5 Tips for Employers & 4 Tips for Instructors with Noticeable Differences

5 Tips for Employers & 4 Tips for Instructors with Noticeable Differences

Have you ever taken a class where the instructor began speaking with a strong accent and you wondered if that would affect your ability to learn?

Have you ever been taught a physical skill by someone with a physical difference in relation to you? Did you wonder if you would learn as well from them as from someone with the same physical abilities as you?

As a student, we wonder these things and in turn, employers wonder if students wonder these things. Employers must consider both client and staff comfort. Their business depends on smooth service delivery, happy staff and satisfied clients. When hiring staff, they take this into account and will not hire someone that they think will not be a “good fit”, in other words, will cause them or their clients discomfort.

What does this mean for people who have a noticeable difference and who are looking for employment, especially as instructors of a topic they are passionate about?

I’m certain that we all advocate for hiring employees who have any sort of disability or difference and yet, these individual often struggle to find employment that suits their interests in Canada, the United States and beyond.

My hope is that this post addresses these concerns by giving employers some tools to feel more confident in hiring instructors with differences that could be seen to impact the learning experience of students.

In general, the employer’s responsibilities are to ensure that the instructor’s difference is accommodated for and that the instructor is comfortable setting students’ minds at ease about their ability to teach the material competently. Below are 5 things to keep in mind as you strive to accomplish this.

5 Tips for Employers & Instructors with a Difference

  1. The instructor and employer will need to accept and embrace the difference. This person will always be the same person with the same difference. For example, a person who stutters will always be a person who stutters, even on days when the stuttering is not outwardly noticeable.
  2. The instructor and employer should feel open to discuss the difference with each other. The instructor is the most knowledgeable about what works and does not work with regards to their difference. The instructor is the expert here and should be treated as such. For example, an instructor who has a hearing loss is the only person who knows what they can hear, what conditions get in the way of their ability to understand, and what supports they may need to ensure that they can communicate effectively with students.
  3. The employer must realize that for communication-related differences, the instructor’s communication may vary from day to day. Certainly, the instructor has likely learned some techniques that help to communicate more clearly that they may use when possible. Some days a person who stutters or a person with a strong accent will be able to speak more clearly or techniques will be working well. Other days will not go as smoothly. That is not their fault and is typically out of their control! Check out Megan Washington’s TED talk on being a person who stutters and a musician.
  4. The employer needs to know that the instructor will feel comfortable addressing their difference with students. If the instructor’s difference is not discussed, it may become a taboo topic that will be a distraction for students during instruction. The more comfortable that a person feels about their difference, the more comfortable the listeners will feel. This is perfectly demonstrated by Maysoon Zayid in her TED talk on being a woman with cerebral palsy.
  5. The instructor should be the one to talk to students about their difference(s), NOT the employer. If the employer tries to address the subject with students and the instructor does not, this will undermine the students’ confidence in the instructor. The instructor will be best able to set students’ minds at ease that they know what they are doing and they know best how to accommodate their difference. In the eyes of the students, the employer has already shown confidence in the instructor’s capacity to teach by hiring them.

4 Tips for Instructors on Communicating Directly with Students about their Difference(s)

  1. Start a class with a new group with business-as-usual, casually mention your difference and how you expect students to react. For example, if you are a person who stutters, allow yourself to stutter (or incorporate purposeful stuttering), then casually mention something like, “Oh, and I stutter sometimes so it’s helpful if you wait patiently for the stuttering to pass then refocus on what I’m saying. It does not help if you try to encourage me to breathe or take my time.”
  2. Directly mention that you recognize that your difference could be distracting for students at times (without being apologetic) and encourage students to focus on what you are saying. For example, a person with a strong accent may say, “I know that my accent is different than yours and you might not always understand what I’ve said. Please let me know if you missed something so that I can clarify.” Having visual supports, like a whiteboard, can help clarify as needed.
  3. Frequently ask students to summarize what has just been said. This is a common teaching technique anyway but could be used more than usual. This will keep students working to focus on the message, not the difference. For example, an instructor with a facial tic may notice that a student’s eyes have glazed over as they stare at the instructor, which may be because they are focused on the repetitive twitching. The instructor can ask the student to repeat back what was just said, encouraging the student to keep focused for the next time they are asked to summarize what the instructor has said!
  4. Address any physical limitations early on so that you can explain what kinds of accommodations you will make in your instruction. For example, if you have a prosthetic arm, you may say, “If I’m demonstrating a move, I’ll ask one of you to show me the move back to make sure it was clear and to provide a second demo.”

