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Student story

Emma Wallace

20 July 2023

"I get a huge sense of achievement and reward from being able to help people and improve their lives..."


PhD in Speech and Language Sciences

It was UC’s reputation in Speech and Language Sciences that lead Emma to travel to New Zealand from Ireland, particularly for its research in swallowing and dysphagia. Emma’s own research is conducted through the Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research where she is supervised by Prof Maggie-Lee Huckabee, which has been an incredible opportunity for her.

"Maggie-Lee’s research that has come out of the Rose Centre is highly influential as far away as Ireland," Emma says. "Her enthusiasm and drive is definitely something that motivates me on a daily basis. If you’re passionate about making a difference and improving the quality of patient care, the Rose Centre is a great place to be!"

Emma’s thesis focuses on the cough reflex as a response to swallowing food or drinks incorrectly, and on assessing whether patients with dysphagia have a strong or weak cough.

"Coughing guards and protects our airway. For people with dysphagia, the cough reflex is often impaired, which means that they may not sense food or liquid going down the wrong way, or, they may not have a strong enough cough to clear food or liquid that has gone down the wrong way. Currently, we don’t have a way of assessing whether patients have a strong or weak cough. My research projects aims to shed light on this."

As part of her curriculum, Emma also practices supervising undergraduate students in their clinical studies through the SPSC 605 course.

"I loved being able to take the clinical track and supervise undergraduate students alongside doing my research. This was something unique that isn’t offered in Ireland! Last semester, I supervised 3rd and 4th year students at Saint John of God in Halswell and the Princess Margaret Hospital. I am due to supervise 3rd year students this semester at Burwood Hospital. I think it will really benefit my clinical work in the future," she says.

Emma has also enjoyed the student life and support available on campus.

"The University grounds are beautiful! I also enjoy going to the Rec Centre and taking group fitness classes there."

"I also find the Academic Skills Centre really helpful. I’ve been to the thesis writing seminar and the stats course. They were both really good. The University really support research students which is an added advantage. There is so much support at UC for postgraduate students."

New Zealand also has its perks for someone that enjoys an active lifestyle.

"I love the outdoors and all types of sports! I’ve taken up snowboarding and have been going to Mt Hutt every weekend! It’s such a novelty for me to be able to drive to a ski field."

"I also play hockey for the University of Canterbury second division team, which I love. We train every Tuesday and play matches on Sundays. I’ve met so many new people playing hockey. Hockey is a big girls sport in Ireland so it was so nice to be able to continue playing here!"

Life in New Zealand has certainly been great for Emma both academically and socially. "So far, there is nothing that I haven’t liked! Since arriving I’ve had nothing but positive experiences!" She says. "I also think that you just have to get involved and step out of your comfort zone to make the most of your experience!"

Emma hopes to make the most of her research at UC and contribute to the growing field of Communication Disorders.

"I get a huge sense of achievement and reward from being able to help people and improve their lives. This is definitely what attracted me to research,’ she says. ‘Speech and Language Therapy is still such a new profession and there is so much potential for research to improve the quality of our patient care. We still have so much to learn as a profession."

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