While working as a speech and language therapist, Willemijn couldn’t ignore the questions that kept popping up in her mind about the underlying impairments she was treating on a day-to-day basis. In order to investigate her questions at a greater depth, she decided to embark on a PhD in the area and was able to secure a studentship at the University of Reading.
“My research focuses on language processing and communication after acquired brain injury, such as a stroke. I am investigating how a language impairment, called aphasia, affects someone’s ability to communicate in the real world, and what factors other than language influence this ability. A greater understanding of how communication is affected in people with aphasia, can inform the interventions speech and language therapists design for people with aphasia to help improve their ability to communicate and indirectly, maybe even improve their quality of life.”
The right supervisors
Willemijn identified supervisors at the University of Reading who had similar research interests to her, which made her confident it was the right place to carry out her research. As both her supervisors, Dr Lotte Meteyard and Dr Arpita Bose, are also speech and language therapists, it has been easy for Willemijn to discuss both the academic and clinical relevance of the research she is doing with them.
“I specifically chose Reading because of the research interests and background of my supervisors. Both of their research interests matched with the questions I was hoping to investigate. I discussed my ideas for a project before applying and their enthusiasm is what encouraged me to accept the position I was offered.”
A supportive research environment
Willemijn says the research environment in her department is enabling her to undertake the research that she’s passionate about and to discover the academic world as an early career researcher which she is thoroughly enjoying. Meeting other PhD students has enriched Willemijn’s experience at Reading as her peers have provided her with a supportive academic community, while they have also become good friends.
Willemijn has also found the Graduate School to be supportive of her development as an early career researcher and she appreciates the many opportunities it provides for her to acquire new skills and to meet other PhD students from a wide variety of different academic areas.
Willemijn's advice for new doctoral researchers
“Make sure you get to know other PhD students. If not in your office, then go out and find them elsewhere on campus. You’ll discover everyone is going through the same process. Doing a PhD can be lonely. Having people around you to share the experience with can make it a much more enjoyable experience”
After completion of her PhD, Willemijn wants to continue doing applied research on aphasia in combination with working as a speech and language therapist.
Explaining her research in just three minutes
Willemijn was the winner of the Three Minute Thesis Competition at the 2018 Doctoral Research Conference. You can watch her winning presentation below.