Online Bachelor of Communication Sciences and Disorders

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What Is a Speech-Language and Hearing Researcher?

Communication is central to being human. However, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), some 40 million Americans have a speech, language, or hearing disability, drastically changing the way they communicate with other people and their environment.

A speech-language and hearing researcher can expand our understanding of these disabilities and develop treatments for patients with a communication disorder. As our population ages, the number of people with a speech, language, or hearing disability is expected to grow, resulting in increasing demand for speech-language and hearing researchers. A degree in communication sciences and disorders, such as the online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Communication Sciences and Disorders program at Maryville University, can be a good foundation for individuals who are interested in this career field and want to help treat communication disorders.

Speech-language and hearing researcher administering a hearing test.

What Does a Speech-Language and Hearing Researcher Do?

Speech-language and hearing researchers explore the normal and abnormal functions of human communication. They are primarily researchers and teachers, although they may also see patients as part of their research projects. They conduct studies and trials, explore trends in the communication sciences, and investigate the biological and physiological causes of communication disorders and their impact on individuals.

Speech-language and hearing researchers also develop techniques to assess and treat communication disorders. Since many communication disorders have a physical component, researchers may work with engineers to develop hearing aids, or they may work with dentists and orthodontists to alleviate speech disorders. They also work with educators, psychologists, and physicians to help solve patients’ communication disorders.

Speech-language and hearing researchers commonly work in the following settings:

  • Schools. Since many speech-language and hearing disorders are congenital (from birth) or present during childhood, school systems employ speech pathologists and audiologists to provide services to students with communication disorders.
  • Government agencies. Local and state public health agencies employ speech-language and hearing professionals to provide services, conduct research, and establish public health policies.
  • Universities and research institutes. Professionals conduct research, run labs, and treat patients through university centers. They recruit and mentor students and work with colleagues across disciplines.

What Are the Common Types of Communication Disorders?

Speech-language and hearing researchers study a range of communication disorders. The communication disorders may be congenital; acquired; age related; or disease related, such as speech disorders developed after a stroke. Researchers may specialize in oral language deficits, hearing disorders, or processing disorders.

Communication disorders fall into the following categories:

Speech Disorders

Speech disorders can be the result of brain or orofacial (mouth and face) issues. This can make it difficult for those with speech disorders to move their muscles correctly to make the right sounds. Abnormal bone and muscle growth can hinder speaking, eating, breathing, or swallowing. Other speech disorders include stuttering and selective mutism, which anxiety may bring on.

Language Disorders

Language disorders impact how children or adults understand or use language. A language disorder is a processing issue rather than a physical issue, like a speech disorder. Language disorders may be a sign of developmental delays, and they can be caused by brain injuries, such as a stroke; a developmental disorder, such as autism; or premature birth. Hearing loss may also impair language processing, resulting in a language disorder.

Hearing Disorders

The types of hearing disorders include conductive hearing loss, which may be temporary (ear wax or fluid in the ear) or present from birth. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear. It can cause partial or total deafness in children and adults and may require hearing aids.

Central Auditory Processing Disorders

Auditory processing disorders impair children’s ability to process sound, even if their hearing is normal, and can cause issues with attention and understanding. People with central auditory processing disorders may not be able to isolate important information from background noise. Other processing disorders include auditory neuropathy, in which messages sent by the auditory nerve to the brain are distorted, making it difficult to understand speech.

How to Become a Speech-Language and Hearing Researcher

The path to becoming a researcher in the field of speech-language and hearing disorders can start with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences. This degree can provide the basic foundation in the principles of speech, language, and hearing, covering coursework in anatomy and physiology, psychology, linguistics, and more.

Scientists should continue their schooling with a research doctoral program, which can provide them with the minimum credentials to conduct research at a university or research center. Some research organizations require ASHA’s Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) or Audiology (CCC-A); these certifications indicate that professionals have met the necessary academic and professional standards to practice.

Depending on whether a candidate has a master’s degree or a clinical doctoral degree, it can take two to five years to complete a research doctoral program.

What Can You Do with a Communication Sciences and Disorders Degree?

Many graduates with a BS in Communication Sciences and Disorders go on to get their doctorate to practice as speech-language and hearing researchers. However, for professionals who want to work right away or get practical experience before pursuing a doctorate, they can look into other career options. Note that any salary figures are subject to change and can vary based on location and experience.

Here are some careers to pursue with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders:

Speech-Language Pathology Assistant

Speech-language pathology assistants work in schools, clinics, and other treatment settings under the supervision of licensed speech-language pathologists. They provide support, such as intake and service documentation, and may execute certain parts of a treatment program under direct supervision.

According to PayScale, speech-language pathology assistants make just over $24 per hour as of July 2021.

Audiologist Assistant

Licensed audiologists supervise audiologist assistants. Audiologist assistants are responsible for maintaining equipment and tools; fixing hearing aids; preparing patients for testing; and record keeping and intake. They may provide some services under direct supervision.

According to PayScale, audiologist assistants made $13.58 per hour as of May 2021.

Here are some career paths to pursue with a master’s degree:

Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists assess patients and diagnose their disorders. They develop and implement treatment plans tailored to patients’ specific speech and language difficulties. In addition to a BS in Communication Sciences and Disorders, speech-language pathologists need to be licensed or certified depending on the requirements of their state or employer.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for speech-language pathologists was $80,480 in 2020. The BLS estimated job growth at 25% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average.


Audiologists specialize in hearing disorders, including hearing loss, tinnitus, and inner-ear imbalances. They develop and implement treatment plans to alleviate patients’ symptoms. Depending on where they practice, they may need licensing or certification.

The median annual salary for audiologists was $81,030 in 2020, according to the BLS. Their job growth was estimated at 13% between 2019 and 2029.

Start Making a Difference Today

Speech-language and hearing researchers play an important role in investigating and understanding communication disorders, as well as their causes and treatments. With coursework including Speech and Hearing Science, the Anatomy and Physiology of Speech, and Language Development and Disorders, Maryville University’s online BS in Communication Sciences and Disorders program can be a solid foundation for you to start down this career path. Discover more about this program today and whether becoming a speech-language and hearing researcher is right for you.

Recommended Reading

Four Rewarding Communication Sciences and Disorders Careers

Audiologist vs. Speech-Language Pathologist: Two Approaches to Communication Treatment

Speech Impediment Guide: Definition, Causes, and Resources


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Definitions of Communication Disorders and Variations

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, General Information About ASHA Certification

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Speech, Language, and Hearing Researchers

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Speech-Language Pathology Assistant Scope of Practice

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Language and Speech Disorders in Children

Identify the Signs, Communication Disorders: Prevalence and Cost in the United States

PayScale, Average Audiologist Assistant Hourly Pay

PayScale, Average Speech-Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA) Hourly Pay

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Audiologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Speech-Language Pathologist