Jessica Richardson, an associate professor of speech and hearing science at the University of New Mexico, was awarded a $2 million grant in November 2021 funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, a sect of the National Institutes of Health.
This five-year grant will be used to study and improve the treatment of aphasia, a condition in which those affected lose the ability to communicate or understand language, in stroke patients. This research is focused on combining traditional language therapy techniques with transcranial stimulation, a noninvasive electrical brain stimulation thought to help “shape” brain activity, to enhance language recovery outcomes.
“The biggest high (in the grant proposal process) is having the funds to carry out a project that I feel will have a real impact in the everyday lives of people with aphasia in my lifetime,” Richardson wrote to the Daily Lobo.
Richardson attributes her initial interest in speech language pathology, particularly aphasia, to her experiences as a child watching her grandfather recover from a stroke. Some of the most rewarding moments in her work are now helping people regain their independence and identity following the life-changing trauma of experiencing a stroke.
“We are asking a lot from our participants: we are asking them to be vulnerable and share pieces of themselves and their lives with us; we are asking for their time and their commitment,” Richardson wrote. “Yes, we try to give back whenever we can, but even so, it’s a big ask, and I always strive to honor that.”
Honey Hubbard met Richardson in 2010 when Hubbard was in graduate school at the University of South Carolina — the same time Richardson was completing a fellowship there. She now works as the project manager on Richardson’s grant.
Hubbard attests to the sheer difficulty and competitiveness of obtaining a grant like this. A grant of this caliber is “career-altering” — not only will it provide Richardson with the means to conduct important clinical research, but it will greatly widen her name recognition in the research community and provide a “foot in the door” for her.
“I think that a lot of what got her to this position is her can-do attitude and her unwillingness to accept failures or rejections as the final line,” Hubbard said. “She’s got a lot of perseverance.”
Richardson said that particularly as a woman in the science, technology, engineering and math fields of research, it is especially commonplace to encounter many rejections in the field. Richardson assured that although there are additional difficulties particular to women in the scientific field, it is possible to achieve great things.
“(As a woman in STEM), you may find it hard to be heard, and you may be viewed harshly for ensuring you are heard. Make sure you are heard anyway. Look for allies – they exist. Look for opportunities to educate, and most importantly, look to amplify the voices of others who may also be having difficulty being heard because of their race, ethnicity, gender diversity, etc.,” Richardson wrote.
Hubbard said one of Richardson’s greatest strengths is her immense talent for translating scientific research from the smallest, most microscopic level, all the way into clinical application and improving the tools that the field uses to help clinicians improve the lives of more patients.
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“I think that she has this huge breadth of scientific resources that she is able to kind of channel into something that will make not just a meaningful change in a certain behavior, but hopefully a meaningful change at the level of that person’s ability to participate in their community,” Hubbard said.
Richardson said a number of brilliant mentors helped her to get to the point she is at today, and Hubbard remarked on Richardson’s exceptional abilities as a mentor herself to members of her research teams and her students.
“She has this way of elevating the people around her so that they’re on her level rather than talking down … Even with students, I think she brings them along for the ride,” Hubbard said. “It’s very much more of an invitation to join her at the table rather than to lecture from a podium.”
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle