As speech-language pathology continues to extend its reach to serve diverse patient populations with an equally diverse set of challenges related to speech, language, articulation, feeding and swallowing, the field presents no shortage of topics that would benefit from further exploration.
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When selecting a master’s degree program for entry into the field, many SLP graduate students are faced with the decision of whether or not to go with a program involving a thesis project that would allow them the opportunity to contribute research to just such topics.
A thesis project is a major undertaking that involves considerable independent research and writing on an important topic of the candidate’s choice. The thesis is expected to contribute all new, if not groundbreaking, information to the field of speech language pathology.
Some recent SLP master’s thesis topics have included:
These topics were all unexplored before graduate students undertook the research, but certainly are of interest to the SLP professional community and well worth investigating in-depth.
Similarly interesting and unexplored topics would serve as ideal subject matter for further research through a graduate thesis project.
Here we help explain the reasoning behind selecting a graduate program with a thesis track and the purpose this kind of program would serve, both for individual graduate students and the field of speech-language pathology.
Deciding on a Thesis Vs Non-Thesis Degree Track: Who Should Consider a Thesis Track
Most schools offering speech language pathology master’s programs offer both thesis and non-thesis degree tracks, both of which would prepare graduates to become licensed and certified SLPs.
The thesis requirement is considered optional.
As an extra undertaking, the thesis option makes the most sense for students who want to acquire an in-depth research background as a part of their master’s program, or whose ambitions are to continue in the field as teachers rather than practitioners. Other reasons to take on optional thesis projects might include a genuine interest and curiosity in the subject being investigated, or a desire to focus on that topic as an area of specialization when going into general practice after graduation.
Because SLP programs require an extensive clinical practicum of as many as 400 hours, not to mention the fact that graduate students must prepare for a post-graduate fellowship of as many as 1,260 hours, there would be very little time to take on a project and dedicate the depth of research that a thesis requires.
Most thesis track programs make up for this, in part, by allowing thesis-candidate students to audit some of their coursework, reducing the amount of time spent in class. Still, this alone rarely opens up the kind of time required to take on a thesis project.
At some universities, a thesis project can stand in for taking the comprehensive examination typically required of master’s program graduates, through virtually all graduates go on to take such an exam anyway for state licensing and, if they choose, ASHA’s CCC-SLP (Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology) certification.
The Thesis Process: From Proposal to Defense
There are a great number of formal steps required in researching, writing, and presenting a thesis. These will vary from program to program.
Six Stages of a Thesis Project
Generally, there are six primary stages to undertaking a thesis project:
- Find an academic advisor to support the project by filing a notice of intent with your school’s Department of Communication Disorders department chair
- Select a suitable research topic and file a thesis proposal with the your school’s Department of Communication Disorders
- Select a thesis committee to review the project
- Conduct the necessary research on the thesis topic
- Write the thesis paper in accordance with university and departmental style guides
- Present and defend the thesis paper before the thesis committee
Each of these stages will have a number of related steps and will often involve meeting other requirements, such as remaining registered for at least one class each semester while conducting the project and filing necessary paperwork with your school’s Department of Communication Disorders from time to time.
The Thesis Proposal
In conjunction with the adviser, the student will determine a thesis topic and create the proposal document. This is a substantial document in its own right and will essentially outline the process that the student hopes to follow in the course of the research project, detailing the elements required to prove or disprove the thesis statement. The proposal should include:
- An introduction to the topic
- A review of existing literature that touches on the subject, including previous research into the matter
- An outline of the methods and procedures the student proposes to use to perform original research on the subject
It is likely to take several months and a number of rounds of revisions to put together a solid thesis proposal. The thesis committee must approve the proposal before any actual work begins on the project. Their goal in approving it will be to ensure that, if the methods and procedures outlined are followed, they will be able to approve the results of the project regardless of the actual conclusions.
The Thesis Project
The larger part of the time spent on a thesis project will be spent doing the basic research required to substantiate the thesis statement. As outlined in the methods and procedures section of the proposal, the student will undertake original research into the subject of the thesis.
This could include …
- Conducting in-depth study of data generated from other research projects
- Conducting supervised studies directly with patients
- Working in conjunction with other SLPs to accumulate data in the field
After enough data has been gathered, the student will follow the methods outlined in their proposal to analyze it and draw forth conclusions about the thesis statement. Bringing all of these components together results in the thesis paper itself. The paper usually is divided into seven distinct parts:
- An introduction to the subject
- A review of existing literature on the subject
- The methodology with which the original research or investigation was conducted
- The results of that research
- A discussion of the results and their bearing on the thesis statement and what conclusions can be drawn from them
- An overall summary of the paper
- Citations and references
This can run to more than 100 pages of tightly reasoned, focused, legible writing.
