Dr Anna Volkmer
Speech and Language Therapist / NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow
Place of work / study:
Language and Cognition, Department of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London
Area of Research:
Speech and language therapy interventions in language led dementia
Tell us about your career path.
I graduated from my undergraduate degree at UCL as a speech and language therapist back in 2002. From there I started working in the NHS with adults with acquired neurological disorders, such as stroke, brain injury and dementia. I completed a MSc in Neurorehabilitation, at Flinder University in 2009, when I was working over in Melbourne, Australia. Around this point I was working with people with dementia, particularly language led dementia (primary progressive aphasia). I returned to the UK just after this and wrote a book on the role of speech and language therapists in dementia. I realised how little research had been done in this area. Thus inspired me to apply for funding to pursue an academic career in order to contribute to this area of research. I started my NIHR funded Doctoral Research Fellowship in 2015, completing my part time PhD in 2000. I returned to part time clinical work in 2019, alongside the end of my PhD. I now continue to work clinical as a speech and language therapist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. I also work as a senior teaching fellow, teaching speech and language therapy students at UCL and I have recently started a NIHR Development Skills Enhancement Award to continue developing my PhD research.
What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on developing interventions for people with language led dementia, primary progressive aphasia. I am particularly interested in conversation between a person and those around them. During my PhD research project I developed a communication partner training intervention, to be delivered by a speech and language therapist. This involves identifying barriers and facilitators in conversations, and supporting people to reduce barriers and improve facilitators to improve the flow of conversation.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to embark on a career in dementia research?
Do not be concerned about not having the skills to do research, if you have ideas and you are passionate about research, this is more valuable than many other things. You can learn statistics, or ask someone to help you with the, but you cannot learn to have a good idea.
What are the best bits about being an ECR?
The exciting conversations I have with lots of researchers, the possibility and potential of developing research ideas. The fact that the research can actually contribute to the care that people with dementia receive. That we can have a big impact!
What do you see as the main challenges?
I find one of the biggest challenges, as many others do, to be the difficulty in getting “permanent” positions. In other job roles there is little likelihood of having huge gaps between awards or grants, whilst in research it is incredibly difficult to find jobs that provide the stability we need.
What do you write about?
I write about all things clinical-academic, speech, language and communication, as well as some other bits and pieces.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself:
I was voted scariest speech and language therapist in my undergraduate speech and language therapy class.
Why did you choose to work in dementia?
I work in dementia, because so many people with this diagnosis have communication difficulties that impact on their daily living. People often comment on the importance of communication in their lives, and how this impacts on their quality of life and their relationships. And I believe that speech and language therapists can have a significant impact in maintaining these relationships and the quality of people’s lives, as well as their significant others.