As a final perk, remember that your students have differences too, many of which are not visible to you. Hiring a more diverse set of instructors will lead to a more diverse and accepting student body!

Employers, go forth and hire diverse instructors who are passionate and competent! Differences do not need to be a barrier to their employment or to the students’ experiences.


The Poetic Sequel: Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

The Poetic Sequel: Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

Once your PhD reaches completion, sights set on employment

A place to produce, to collaborate, to earn

Is academia the sole destination for your research enjoyment?

Why no, no indeed, there’s so much you did learn!


As a researcher, it’s clear, study design becomes easy

Your sharp mind can envision, can ensure data’s collected

You can arrange data points in a way that is pleasing

To analyze, report, present, publish as expected


But there is so much more, like your ability to organize

To lead and train others, solve problems, no sweat!

Your ability to communicate, collaborate and advise


You can write, write, write, write!


So the jobs you could get:


Of course there’s Professor, which gives much flexibility

To break new theoretical ground with the utmost agility!


Be a Clinical Researcher and start your own business

See your own clients, run studies, you must be ambitious


Or step up and be Head Scientist in a hospital

Daily inspiration surrounds you, knowledge translation is critical



Prefer to not be the boss? Clinical Associate might suit you

Be the star clinician you are, with a flair for peer review


How do you feel about Clinical Research Coordinator?

Stay behind the scenes, mastermind, like a knowledge creator


Perhaps Clinical Services Manager is your future role

Clinicians appreciate evidence-based protocol


Finally, you may work in Industry with a PhD

Make your skill set work for you in a career externally


Wherever you choose to go with your PhD, your vocation

I hope it is worth every darn grant application!


Image credit: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss


Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

This article was originally published on Speech-Language & Audiology Canada’s blog, Communiqué, on December 5th, 2016. It has been republished here with permission.

Part 4 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me. Read part 3 here.

By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)

I have been thinking a lot about where I could work once I graduate. How can I leverage the skills I develop through my PhD into a career? Where can I combine both my skills as a researcher and my skills as a clinician? I have done some searching and I’d like to share seven types of positions I have come across where you, too, could one day ‘get your research on’ as a clinician.

PhD Skills

Before we go through the positions, let’s look at the skills you can acquire by doing a PhD. First and foremost, I think of my PhD as an opportunity to develop further training in research. This may seem straightforward, but what skills do you gain when you become better at research?

Research-Specific Skills

  • Selecting the appropriate study design
  • Controlling variables, so you are studying what you think you are studying
  • Data collection for research instead of clinical goals
  • Data organization for analysis
  • Statistical analysis with quantitative data
  • Analysis of qualitative data (e.g., interviews, survey results)
  • Sharing research results with academia (e.g., posters, abstracts, talks)
  • Writing articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals and books
  • Writing grant proposals

Transferable skills

  • Project management (this is a big one!)
  • Leadership and training
  • Giving presentations to a wide variety of audiences
  • Problem identification and analysis
  • Collaboration with other researchers and professionals
  • Self-management and positive work habits
  • Fine-tuning logical arguments

Great, but what employers out there are looking for individuals with these skills? Quite a few, in fact! If you’re someone with clinical experience who went to all the trouble of obtaining a PhD, you could be eligible for any of the positions below.

1. Professor/Researcher in Academia

The majority of PhD students enter their programs with the goal of becoming an academic. In this setting, you have the flexibility to define your own research questions, potentially redefining our current understanding of theoretical and/or applied knowledge! This is a good position for a person who is interested in breaking new ground and who enjoys collaborating with others on a variety of projects. There are fewer opportunities to flex your clinical chops, however, professors can use clinical experience to make their research and teachings more relevant.

2. Clinical Researcher in Private Clinic/Institute

Of course, you can always create the job and setting that suits you best by starting your own company! As an example, Dr. Joanne Marttila Pierson and Dr. Lauren Katz started their own institute, the Literacy, Language and Learning Institute, where they provide speech-language pathology services and conduct research studies.

