Meet out Students - Hannah Korrel
Finding a ‘gap’ or ‘niche’ in the literature is generally how most students pick their thesis topics. With the rush to ‘start’, it can sometimes feel like a process driven by pragmatics instead of passion. Maybe you’ve been given the advice ‘Don’t try to change the world with your thesis; just pick something “feasible” for the timeframe’. This is critically important advice. But 3 years later, I’m here to tell you, you can have your feasibility cake, and eat it with a side of passion too!
I am a Clinical Neuropsychology Masters/PhD student looking at children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the unusually high comorbidity with language disorders. Despite everything we know about ADHD (which is a lot!), a gap exists in the literature when it comes to kids with this specific comorbidity.
Doubts pop up like ‘This isn’t important’, ‘This will make no difference’, and the always popular, ‘Doesn’t everybody already know all this!?’
At times, I have found it hard to see the ‘bigger picture’ of my research. After three years of studying my niche area, going over and over the same literature, findings start to sound obvious. Doubts pop up like ‘This isn’t important’, ‘This will make no difference’, and the always popular, ‘Doesn’t everybody already know all this!?’
I am extremely fortunate to have joining me on this project world-renowned supervisors, Dr Emma Sciberras, Dr Tim Silk and Professor Vicki Anderson. My supervisors have been extremely supportive at keeping me going. While I was stuck in ‘tunnel-vision’ mode, head-down and chained to a desk, they got me to sit up and interact with the rest of the world. They always told me my research was important, and showed me just how important it is by getting me involved with international researchers like the famous Dr Katy Mueller, author of a critical paper to my topic (Mueller & Tomblin 2012). They also encouraged me to present my work at domestic and international conferences, both in and outside of my neuropsychological discipline.
My supervisors recommended my first conference, an ADHD conference of world leaders in ADHD research held in Berlin, Germany. To my great surprise, only two other researchers at the conference were looking at language in ADHD!
For my next conference, Dr Mueller recommended the American Speech & Hearing Association’s (ASHA) annual conference in Philadelphia, USA. This conference is the largest gathering of speech and language pathologists (SLPs) in the world. There was 1600 SLP’s in attendance, and one neuropsychologist - me!
I admit to feeling a bit unsure about presenting. Would SLPs want to hear what I’ve got to say about language in ADHD?
Prior to the conference, I had written together with Dr Mueller and my supervisors, the first systematic/meta-analysis on the prevalence and types of language problems seen in ADHD. I admit to feeling a bit unsure about presenting. Would SLPs want to hear what I’ve got to say about language in ADHD?
Turns out, they absolutely did!
The conference audience were eager to discuss the children in their language disorder clinics who often had significant issues paying attention. Leaders in the language field, like Dr Bruce Tomblin and Dr William Barbaresi, informed me of the overwhelming need for prevalence studies in language research. Even though on-the-ground clinicians are aware that many of their clients with language difficulties also have poor attention, there is a lack of an evidence-base in this area to quantify this connection.
Finding the ‘right’ audience helped me to fully appreciate the ‘big picture’ of my research
Finding the ‘right’ audience helped me to fully appreciate the ‘big picture’ of my research, and awoke my passion for helping children with ADHD. I have now realised that my niche area represents real kids, who are slipping through the cracks, who will continue to go undetected until more awareness of the language-ADHD comorbidity is raised.
Turns out the review that I thought no one would be interested in, will help to raise that awareness.Here are a few words of advice to my fellow researchers who are yet to find the ‘bigger picture’ of their research:
Tip 1: Attend as many conferences as you can, so you can to find your fellow ‘nichers’
This may mean interacting with disciplines outside of your own and/or talking to on-the-ground clinicians (i.e., talking to non-researchers as well as other researchers). Remember, there are people out there who are also interested in your niche area!
Tip 2: Don’t underestimate the potential of your research
When the doubts creep in, remember - change requires evidence, which requires research, which requires thesis students like you and me. You might not be able to see the potential of your research in your first, or even second year. Give yourself time for this to unfold (it took me three years to get here), and believe in the potential of your research contribution. Always remember: your research does make a difference!
About Hannah Korrel
Hannah’s systematic/meta-analysis is about to be published in a top journal, the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (Impact factor: 6.6). It is expected to attract a lot of attention to the area.
Korrel, H., Mueller, K.L., Silk, T., Anderson, V., and Sciberras, E. Language Problems in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Meta-analytic Review. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry; In Press.