Interview with a Researcher – Miriam van Mersbergen, PhD, CCC-SLP

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Please give a brief background:  (Employment, interests of study, special honors/certifications etc.)

Taken from Dr. van Mersbergen’s bio at University of Memphis:

“Miriam van Mersbergen is Assistant Professor in the School of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at the University of Memphis and directs the Voice Emotion and Cognition Laboratory, which uses a multidimensional approach to investigate how emotional experience and cognitive factors influence vocalization and communication. 

Dr. van Mersbergen research areas include psychological influences in voice production with an emphasis in emotional and cognitive processes. She uses psychometric, behavioral, and psychophysiological methods to investigate influences of affect and cognition on voice production. Some of the goals of her research are to gain a better understanding of typical emotional reaction to vocal errors (i.e., feedback errors) and to assess if those with certain types of voice disorders respond differently to those errors. In addition, she continues to develop clinical measures; specifically she investigates a way to measure voice effort that to be employed in voice clinics.”

If you could conduct any research study on any topic/issue (meaning money/funding, time, subjects, IRB etc. are NOT a problem!), what would it be? In other words, what’s your dream study?!

I would like to travel around the world and research the role of the voice in as many cultures as I could.  What is a beautiful voice in that culture? Who is expected to use their voice – who is expected to be quiet and why?  What is the voice’s role in the daily life of people in that culture? 😯😍

If you could change one thing about having to do research, what would it be?

Dealing with instrumentation and software challenges!

What’s one thing you think clinicians should be excited about in our field regarding research?

I think our field can be really proud of the commitment we have towards creating a solid theoretical foundation (which was developed through years of research), and towards constantly pushing the boundaries of what we know about communication, breathing, and swallowing. 

We can be confident in our clinical practice, defend our assessment and therapy, and most importantly advocate for our patients because of our strong commitment to research. In most places I have worked, I have seen speech-language pathologists and audiologists bring our research to hospital administrators, physicians, nurses, etc . . . to support our clinical decision making. That is a gift.🥰

What’s one thing you think researchers should be excited about in our field regarding clinical practice?

I think the most exciting part of the research process is when you spend a few years developing a body of knowledge and see that knowledge integrated into practice patterns. It doesn’t matter if your research is treatment focused or if you are pushing the boundaries of what we know in our field, it is exciting to see how clinicians can take that knowledge and find creative ways to apply it.

I feel the Results section of studies can be the most misunderstood or difficult to navigate through, what tidbits or tips/tricks can you share to help clinicians process these sections?

Focus on the figures and tables, most of what is important is distilled in those. Continue to practice your skills at reading graphs and figures. Once you have looked at them, then go back and read the section to see if the data are interpreted in the way that you think they are.😉

Could you pick one technical-jargon (e.g. “linear regression” “ANOVA” “two-tailed test” etc.)  to explain in a relatable and easily understandable way (real-life, simple examples get bonus points😉)?

Statistical Power” is the notion that you have enough people in your study to confidently say that if you do not see something, it really isn’t there.  This means that if a study with enough power didn’t reveal a particular finding there is a high likelihood that the finding was not there.   

What’s the one thing you think is important for practicing clinicians to know/understand when reading research?

That research doesn’t answer all your questions directly! You still have to bring your brain to the process, see if the information you glean can be generalized to your specific question or scenario; and if not, can it be modified to fit your question better? 

Individual research studies ask very limited questions in a controlled fashion (or hopefully they are controlled). If you truly want to find out the answer to a question, you have to read more than one article, get a sense of how researchers in that area view the problem, see if you look at the problem similarly, and/or see what the outstanding questions may be. 

The exciting thing about research is that there are always more questions than answers.  If you approach research as if it is a strict guidebook, be prepared to get lost😬.  If you approach research as a way to identify what is a road and what isn’t, then you have a helpful tool in finding the most efficient path to answer your problem – but you still need to find your way.😉

What’s one thing you think is important for researchers to know/understand about clinical practice?

It is messy and tiring – if you are doing it right.😎

What is something you believe researchers could do better to #bridgethegap?

Communicate better what their research does and does not do.  I think as researchers we are always under the gun to justify our findings (so that they get published) or exaggerate our findings (so that we get funding) that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that one research paper is just that – one piece of the puzzle. If we could communicate that more clearly to clinicians, I think they might better understand how research can and cannot help them and they might realize their role in the interpretation of data.

What is something you believe clinicians could do better to #bridgethegap?

Stop expecting researchers to answer your questions for you. Answer your own questions. I know this sounds really snarky, but I started noticing this attitude even when I was a clinician – before I was a researcher. I kept hearing clinicians complain that researchers needed to research this or that aspect of voicing. Well, here is the deal, researchers are answering their own questions. You really can’t do decent research answering someone else’s question. Research is hard – like playing the long game. You won’t stick with it unless you have curiosity and drive. You just don’t get that drive answering someone else’s question.🤓

Understand the respective roles of research and of clinic in the big picture. There is a picture out there and both clinician and researcher partake in unveiling that picture. Research creates little puzzle pieces, one after another with small detail and narrow perspective. One researcher might be working on creating the pieces for the sky, another one for the forest. 

The clinician looks at those puzzle pieces and finds the place for those pieces. They both have to decide what goes into the picture, but the clinicians are the ones who see the overall picture and ultimately make sense of the those little seemingly unrelated puzzle pieces.

[Me:] Guys…..

Can you provide your contact email if clinicians want to reach out? (Honors system for everyone to be respectful of your time)

People can reach out to me at

I personally want to thank Dr. van Mersbergen for her help when attempting to get my toes wet in research and for her truly insightful and helpful responses to help us clinicians!❤️❤️

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