Megan Roberts, PhD, CCC-SLP

Photo courtesy of: communication.northwesterrn.edu/faculty

I first discovered the brilliant work of Dr. Megan Roberts after reading her article in the April 2019 issue of the ASHA Leader. In Seeing Autism Signs? Speak Up and Guide Parents to See Them Too, Megan discusses the crucial role of early interventionists in raising the conversation with parents when there is concern for ASD. As an early intervention SLP myself, I found myself nodding and verbally agreeing as I digested Megan’s arguments. The article was even discussed at my company’s monthly meeting, as therapists discussed and considered our role as evaluators and providers when children are showing signs of autism. The article inspired me to think deeper about my role, and it was just a gateway into my discovery of the amazing work happening at Northwestern University under the leadership of Dr. Megan Roberts.

Her (Speech) Path

Megan Roberts, PhD, CCC-SLP is the director of the Early Intervention Research Group (EIRG) at Northwestern University. She is also an Assistant Professor in the University’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Beyond her research and teaching, Megan continues to practice as a licensed early intervention provider and is an affiliate of the ASHA Special Interest Group 1, Language Learning and Education. After graduating from Emerson College in 2005, Megan practiced as an SLP in a preschool and early intervention setting. As a provider, she quickly recognized the gaps between research and practice, which motivated her to take the (speech) path less traveled and pursue her PhD at Vanderbilt University. Megan joined Northwestern in 2013, where her research utilizes a naturalistic approach to explore how parent-child interactions affect language development across populations. Through exploring the impact of parent-mediated interventions, Megan hopes to develop early language interventions, individualized to specific parent-child characteristics. To learn more about Megan’s journey, check out her CV here.

I often hear that “It’s too hard to coach parents” or “parents don’t want to be their child’s therapist”, and “parents don’t even want to be part of therapy sessions.” Yes, coaching parents is difficult, but is also very rewarding. I believe that every parent wants their child to make progress. If a parent is reluctant, we should consider our own behavior and ask ourselves, how we could be more supportive, rather than making assumptions that may not be true.


The Interview

What advice would you give to a new graduate who is about to start their clinical fellowship (CF)?

Play the long-game, not the short-game. Find a position that will support your development, even if that means moving to a less desirable location. Use this year to get additional skills, which will set you up to ultimately get your ideal job.

What is one belief, habit or routine that has significantly impacted your life?

Continuous self-reflection and a constant effort to remain vulnerable and flexible has made me a better clinician, mentor, teacher and overall human!

I also use Asana – a great online project management tool that helps to keep me organized and remembering all the things in my brain – whether it’s the birthday present I need to buy, the EI note I need to write, or the family I need to call back!

Where did you complete your CF? How does the career path you’ve traveled differ from the path you imagined as a new grad?

I completed my CF at the Jowonio school in Syracuse, NY and saw some children through Early Intervention before and after school. I never imagined I would ever be a research scientist.

What book do you most frequently recommend? Is there a book that has greatly impacted how you think?

I’m a huge Brené Brown fan:

The Gifts of Imperfection—Be you.
Daring Greatly—Be all in.
Rising Strong—Fall. Get up. Try again.

She also has a new video on Netflix – The Call to Courage

What is your favorite failure?

I applied to a faculty position at Northwestern University 3 times. I failed the first 2 times. But now I’ve been here for almost 6 years. This taught me to never give up.

What areas in the field of speech-language pathology do you see the most opportunity for growth?

I think that we need to generate more clinical practice research. Just as physicians with clinical degrees actively collect data, test hypotheses, and publish their findings, I believe that SLPs should do the same. There is a dearth of clinical practice research in the field of communication sciences and disorders. We need both clinicians and researchers to conduct more clinical practice research.

What are bad recommendations you hear in the field or in your area of expertise?

I often hear that “It’s too hard to coach parents” or “parents don’t want to be their child’s therapist”, and “parents don’t even want to be part of therapy sessions.” Yes, coaching parents is difficult, but is also very rewarding. I believe that every parent wants their child to make progress. If a parent is reluctant, we should consider our own behavior and ask ourselves, how we could be more supportive, rather than making assumptions that may not be true.

What was a notable turning point or shift in your career? How did this impact your professional journey?

I didn’t even really know what research was before I literally stumbled into a PhD. I loved being a speech-language pathologist and I thought research was looking up things on the internet. But then I discovered that the scientific method isn’t all that different than good clinical practice.

Clinical research expands my impact beyond the tiny person in front of me to all tiny humans. So rather than testing out a specific intervention strategy with a child on my caseload, I measure the effects of interventions for a group of children and compare those results to children who don’t receive the intervention. This allows me to be more certain that the intervention is what is driving changes in child language, rather than other things like the child just getting older.

I still get to do all of the things I loved about being a clinician – working with families and children, but I also get to nerd out and examine lots and lots of data to make recommendations that will likely apply to more children and families

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