Danika Pfeiffer, current Speech-Language Pathology student decides to move past master's to earn doctorate


SUMMARY: Aspiring professor, Danika Pfeiffer, plans to earn doctoral degree after first year in Speech-Language Pathology master's program.

Danika Pheiffer photo

By Pamela Bell, The Graduate School

As a first-year student in the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) Master’s program at JMU, Danika Pfeiffer wasn’t sure if she wanted to simply get a master’s degree or go on to pursue a doctoral degree, but by the end of her first semester, she had decided to go for the doctorate.

When she attended the Open House to learn more about the program, she was impressed with a professor who would turn out to have a great deal of influence on her future direction. Dr. Carol Dudding was pivotal in Danika’s decision-making process. She provided priceless guidance in networking and research information as her advisor and professor. As a result, Danika decided that “now” would be the best time to transition from the master’s track, to the doctoral degree.

Danika enjoys the one-on-one aspect of clinical SLP, and teaching as a graduate assistant, but as a doctoral student, she now adds research to her credentials. Working with preschoolers twice a week gives her real-world experience which allows her to better implement her lesson plans, when teaching college level classes. Her research has given her insight into a problem that exists in the Communication Disorders field; the lack of collaborative training collegiate students receive prior to working as clinicians. As an aspiring professor, she would like to solve this problem by designing guidelines and interventions to use during graduate training in programs for Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Special Education, etc.

She has taken advantage of some opportunities The Graduate School has to offer, by applying for travel grants and entering the Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT).
Awarded travel grants for her successful efforts has allowed her to travel to highly regarded conferences, such as; The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Annual Convention and the Collaborating Across Borders V Conference in Banff, Alberta. She’s presented posters and oral seminars, gained valuable experience, and networked with other researchers. She was fortunate to meet a chairperson at the ASHA conference, who shares research interests and who invited her to be on the review board for next year’s convention.

The 3MT Competition was a perfect opportunity for Danika to gather the information from all aspects of her research, combine them in a cohesive way, and explain their importance in easily understood terms. Each presentation is independently scored by a panel of expert judges, along four key dimensions; Communication, Comprehension, Content and Engagement. Danika finished third place in this competition, which came at a great time for her, as she was preparing to present her prospectus and will be applying for jobs in the near future.

When asked what her favorite aspect of this field is, she reflected on how the scope of the practice is broad and there is a wide variety of communication disorders. She loves that she can work with all age ranges and identify the disorders early when working with preschoolers. She also enjoys the challenge of keeping up-to-date on research and taking new courses yearly.

Danika gives much credit to Dr. Carol Dudding and Dr. Stacey Pavelko, the cochairmen of her dissertation committee, for their dedication to mentorship and for always being just an email away. They provided her with new ideas, opportunities, introductions to students and staff on campus, and constant support. She is also happy she chose James Madison University due to the opportunity for graduate students to apply to the Master’s to Ph.D. bridge program within Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Back to Top

Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2020

Related Articles