Professor Janet Beck reminisces about QMU’s development of speech and language therapy, and looks towards its future!

Professor Janet Beck is the Head of QMU's Speech and Hearing Sciences Division. She obtained a degree in Genetics but happened upon a two-year graduate diploma in speech and language therapy (SLT) offered by the then, Queen Margaret College.

After graduating, she joined a research project at The University of Edinburgh looking at the development of clinical tools for analysing voice. During that period, she completed a PhD before returning to QMU in 1990 - this time as a member of the lecturing team. She’s been with the University ever since.

Professor Beck was awarded a fellowship of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in 2008 and became head of the division in 2010. "When I started at QMU, SLT was headed up by Moira McGovern - she was one of the first professors in the field. At a time when research in the area wasn't a big thing, she insisted on there being a speech lab on campus, along with a technician to support research. So that aspect of SLT was embedded in our practice from the inception of the subject at QMU. Moira was always open to people who had come to the subject from other disciplines.

"That spirit lives on at the University today, with a postgraduate pre-registration qualification available to graduates wishing to move into the field. QMU's Speech and Language Therapy course soon became one of the UK's earliest degree programmes in the area: "My first year at the University was also the first time that linguistics had been part of the national curriculum for speech and language therapists."

When it comes to significant milestones within the department's history, being one of the first speech and language therapy departments to be awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2002 stands out for Janet:

"It was specifically for the way that we had integrated research, clinical practice and education. It was recognition that QMU’s research had generated new types of clinical assessment, which had then fed into clinical practice and had worldwide impact. Students were able to benefit, not just from staff input into their programmes, but from getting involved in aspects of research - it was a joined-up approach, and a key area highlighted in our award application was EPG (electropalatography)."
Professor Janet Beck, Head of QMU's Speech and Hearing Sciences Division


Another strand featured here was vocal profile analysis, which is now a big part of The Voice Distillery - a voiceover casting initiative that’s mission is to ensure all voices are heard in the ever-growing voiceover industry. Looking towards the future of speech and language therapy, Professor Beck is aware of the pressure to ensure students are educated for the profession as it is now, whilst also preparing them so they can lead positive changes as the profession advances.

She said: "In an ideal world, we would be equipping them for a career in a profession that doesn't yet exist. Due to the pandemic, there have been shifts in the way we think about education, but also changes within the field itself. It's not that the technology hasn't been around until now, or that we haven't been thinking about things like telehealth - it's more that the take-up hadn't been substantial until recent times forced a change in delivery mode.”

Professor Beck feels that there are real positives to this sudden progression:

"We've been thinking for a while about how to utilise mobile technology to monitor people's speech from their own homes, and then use that to deliver homebased therapy. The pandemic has pushed current practices to adapt, and this will allow us to make a more naturalistic assessment of what communication is like in everyday life."

"We've been thinking for a while about how to utilise mobile technology to monitor people's speech from their own homes, and then use that to deliver homebased therapy. The pandemic has pushed current practices to adapt, and this will allow us to make a more naturalistic assessment of what communication is like in everyday life.

"Another key area is looking more creatively at how we deliver practice-based education for students and how we use simulations of clinical activities - our staff have done a huge amount of work in developing these this year. They don't replicate clinical practice, but they do go a long way towards replicating some clinical decision-making associated with practical tasks that previously would have been part of the placement experience."