Helen Gray-Bauer, Class of 2019, MGH Institute of Health Professions

The past two months, I have worked as an intern with the Cognitive Neuroscience Group at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. Under the direction of Dr. Lauryn Zipse, I have learned about aphasic populations and worked in data analysis and interpretation of music-based techniques of speech-language pathology.-

I secured this position in a slightly unusual way in that I didn’t use a job board or networking site to connect with my supervisor. Instead, I had sent some cold-call emails to music cognition labs asking about job openings for a recent graduate. The initial labs I contacted did not have any current openings; however, one of those primary investigators put me in contact with Dr. Lauryn Zipse. Unfortunately, Dr. Zipse did not have any paid intern positions open, but she was willing to sponsor an unpaid internship provided I had proof of outside funding. I was enormously excited since Dr. Zipse works in the area in which I hope to continue my education (specifically aphasia and music-based therapies). It can be scary cold-calling a potential employer or professional connection, but it is extremely effective and shows genuine interest and motivation. 

Images of the campus and surrounding area in the historic Charlestown Navy Yard where the MGH Institute of Health Professions is located.

This was my first time interacting with the aphasic population, which was an incredibly eye-opening experience. Those suffering from aphasia have lost the ability to produce or understand speech and language due to trauma, such as a stroke or brain injury. Aphasia is a debilitating, and often isolating, cognitive disorder as those suffering have lost the tools required to communicate. Because of this, they may have difficulty caring for themselves or socializing, among other challenges. However, speech-language therapy is often very effective in re-learning language for those with aphasia. 

As mentioned, the project that I worked on looked at aspects of music and differences in processing between healthy and clinical populations. My work was in the later stages of the research and focused on data analysis and interpretation. I was given sheets of data and responses and was responsible for compiling and interpreting each participant’s results and analyzing it to determine any significant findings that would inform clinical practices or overall beat processing mechanisms. This was both overwhelming and very exciting because it offered a chance to push myself and practice my understanding of statistics and abilities of understanding the significance of the numbers.

A nice bonus of this research internship was the opportunity to observe therapy sessions. MGH offers an intensive program for those suffering from aphasia. This program includes speech-language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, as well as other wellness and therapy practices. This was a really interesting opportunity because it really showed how frustrating aphasia can be and also how effective therapy can be when the therapist and patient work together. I was also allowed to participate in a speech support group. This group helps create community amongst those with aphasia and gives them an opportunity to implement their therapeutic techniques and work in a realistic setting.

This experience has helped shape my understanding of language development and therapy.  It has also helped clarify my next steps in my education and what path to take in order to reach my long-term goals of becoming a language clinician implementing music-based therapies.

— As a brief update, I have continued to work with Dr. Zipse to finish and finalize aspects of the experiment and prepare a manuscript. I wanted to take this opportunity to emphasize that my time with MGH-IHP has provided a very important and useful springboard from which I can move into a professional role within healthcare research. I am now moving officially to a different professional position, but will value and continue to grow and use my professional network set up through my work with Dr. Zipse.

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