Meet Speech Pathology PhD student Georgina Johnson

Passionate in helping children with speech and fluency disorders, she shares her journey working in paediatric Speech Pathology and her experience in undertaking a PhD.

Georgina Johnson began her studies at the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in Psychology and French. After graduating from her Master of Speech Pathology in 2016, she worked for the Department of Education in the Student Support Services team. She continued to work clinically in private practices until 2020 when she began her PhD.

Her decision to study Speech Pathology arose from her interest in brain development and communication. Taking a subject in Deafness and Communication during her Undergraduate study piqued her interest. She began work experience, and while shadowing a speech pathologist, gained first-hand experience of the clinical working environment. Her enjoyment of this work led to continued studies and later a profession.

Photograph of Georgina Johnson  “After having worked a few years in the field, I found that I did enjoy the clinic side, but I definitely wanted to explore research as a career path,” explained Johnson. “Working clinically was an important steppingstone towards starting a PhD and realising areas of the field to which I could make a meaningful contribution. From my experience gained from working in schools, in clinics, and with the Stuttering Association for the Young Australia (SAY: Australia) I noticed there were questions I wanted to answer about stuttering treatment for this age group. I decided that I could use my PhD as a way to answer some of these questions. I prefer to wear a dual hat - I like to work clinically and use that knowledge to inform my research.”

Johnson’s PhD supervisors are Dr Elaina Kefalianos from the University of Melbourne and Prof Mark Onslow from the University of Technology Sydney. Her PhD topic aims to expand the breadth of the Lidcombe Stuttering Intervention Program , which was developed for preschool children, by conducting a trial of this program with a school-age cohort.

“The program involves training parents to provide verbal contingencies to help their children in everyday speaking situations,” Johnson elaborated. “This aims to promote stutter-free speech for children using parent reinforcement of desired behaviour as a major driver. Stage 1 of the treatment concludes when children attain zero or near-zero stuttering. Stage 2 focuses on maintaining speech fluency. This monitoring second phase lasts for around a year.”

Johnson explained that her PhD research project will present the intervention completely via telepractice and webcam.

“It has been shown that this method is non-inferior to standard, in-clinic methods. Webcam treatment for stuttering has many advantages, including cost efficiency and the possibility to include children at a national level.”

So, what were Johnson’s motivations for studying a PhD?

“I’ve always been focused on learning as much as I can and trying to apply it,” she said. “I’m also a person who loves to have a big task and break it down, working through a plan to get to the end. Doing a PhD seemed like something that would not only open doors but also be a challenge that I could take on and work towards. Even now that I am halfway through my PhD, I continue to learn and expand my knowledge in new and unexpected ways.”

For Johnson, working in a clinic was very valuable before starting a PhD.

“I think working clinically was important to me to help inform my PhD topic and to see its current relevance and application value in real life.”

She also emphasised the importance of networking at every stage of your career.

“Think long-term when you are doing the Masters course to keep all options available to you. You never know how things will change and what you might be interested in doing in the future. Networking early and keeping in touch with your lecturers and Masters thesis supervisor is a great example of how you can keep such doors open for a future PhD.”