Science Alumni Spotlight: Jan Edwards

March 26, 2019

two people standing holding a plaque

Affiliations: University of Maryland, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences

Professor Edwards received the distinguished alumni award at the Graduate Center Program in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Annual Alumni Event on March 15, 2019. She sat down with Thorfun Gehebe, a current student in the program to discuss her research interests, reminisce on her experiences at the Graduate Center, and provide valuable advice for current and prospective students.

What is your academic background?

When I was in the program, my area was speech production and Kathy Harris was my advisor. My dissertation was on modeling of jaw movement. People used to talk about jaw movement in terms of just going up and down and I wanted to model the fact that the jaw also turns on an axis by using a three-dimensional model of the jaw. After that, I did some work on phonological development and phonological disorders and then I began to focus on language development and language disorders. I had a grant with Peg Lahey who had been at the Graduate Center and then Emerson. The grant was on lexical processing in children with specific language impairment (SLI), now termed developmental language disorder (DLD). Then in the last 10 years, I have focused on language processing in children with typical development and children with autism spectrum disorders. My current research focuses primarily on the relationship between dialect mismatch and literacy acquisition.

What are your current research areas?

I currently have a grant for looking at whether teaching children to dialect shift in kindergarten and first grade improves their reading scores. I'm also doing some research looking at lexical processing in children with cochlear implants.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments?

I would say training students. Benjamin R. Munson and Shurita Thomas-Tate were both students of mine. Ben Munson is now professor and chair at the University of Minnesota and Shurita is a professor at Missouri State. Shurita is currently running for school board besides being a professor. I think that's really awesome. She's always been interested in work in the community as well as work in academics.

What are some of your most memorable experiences at the Graduate Center?

I remember waiting for the elevators. When the Graduate Center was on 42nd street, it always took a very long time for the elevators to come and you couldn’t take the stairs because the doors didn’t open out on any floors except the first floor. The Speech and Hearing Department was on the 9th floor and the restaurant/bar was on the 18th floor. I also have many fond memories of my advisor,  Kathy Harris, but everyone has good Kathy Harris stories!

What advice would you give to current or prospective students in the program?

That life is long. It is really hard to have a work-life balance, but the way it is right now isn't the way it is going to be in five years or ten years. Things change. When I had little kids, I thought I was going to be the only person who on her deathbed said, I wish I'd spent more time at the office because I always chose my kids over work, but then they grew up. Now I'm working a lot more than I did when I had little kids. Just get done what you need to get done that day. There is time for everything, but you can't do everything at the same time.