Shari B. Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP

I was drawn to Shari Robertson’s (speech) path after reading a recent interview within The January issue of The ASHA Leader. Shari commented on her impressive, dynamic, and fascinating journey with the simple acknowledgment: “I like to do different things”. From reading the article, it was clear that Dr. Robertson has a passion for connecting with ASHA members and fostering leadership development within our field. When she agreed to be featured on the blog, I was THRILLED.

Shari started out as a school-based SLP in Wisconsin, where she worked for 18 years. After returning to school to earn her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she moved on to become a professor, then Dean’s Associate, and then the Provost’s Associate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). As she climbed the professional ladder through a range of leadership positions, Shari focused on fostering student leadership, developing university-wide measurable learning outcomes, and remaining connected to our discipline by teaching SLP courses in her department.

Beyond this, Shari owns several companies, including a publishing company that creates children’s literature as well as clinical materials written by and for audiologists and SLPs. She is passionate about language and literacy and travels the country lecturing on topics including: phonology, literacy, time and stress management, leadership, and advocacy.

Shari’s (speech) path has allowed her to flourish as a clinician, business owner, professor, public speaker, author, University leader, and even owner of a chocolate shop!! (This was one of my favorite fun facts about her). And, as if this wasn’t enough, Shari started her term as President of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) in January.

I am beyond excited to see how Shari will move our professional organization forward as our leader. Her path is truly less traveled, and her resilience and passion an inspiration.

Set personal goals!  If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?   We write lesson plans and IEPs for others, but many SLPs don’t take time to identify their OWN goals once they finish grad school. “

– Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP

The Interview

  1. What advice would you give to a new graduate who is about to start their clinical fellowship (CF)? 

I can’t overstate the importance of finding and maintaining personal balance. Grad School is a life-changing, but in some ways a life-stealing, experience.  In a very short amount of time, you must acquire the knowledge base, clinical skills, and professional competencies needed to provide appropriate services across a broad spectrum of communication disorders to people of all ages and ability levels.  Students often put everything in their life on “hold” until they graduate and find a job.  But, life isn’t about being perfect, or finishing at the top of the class, or having a perfect GPA.  Life is for living.  It is critical that you take time to do just that.  It will make you a better SLP (or anything else you aspire to be!) and you deserve it.

P.S.  I feel so strongly about the importance of managing time and stress, that I wrote a book specifically for SLPs and Audiologists called I Used to Have a Handle on Life, But it Broke:  A Light-Hearted Guide to Serious Stress Management.  

2. What is one belief, habit or routine that has significantly impacted your life?

Set personal goals!  If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?   We write lesson plans and IEPs for others, but many SLPs don’t take time to identify their OWN goals once they finish grad school.  One of the activities I always have participants do in my seminars on time and stress management is to create their to do list. Then, I ask them to identify which items on their lists are there because they want to do them versus because someone else put them there.  Most people realize that the vast majority of items on “their” to-do list are actually put there by, or for the benefit of, someone else (e.g., write assessment reports, attend IEP meetings, update billing records).  That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, but typically, they find there are few, or even no tasks, to support their personal development and long-term goals – the things that make you feel happy and fulfilled.

We are the CEOs of our lives, but we often don’t take that responsibility seriously.   When our actions are dictated solely by the wants and needs of others, by default, we let others choose our goals.  This can lead to stress, burnout, and a sense of being unfulfilled or unappreciated. You should be able to identify and verbalize your goal(s) to others, including how you will know when they have been accomplished.  The key to getting what you want, to having a fulfilling life, to feeling less stressed is to identify what you want to accomplish – and then do it

3. Where did you complete your CF? How does the career path you’ve traveled differ from the path you imagined as a new grad?

