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CAHS Faculty Spotlights...

Kathrin Rothermich

Kathrin Rothermich, PhD

Dr. Kathrin Rothermich has over 10 years of research experience in Cognitive Neuroscience, Communication Science and Disorders and Neurolinguistics. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Potsdam (Germany) for Cognitive Science in 2012 and worked as a Postdoc at McGill University (Canada) and the University of Connecticut. Dr. Rothermich joined ECU in Fall 2017. Her main goal as Director of the Social Communication and Neuroscience Lab is to advance knowledge about the acoustic-phonetic features that influence speech comprehension, as well the understanding of how humans communicate and perceive non-literal language. Her work has been supported by funds from Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS), the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM), and the Erasmus Mundus Student Exchange Network.

 

What do you like best about working at ECU?

Since my first day at ECU, I have received a huge amount of help, encouragement, and guidance for my new role as a faculty member. I especially would like to mention the administrative and faculty support for managing my startup funds, grant writing, and other services - I am still discovering new resources almost every day. The high level of collegiality at ECU and especially in Allied Health creates a wonderful atmosphere for teaching and research. I am very glad to be part of a highly motivated team at the Department of Communication Science and Disorders.

What do you find most exciting about your research and its potential?

Social communication and pragmatics are sometimes overlooked when researching communication science and disorders, because they involve dealing with multi-modal, complex forms of language that are hard to control and evaluate in experiments. However, these aspects are fundamental components in every-day communication with family members, friends and peers and are important for our well-being and quality of life. Specifically, my research focuses on nonliteral language use, social cognition and speech perception, such as the use of sarcasm or prosocial lies among healthy populations and people with Parkinson’s Disease. I am studying these topics using neuroimaging, eye tracking, brain stimulation, and behavioral measurements. Another related research interest of mine centers around the phenomenon of speech accommodation, in which we change our speech register to help other people understand us better. I thereby focus on acoustic properties of speech itself, such as the use of regular speech rhythm to facilitate speech comprehension, the use of clear speech to aid people with aphasia, and the phenomenon of foreign-directed speech. All of my research is highly interdisciplinary, covering areas from speech, language and hearing to psychology, linguistics and cognitive neuroscience.

What excites you about teaching?

Teaching is a vital part of our profession and it brings me closer to the student body, while additionally giving me the opportunity to relay the importance of the basics of communication science and disorders. I am also very excited about my teaching areas, which line up very nicely with my expertise and interest as a researcher. I especially enjoy the hands-on portions of class, when we have time to learn about a new software or application, or when we watch video examples of clinical cases and discuss. A big challenge in my teaching is conveying the relationship between the theories and practice (i.e., the real-life interactions with patients my students will have as therapists and clinicians). It is not always apparent to the students why they need to have knowledge about a certain aspect, but giving them concrete examples helps them to see the value of learning and understanding the sometimes-complex mechanisms they learn in class.

What do you hope students take away from their experiences from working with you on your research?

I strive to give them a wholesome experience by providing an overview of different parts of research, from literature reviews to data acquisition and analysis, to presenting data to peers and other researchers. What seems to draw students to my lab is the fact that my research is approachable, and that I incorporate an array of methods and state-of-the-art analyses. I also developed a group of collaborators for different projects that offer students an international perspective and the chance to view research from many sides. An important factor in training the students are the lab meetings, where we cover different research skills; they get hands on training on how to, for example, format data in MS Excel, how to perform statistical analyses, or how to prepare stimuli for an eye tracking experiment. All these skills will help them to be successful if they apply for graduate school later on.

What is your favorite teaching or research moment?

In general, receiving a grant or getting a paper accepted constitute great moments, showing that hard work paid off. My favorite current research moment was when I received an email from a collaborator in Canada. My collaborator wrote that we finished data collection for a study that had been going on for the past year. In this study, we tested the ability of 120 children between 8 and 12 years old to understand and interpret sarcasm, teasing, and prosocial lies in relation to their perspective taking abilities. I am very excited to analyze the data and to present the results to the ECU community.