3. Clinical Investigator/Head Scientist in Medical Setting

A clinician with a PhD is a good fit for hospitals and clinics where research is valued. For example, Dr. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Aud(C) conducts research as head scientist with the CHEO Research Institute in Ontario alongside her position as an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

4. Clinical Research Associate

If you prefer hands on work over research design, you may be the perfect fit for a research institute looking for clinical associates. Your deep understanding of research design would make you an ideal assessment/intervention administrator who will adhere closely to the research goals of a study while your clinical background will help you to understand how best to share research results with working clinicians.

For example, a job posting for a clinical research associate position with the National Center for Evidence-Based Practice in Maryland stated, “The purpose of this position is to participate in the Association’s efforts to promote evidence-based practice among its members. This will involve development of educational initiatives as well as projects to make scientific research more accessible to clinical audiences.”

5. Clinical Research Coordinator/Research Project Manager

If you enjoy the administrative side of clinical work more than being on the front line, you may be more suited to coordinating and managing research studies. In this position, you could be coordinating research studies that fall within any area of health or education and working for a research lab within the government, industry, non-profit or health sectors.

For example, this past summer the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute was looking for a research project manager in the area of immune regulation. The qualifications regarding educational background specified only “Undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline. PhD in a life science discipline is an asset. Minimum of three years experience or the equivalent combination of education and experience.”

6. Manager of Clinical Services

You may not work in a position directly connected to a research lab but use all of your fine-tuned transferable skills (listed above) as a programs manager. For example, the Children’s Treatment Network recently advertised an opening for a programs and services manager on the SAC website. With clinical experience, highly developed project management experience AND a clear understanding of the meaning of ‘evidence’ in ‘evidence-based practice’, you could be a shoo-in for the job. In fact, the above position required knowledge of statistical data analysis, which most clinicians don’t acquire without advanced research training.

7. Industry Work with a PhD

Finally, we cannot forget that many, many people have obtained PhDs and not used those research-specific skills in any apparent way. They have become consultants, directors, CEOs, entrepreneurs, educators, inventors, authors… and the list goes on. There is an increasing amount of information available to doctoral students regarding positions with industry, for example, popular conferences such as Beyond Academia, Twitter accounts such as @withaphd or @cheekyscience, and websites/blogs such as Next Scientist. Using all these tools, you can find plenty of advice on how to adjust your resume and sell your skills in a job interview for a non-research-related position.

I hope that I have given you some points to ponder regarding careers for communication sciences clinicians with PhDs. Perhaps one of the most important skills that you must develop as a research trainee is the ability to adapt to the constantly evolving nature of research projects, which will be the topic of my next post. As I progress through my PhD and develop my research study, this need for flexibility is something I am presented with daily…

Feature image caption: Bonita sits with other students, many of whom are also health professionals enrolled in the PhD in Health at Dalhousie University. Back row, left to right: Jeffery Zahavich (exercise physiologist and physical education teacher), Sara Limpert (health policy analyst), Peter Stilwell (chiropractor), America Cristina Fracini (physiotherapist), Logan Lawrence (studies health policy and knowledge translation). Front row, left to right: Crystal Watson (recreational therapist), Bonita Squires (speech-language pathologist), Neda Alizadeh (occupational therapist).

Photo Credit: Daniel Abriel.

The Poetic Sequel: Get Working on Networking

The Poetic Sequel: Get Working on Networking

Is it enough to just lower my head into the wind?

Stand, alone, as the breeze streams through hair desperately pinned

Must I lean, strain, block out the din

Of expectations and writing and perfection so as to win



There are many attempting to break through the din like me

Who also want that sweet, sweet position as a clinical researcher who is free

To explore the questions that come to me

It’s time to get to know my fellow wind-breakers and them, me


Let truth be told,

One, I must know who is fighting the fight

I must listen to their stories, their needs, do for them what is right

I cannot push through a wind that is not their plight

Do I seek a truth that need not be told?