 My CF was in a public school in West Bend, WI. I did not really expect to work with children, but the only job available in the town when my new husband and I had recently moved for his job was with the schools.   Things were a little less structured then, but my supervisor, Sue DeChant, and I did connect regularly. It was wonderful to have a trusted mentor nearby – someone  I could ask what probably seemed a long list foolish questions. But, she never made me feel foolish!  I was, and am still, incredibly grateful for her guidance.  I stayed on in that district for nearly 20 years, eventually assuming the leadership position for the speech-language and early childhood programs before moving on to academia.  The foundation of knowledge I acquired while I worked in the schools is what I draw upon now as I speak and write for national and internationally audiences. 

4. What book do you most frequently recommend? Is there a book that has greatly impacted how you think?

This is a tough one as I am a voracious reader and devour books from any number of genres.  I also cop to a certain amount of professional ADD so my bookshelf is an eclectic mix of books related to language development, literacy, phonology, counseling, leadership, and personal development.  Of course, since I speak extensively on using children’s fiction to facilitate language and literacy, these make up the vast majority of books in my world. And, since I own a publishing company, I am partial to those that I have either written or edited! 

5. What is your favorite failure?

 I had worked SO hard on my dissertation and I couldn’t wait to submit it to JSLHR.  I knew the reviewers were going to love it as much as I did.  Things didn’t quite turn out that way.  The reviewers pretty much crushed me.  One in particular was quite uncomplimentary and, in my opinion, harsh.  My first reaction was just to throw the whole thing away and pretend it never happened.  Luckily, my very wise mentor, Dr. Susan Ellis Weismer, talked me off the ledge and convinced me to make the suggested edits and resubmit (It hadn’t actually been rejected, just, in my opinion, completely destroyed).  I finally put on my big girl pants, read the comments carefully with an open mind, and did a whole lot of rewriting and rethinking.  What I ended up with was a hugely better manuscript, which I did, in fact, resubmit.  Not only was it accepted, it was selected for the editor’s award in Language for JSLHR that year.  Lesson learned:  Get over yourself and listen to the input of others.

6. What areas in the field of speech-language pathology do you see the most opportunity for growth?

This is an exciting time in our field. Services delivered via tele-practice have the potential to bring our services to those who need them.  For instance, to individuals in rural areas, or with conditions that require specific expertise, or even those in other countries where speech-language services do not exist.  The area of artificial intelligence also holds great potential as we consider ways to use technology to increase the efficacy of services to those with speech, language, hearing, and swallowing disorders.

7. What are bad recommendations you hear in the field or in your area of expertise?

 Wow.  This is a very interesting question.  Rather than a “bad recommendation,” I will comment on more of an unfortunate trait with “bad” consequences. 

 SLPs typically aren’t great at “tooting their own horns.”  We need to make some noise!  If we don’t help others see our value, we will continue to be undervalued.  Don’t expect that others will advocate for you and your clients. Make an effort to explain the value of our services to everyone in your professional (and personal) environment.  It’s critically important that we advocate for ourselves!

8. What was a notable turning point or shift in your career? How did this impact your professional journey? 

 After 14 years of practice in the schools, I decided to go back to school to get my Ph.D.  I had two very young children at the time and the nearest university was a 2 hour drive away through the backroads of Wisconsin.  We couldn’t afford to live on a single salary, so I would work all day, drive two hours for class, etc. drive home two hours and start again.  I wrote my dissertation in 4 hour chunks from about 8 pm (after kids were asleep) to 2 am.  Then, I would grab a few hours of sleep and then up and at it again.  It was five years of pretty intense nose-to-the-grindstone effort, but with the help of my amazing husband, Tom, and my professional colleagues, I earned my Ph.D. from the University of Madison.  This allowed me to move to academia, where I had the chance to share what I had learned with both students and practicing colleagues.  Eventually, I became an Associate Dean and finally the Associate Provost at our university.  (Not to mention ASHA President !)  I have had the opportunity to speak all of the country and internationally as well on my areas of expertise as well as through articles, chapters, and books. do not believe any of that would have possible had I not taken the leap of faith to get my Ph.D. 

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