, your education has prepared you to ask the right questions and give you resources on where you can find the answers,” she said. “Penn State did that for me.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 23, 2019