In fact,

Two, a researcher cannot act alone or she’s trapped

Into a solitary quest when so many are willing to interact

On similar thoughts and ideas, towards a common pact

At a time when teamwork is what earns the contract


It is true,

Three, others must know about me, like you

As you read of the journey I am mingling through

On the chance that you know of a post with a better view

Where all of our questions are the very ones I may pursue

After the dissertation is due


Those who have trod the ground before me

And broken the wind ahead of me

And look back to see me

Pushing through


Students and fellows,

Knowledge-seekers and gurus,

You with experiences lived, you who manage the crew

Share this journey with me, get to know me as I meet you

We must get working, on networking

For the real world to know, be known and break through.




Get Working on Networking

Get Working on Networking

This article was originally published on Speech-Language & Audiology Canada’s blog, Communiqué, on September 19th, 2016. It has been republished here with permission.

Part 3 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me. Read part 2 here.

By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)

Before I decided to start my PhD, I envisioned that doctoral studies would look something like what is often portrayed in the very funny PhD Comics: staring at a computer screen for hours at a time and an occasional meeting with a supervisor. It turns out that I was incredibly wrong, or at least I have been so far. I also need to get out and make connections with new people, a.k.a. ‘networking’.According to Isaiah Hankel, “In today’s economy and academic environment, networking with more people is not an option. It’s a must.“ Why is this?

1. To make research more relevant

There is a growing need to actively ensure that our research is relevant outside of academia as well as within academia (for more on this topic, see my last blog post, Lost in (Knowledge) Translation). In order to conduct relevant research, we need to collaborate across fields and professions to discover what administrators, educators, policymakers and clients are interested in. By attending a variety of conferences, talks, workshops and wine-and-cheese type events at the university and in the community, I have chanced upon several people whose ideas have helped me to redefine my study and even my future research program. Knowing what is currently relevant and needed also helps me make a stronger case for my research in funding applications.

2. So that I know about other researchers

Networking with others is allowing me to seek out interprofessional collaborations and find new perspectives on my work. When I chat with other researchers, working professionals, policymakers and community members, I become familiar with the people whom I can contact when I have questions, need support or would like to collaborate on a project. As a graduate student, I read a lot of literature and am becoming increasingly familiar with the names of researchers in my area of study. Seeing these experts speak about their research is not only helpful to better understand their findings, but is also motivating; it is inspiring to meet others who are passionately pursuing similar research questions.

3. So that other researchers know about me

On the flip side, if those other researchers are familiar with me, they will think of me if they have a project planned where they think I could be a good fit. They may even think of me for one of their colleagues’ projects. Several times in the last year, a new contact has met me and immediately referred me to a colleague or a friend as a potential contact.

If other researchers know about me, I may even find my dream job one day. This is an important motivation for meeting other like-minded people. In 2011, only 18.6% of Canadians with doctoral degrees were working as full-time university professors, the typical career goal of most doctoral students. If I decide that I want to work for a company or organization after I obtain my PhD, I must accept that my resume may be stacked in a pile with hundreds of other applicants with PhDs. All qualifications being equal, an applicant who is known to the hiring committee will get the job over one who is unknown.

Why so early in my PhD?

Some people may wonder why I am so focused on networking when I am only just beginning my second year of doctoral studies. The thing is, creating a solid network takes time. It takes years. I don’t know where I will end up working when I graduate. I could be conducting research within academia, industry, government, at a non-profit, in the health sector… I need time to develop connections in all of those areas. I can’t wait until the last year of my PhD to think about where I want to go next and who I need to know.

To use myself as an example, I am in the unique position of nurturing a hazy vision of a dream job that may or may not exist when I complete my PhD. I would like to work as a clinical researcher, also known as a clinician scientist. Furthermore, I would like to work with the small and spread out population of individuals who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. If I don’t start putting out the feelers now, I may never find a position where I can work clinically AND develop my research program, and potential employers may never find me. However, if I am known in my field, a position may even open up with me in mind. That can only happen if people know me and have faith in what I can offer to their organization or institution.

As a working clinician, you may be thinking about incorporating research into your practice or further developing the research that you have already begun. If that is the case, keep your eyes open for my next post; I will explore what it could look like to work as a clinical researcher where research and practice productively coexist.

Further Resources

For the most up-to-date tips on how to network as a graduate student, take a look at posts by Wajihah Mughal in RE-SPECT Science and Dr. Nana Lee in University Affairs.