Dr. Balaji Rangarathnam is an Assistant
Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders. He
received his bachelor’s degree in speech-language and hearing sciences and a
master’s degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Mysore,
India. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
in 2013 and has been working at ECU since Fall 2013. His professional interests
relate to voice and swallowing disorders. He directs the Voice and Swallowing
Research Lab at ECU. The focus of his research is to understand the
neurophysiology of swallowing and to develop efficacious treatment methods for
neurogenic dysphagia and vocal hyperfunction.
What do you like best about working at ECU?
I love the balance between research and
teaching. I have seen universities that have a heavier emphasis on research or
teaching. Here at ECU, we are encouraged and supported to establish and
maintain a productive line of research; at the same time do not compromise on
the superior quality of education we give to our students. People are very
friendly and work as a team, all of which makes ECU an excellent place to work.
What do you find most exciting about your research and its potential?
My research focuses on developing treatment
methods for dysphagia (swallowing impairment) due to neurogenic origins and
hyperfunctional voice disorders. Research on functional outcomes that are
clearly tied to physiological changes resulting from treatment exercises
targeting specific aspects of swallowing or voice physiology is still growing.
I am very excited that my research could have a direct impact on improving the
quality of life of several individuals who might have disorders of voice
production and swallowing. My research also attempts to identify the physiological
bases of treatment outcomes. In other words, I not only study what
works, but also try to investigate as to why should these exercises
What excites you about teaching?
The responsibilities of an educator are several
times more in a clinical field like ours where students are trained to take a
more important role in the society working with patients and their families. I
love the fact that I can impact several students in becoming knowledgeable and
empathetic clinicians who can make informed clinical decisions. The graduate
Dysphagia course I teach in Spring is generally very complicated and I like the
challenge that comes with simplifying it for students, and still maintain the
rigor of the course.
What do you hope students take away from their experiences from working with you on your research?
I hope that my students understand the
importance of critical thinking, objective interpretation/applicability of data
and accountability from their experiences working with me. “Making” students to
think is not always easy and I hope I facilitate the process of critically
applying information from different sources for appropriate interpretation of
data that is neither overly generalized nor underestimated of its scope.
What is your favorite teaching or research moment?
A good news of a manuscript being accepted in a
top journal or a grant proposal being funded is definitely a favorite moment.
As far as teaching is concerned, I like the cards that we receive at the end of
each academic year about the “the person who has made the most positive
contribution to a student’s education at ECU”. It is very gratifying to see
that we have impacted the education of at least some individuals in a class. I
also fondly remember when a student emailed me saying she had decided to pursue
dysphagia as a clinical specialty because of the class she took with me.