marie jette, ph.d., ccc-slp
Published on August 31, 2016
Pleased to post an interview with Marie Jette, PhD, CCC-SLP, voice pathologist and a scientist.
TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach? What is your main patient population?
MJ: I am postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine where I pretty much spend 100% of my time doing research.
TVF: Where did you complete your education/training in voice?
MJ: I did my Master’s thesis and clinical education in voice at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. I was then hired as a clinical fellow at the MGH Voice Center with Bob Hillman and Steve Zeitels. My CF mentors were (the fabulous) Tara Stadelman-Cohen and Meredith Bosley. I did my PhD in voice science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Susan Thibeault.
TVF: Who have been your influential mentors?
MJ: Bob Hillman was my Master’s thesis mentor and my boss at MGH. He gave me my first opportunities at independent research and working with patients with voice disorders. Susan Thibeault was my PhD mentor and spent 6 years helping me develop my research skills. Other people that I look up to and who have really shaped my career in voice are Nathan Welham and Diane Bless. All of these people are forces in our field and we are lucky to have them.
TVF: What motivated you to dedicate yourself to the field of voice sciences?
MJ: As an undergrad and for a year after I finished, I worked in two different labs investigating speech perception. I thought that was pretty cool and told Bob Hillman about my interests at an open house at the MGH Institute. He encouraged me to work with him on his research and at the time he was trying to create an objective tool for measuring dysphonia that would correlate with our subjective perception of dysphonic voices, so there was a parallel with some of my previous research experience. I learned early in my Master’s degree that I love medical speech pathology and instrumentation, which is what really pushed me in the direction of clinical voice beyond my research experience. Voice science is an understudied field and the doors are wide open for research and new tools for assessment and treatment.
TVF: What comes to your mind as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary voice disorders?
MJ: One of the voice issues that I have seen come to the forefront in recent years is advocacy in treatment of people who are transgendered. Ten years ago as a full-time clinician at a very busy and popular laryngology clinic, I saw only one transgendered patient. I think this area of voice is growing rapidly and as the trans movement progresses throughout the country I think we will see more and more patients requesting voice therapy services.
TVF: Do you think this is an international issue or specific to your country?
MJ: I would imagine that this is an international issue, though that’s just speculation.
TVF: What is your research about?
MJ: I spend most of my days in the research lab! My research is clinically translational, meaning that I attempt to learn about voice problems by studying human tissue and cells, as well as animal models. My main research goal is to understand the biologic and physiologic basis of laryngeal inflammation. Why do some people have persistent dysphonia without any obvious pathology (like nodules, polyps, Reinke’s, etc)? When we see redness and irritation on an exam, what causes it (reflux, bacteria, something else)? I’m interested in learning more about the bacteria that inhabit the larynx in health and disease. At the moment, I’m also learning about the potential pathways for neurogenic inflammation by investigating the structure and function of sensory cells in the larynx.
TVF: In what ways can your research be applied in the clinical field?
MJ: In coming years, I think my research will lead to new approaches to medical treatment for voice disorders. Specifically, I think that laryngologists are no longer using proton pump inhibitors to treat voice problems (by way of treating reflux) to the same extent that they did in the past because of a bunch of research (not just mine) showing that PPIs are not effective in this population.
TVF: What motivated you to conduct this research?
MJ: My PhD research was multidisciplinary and I had the opportunity to collaborate with engineers, bacteriologists, and immunologists. The research I’m doing in my postdoc is similarly multidisciplinary and that makes it extra fun! We all have niche areas of research and clinical interests and the desire to answer the questions that come out of our discussions is incredibly motivating.
TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
MJ: There was a review paper on hydration that came out of Susan Thibeault’s lab a couple years ago that questioned whether or not we really need to drink 8-10 cups of water every day for maximal vocal health. The current research doesn’t actually support this recommendation.
TVF: Your most memorable voice case?
MJ: One of the most memorable was a 15 year old, 6’0” tall boy who came in speaking in falsetto, a voice he had been using for a year after going through puberty. It didn’t bother him, but it definitely bothered his parents. I was able to adjust his voice into modal register within one session. His parents were thrilled. He came back to me a week later back in falsetto. We had a long conversation about identity, his social environment, and differences in his expectations versus his parents’. He demonstrated that he could easily switch between registers for speaking and we left it that he could choose to use his voice however he wished.
TVF: Do you have a vocal pet peeve and why?
MJ: I’m a cliché of the voice clinician world. Glottal fry makes me crazy; in women, in men, doesn’t matter. I know it’s generational and cultural and I believe that it’s not physiologically damaging to vibrating tissues, but it’s hard on the ears.
TVF: As a voice pathologist/educator/researcher, what keeps you on your toes?
MJ: Mentoring students, especially 1:1. They ask insightful and often difficult questions and keep me busy in the lab.
TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of laryngology/Vocology/voice rehabilitation?
MJ: As clinicians and researchers we need to continue developing partnerships with clinicians and researchers outside of laryngology. Biomedical engineers, neuroscientists, immunologists, infectious disease specialists, respiratory therapists, cell biologists (and so on) can contribute immensely to our understanding of voice and other laryngeal disorders. A lot of what we don’t know has been researched extensively in other areas of the body – we just have to find the partnerships that allow us to expand these findings to the larynx.
TVF: What advice would you like to give to the general populace about voice care? How about to the professional voice users?
MJ: Don’t ignore a persistent voice problem and get yourself to a team of specialists for assessment and treatment. After a thyroidectomy, an acquaintance waited more than 3 excruciating and debilitating months for her voice to return when an injection laryngoplasty could have fixed her up right away. For the professional voice users, if you’re experiencing problems, beware of the quick fix. Simply cutting of a polyp might get you back to your job, but it won’t address the behaviors that resulted in the problems. Working with a voice therapist is a must.
TVF: What advice do you have for aspiring voice scientists?
MJ: With time and energy you can learn anything, but you can’t learn everything. Find a good mentor or, better yet, a mentoring team. Continually push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Open your mind to new ideas.
TVF: Who are your favorite singers?
MJ: Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Adele, Alicia Keys, David Bowie
TVF: What sparks “joy” for you as a person?
MJ: My kids, being in nature, a good book, and sharing a delicious meal with friends.