Many different drafts will be written and reviewed by the student’s advisor, and many revisions will be required before the paper is considered adequate to present to the thesis committee.
The Thesis Defense
Presenting the results and report of the thesis project to the thesis committee for final approval and acceptance is known as conducting the thesis defense. Although it is very unusual for a thesis to be rejected, the process of going in front of several highly qualified and experienced professors to explain and defend the ideas and work that went into the project is intimidating.
The defense begins with the candidate providing copies of the thesis paper to all the members of the committee for their review several weeks before the final presentation. At that presentation, the candidate is expected to speak for an hour or more to concisely but rigorously present the results and conclusions of the thesis paper.
After the presentation, two or more hours will be spent with the committee asking questions and probing the candidate about the paper. Their goal will be to establish that the candidate genuinely understands the material, and that the research and conclusions presented are all accurate.
It is unusual for thesis papers to be accepted outright as first presented. The committee will usually require the candidate to make additional revisions on the basis of issues that are brought up in the defense before the project will finally be accepted.
Undertaking a thesis project during a speech language pathology master’s degree program is enormously challenging and unusual. For many students, however, it provides a depth of insight and experience into the field that other recent graduates are unlikely to possess. This can be a real advantage for those that have career goals that include teaching or research positions in academia.
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Theses/Dissertations from 2016
Cheimariou, Spyridoula (2016), Prediction in aging language processing
Chiou, Li-Kuei (2016), The effect that design of the Nucleus Intracochlear Electrode Array and age of onset of hearing loss have on electrically evoked compound action potential growth and spread of excitation functions
Dattilo, Kristin Louise (2016), The effects of articulation errors on perceived nasality in speakers with repaired cleft lip and/or palate
Jeon, Eun Kyung (2016), The effect of development on cortical auditory evoked potentials in normal hearing listeners and cochlear implant users
Lyrenmann, Rebecca (2016), Examiner and child contributions to therapy
Meadath, Brock Irvin (2016), Effects of Fitzmaurice Voicework® on the voice of graduate student actors
Mussoi, Bruna Silveira Sobiesiak (2016), Age-related changes in temporal resolution revisited: findings from cochlear implant users
Pinkerton, A. Louise (2016), The influence of motor production experience on voice perception
Warndahl, Kristina Lynn (2016), Parent and child perceptions of disordered speech associated with cleft lip and/or palate
Theses/Dissertations from 2015
Alper, Rebecca Mae (2015), Determining factors related to success in parent-implemented emergent language and literacy intervention
Becker, Toni C. (2015), What do college students with learning disabilities learn from lectures?
Brown, Bryan T. (2015), Neurocorrelates of speech-motor planning and execution in adults and children who stutter
Duff, Dawna Margaret (2015), Lexical semantic richness : effect on reading comprehension and on readers' hypotheses about the meanings of novel words
Eddy, Brandon Scott (2015), The effects of neuromuscular electrical stimulation training on the electromyographic power spectrum of suprahyoid musculature
Enright, Morgan Elaine (2015), The facilitative effects of drawing and gesturing on word retrieval for people with aphasia
Hollister, Julia Elizabeth (2015), Effortful control and adaptive functioning in school-age children who stutter
Kim, Se In (2015), The association between the supraglottic activity and glottal stops at the sentence level
Lin, Shan-ju (2015), Effects of individual differences and task demand on co-speech gesture
Miller, Margaret (2015), Partner response to verbal play in communication with individuals with amnesia
Morgart, Arianna Paige (2015), Lexical access in aphasia: impacts of phonological neighborhood density on accuracy of word production
Theses/Dissertations from 2014
Chou, Fang-Chi (2014), Behavioral and electrophysiological observations of attentional control in children who stutter
Dowdy, Lauren Maureen (2014), Examination of reading outcomes relative to speech intelligibility index in children with hearing loss: implications for pediatric cochlear implant candidacy
Downey, Debora Ann (2014), The effectiveness of AAC training protocols for acute care Nurses: a randomized controlled trial of an instructional on-line medium for clinical skills teaching
Flaherty, Ruth (2014), Talker-identification training using simulations of hybrid CI hearing : generalization to speech recognition and music perception
Kirby, Benjamin James (2014), The impact of frequency compression on cortical evoked potentials and perception
