The student voice: Joining up the dots

You may have read the recent article on the protocol for the BCPPA pilot study (my last blog post) and will know that we currently have a number of student speech and language therpaists (SLTs) involved in the project. In total I am supervising four SLT student projects in the 2nd year of their Masters course. Each of these students will be writing a blog post about their experiences for my blog and taking over the @BCPPAphasia twitter handle for a short period. We want to share the voices of the next generation of SLTs and encourage the use of social media as a platform for accessing CPD and professional networking.

Our first star student contributor is Jessica Cunningham @jmayc23

Okay, so here goes.

Blogging, social media, putting myself “out there” – whatever you want to call it- is not something that comes naturally to me. And in all honesty, when our supervisor Anna, asked us to each write a small guest blog for her, my heart well and truly sank. However, in a recent project meeting, Anna also said “it’s like a conversation, think of it like explaining your ideas to your mum”. Now that is something that does come naturally to me and, since starting the MSc in speech and language sciences at UCL over a year ago, has been an almost daily occurrence. Whether I’m excited about a new placement, crying out of sheer exhaustion or calling on my first day to say “what am I doing and how did I get here, I feel like a complete fraud!”, Mum has heard it all. To sum it up, they weren’t lying when they said this course would test you and at times it’s often easy to forget why you’re doing it all. Yet having the support of my Mum to patiently listen as I think aloud my worries and ideas has, by and large, kept me on track and focused on the end goal. However, since joining Anna and Suzanne on the BCPPA project, I’m not only helped to remember why I’m here and where I want to go, but also how I actually got here in the first place.

Before I applied for the MSc, before I had even heard of speech and language therapy (embarrassingly not that long ago), I started working as a carer for a man with primary progressive aphasia (PPA) called Peter. He had almost no verbal communication at all and over the first few months of working with him I had seen the many ways that often perfectly well-meaning people had really struggled to cope with his obvious communication difficulties. Instead of talking to him they talked over him to the nearest relative or carer. When I was invited by Peter and his wife to attend a course for people with PPA run by speech and language therapists (SLTs)at a local charity called Dyscover, I was immediately struck by how differently the SLTs there were able to both effectively and respectfully communicate with Peter. To say I was simply impressed would be a massive understatement, and even today, I am still trying to emulate the same compassion and skill that I saw in my first encounter with SLTs.

The therapists at Dyscover were offering a very similar type of conversation therapy to the BCPPA program, but in a group setting. Having had such a positive initial experience of this form of therapy and seeing first-hand the difference it can make to peoples’ most important relationships; I was thrilled to hear that BCPPA was one of the projects we could choose to work on as part of our MSc dissertation. In some ways, starting this project (and this course) feels almost serendipitous, after arriving at speech and language therapy in a rather roundabout way and coming from multiple and seemingly unrelated backgrounds. Yet, I also think, that in being able to keep talking openly about my ideas and reflecting on my interests, albeit often only to my Mum, has helped me to get to where I am today. Even in times of acute self-doubt (and there have been many!), I have found that these daily outpourings have given me the impetus to keep exploring what interests me most and “join up the dots” as my Mum calls it.

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