Labaz, Sarah Marie (2014), Enhancing communicative interaction by training peers of children with autism
Mertes, Ian Benjamin (2014), Repeatability of medial olivocochlear efferent effects on transient-evoked otoacoustic emissions in normal-hearing adults
Shune, Samantha Eve (2014), The effects of age and sensation on the anticipatory motor patterns activated during deglutition
Silberer, Amanda Beth (2014), Importance of high frequency audibility on speech recognition with and without visual cues in listeners with normal hearing
Taylor, Jessica Nicole (2014), Judging communicative competence: investigating age-related stereotypes in speech-language pathology students
Vanderveen, Natalie Esther (2014), The use of reported speech in the interactions of individuals with traumatic brain injury
Werle, Danielle Rae (2014), Patterns of respiratory coordination in children who stutter during conversation
Theses/Dissertations from 2013
Dhuldhoya, Aayesha Narayan (2013), Characterization of Temporal Interactions in the Auditory Nerve of Adult and Pediatric Cochlear Implant Users
Hull, Darcey M. (2013), Thyroarytenoid and cricothyroid muscular activity in vocal register control
Lewis, James Douglas (2013), The origin of short-latency transient-evoked otoacoustic emissions
Myers, Brett Raymond (2013), The effects of articulation on the perceived loudness of the projected voice
Scheperle, Rachel Anna (2013), Relationships among peripheral and central electrophysiological measures of spatial / spectral resolution and speech perception in cochlear implant users
Schmitt, Kendra Marie (2013), Impairments in the acquisition of new object-name associations after unilateral temporal lobectomy despite fast-mapping encoding
Theses/Dissertations from 2012
Achenbaugh, Whitney Rachel (2012), Velopharyngeal function with varying articulatory rate in normal children
Alper, Rebecca Mae (2012), Developing a novel coding system for analyzing language stimulation behaviors during adult-child interactions
Arenas, Richard Matthew (2012), The role of anticipation and an adaptive monitoring system in stuttering: a theoretical and experimental investigation
Chen, Su-Mei (2012), Lexical organization in Mandarin-speaking children: insights from the semantic fluency task
Czerniejewski, Emily Michelle (2012), A system to enhance patient-provider communication in hospitalized patients who use American sign language
Dean, Megan Elizabeth (2012), Anatomical changes in the pharynx resulting from changes in head and neck position
Hemmerich, Abby Leigh (2012), The distribution and severity of tremor in speech structures of persons with vocal tremor
Hertsberg, Naomi (2012), Self-perceived competence and social acceptance of children who stutter
Lee, Joanna Chen (2012), Are individual differences in language associated with differences in the corticostriatal system? A behavioral and imaging study
Mueller, Kathryn Lyndsay (2012), Causation, correlation, or confound? What the comorbidity of language impairment and ADHD can tell us about the etiology of these disorders
Savicki, Laura Elizabeth (2012), Collaborative referencing in traumatic brain injury
Stuck, Sarah Diana (2012), Pediatric concussion: knowledge and practices of school speech-language pathologists
Theses/Dissertations from 2011
Becker, Darci Lynn Sturtz (2011), Patient awareness of dysphagia
Chen, Zhen (2011), A preliminary study of perceptual diversity in adductor spasmodic dysphonia
Gjerstad, Tara Ann (2011), Investigation of service provision for children with cochlear implants
Jaiswal, Sanyukta (2011), Cricothyroid muscle activity at voicing transitions
Nguyen, Huong Thi Thien (2011), The impact of frequency modulation (FM) system use and caregiver training on young children with hearing impairment in a noisy listening environment
Perreau, Ann Elizabeth (2011), The contribution of a frequency-compression hearing aid to contralateral cochlear implant performance
Rost, Gwyneth Campbell (2011), Object categories provide semantic representation for 3-year-olds' word learning
Theses/Dissertations from 2010
Bean, Allison Frances (2010), Word learning in children with autism spectrum disorders: the role of attention
Green, Melanie Elise (2010), The role of lexical frequency, telicity & phonological factors on past tense production in children with SLI & their typically developing peers
Greiner, Lea Ashley (2010), Measures of executive function in children with cochlear implants
Grieb, Melinda Jean (2010), The relationship between parental language input and language outcomes in children with cochlear implants
McConnell, Sarah Ann (2010), Sentence complexity in children with autism and specific language impairment
Ou, Hua (2010), The impact of bilateral gain reduction on localization and speech perception in spatially-separated noise
Prisco, Theresa Rachel (2010), Aspectual tenses in native Spanish-speaking adults
Stiles, Derek Jason (2010), Influence of working memory and audibility on word learning in children with hearing loss
Tumanova, Victoria (2010), The role of procedural learning in stuttering: implications from visuomotor tracking performance
Walker, Elizabeth Ann (2010), Word learning processes in children with cochlear implants