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Student story

Kerstin Erfmann

20 July 2023

"The best thing for me is to see people recover and enjoy their life to the fullest again..."


Studying towards a PhD in Speech and Language Sciences

"My main motivation is to make a difference in other people"s lives," Kerstin says about her PhD research.

Having previously studied Speech and Language Pathology qualifications in Germany, she was determined to contribute more of her expertise in swallowing disorders to the field.

"Current rehabilitation options didn"t satisfy me in their outcomes when I was working with individuals that suffer from swallowing disorders. I was always curious to try out new things that I thought might be more beneficial to help the person to swallow again - bearing in mind anatomy and physiology of swallowing."

After attending a conference in Germany where she met her current supervisor Prof Maggie-Lee Huckabee, she accepted an internship as a Speech Language Therapist at UC, and was inspired to start her PhD.

"My time here during my internship opened my mind to all the possibilities I have – learning to make an impact and how to contribute. Prof Huckabee supported me from the first moment I met her and gave me the confidence to move to a new country at the other side of the world.

"And on a side note – I love New Zealand! During my time here in New Zealand, I fell in love with the warm and welcoming nature of the people who live here and their 'can-do attitude' as well as the beautiful country side."

Kerstin's research is carried out with the UC Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research, where she gathers data for her studies and works with patients through treatments and assessments. Kerstin's particular area of research investigates effective swallowing rehabilitation for people with disorders such as dysphagia.

"My goal is to help people with swallowing disorders to be able to swallow again," she says. "Being able to eat and drink is a major part of our social and individual life. Another important part of swallowing is to make sure that it is safe. People with swallowing impairment are exposed to the risk of aspirating their food – this means food or liquid can go into their airway without them noticing it."

Needless to say her research is rewarding work, and being able to directly help her patients is strong motivation for her studies.

"I enjoy working with a variety of different people. The best thing for me is to see people recover and being able to enjoy their life to the fullest again. It makes me appreciate every day how lucky I am to be healthy and being able to eat and drink without worrying about it."

Kerstin has received a New Zealand Brain Research Institute Doctoral Scholarship, as well as a travel grant from the Christchurch Rotary Club to collect data at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. "I am very grateful for this experience and the support of research labs with each other," she says.

She is also thankful for the support she receives from UC, including postgraduate student sessions at the Academic Skills Centre and help from the Library staff. The Rose Centre is especially her favourite part of life at UC.

"I have a great team of supervisors – Prof Maggie-Lee Huckabee, Prof Richard Jones and Dr Phoebe Macrae. I enjoy being part of a community of like-minded people here in the lab. Everyone is very supportive and I am grateful to be a part of this."

As such, Kerstin looks forward to the future of her research where she can make positive changes and affect more research in other areas.

"One of my career goals is to contribute to the 'best practice' in swallowing rehabilitation to help as many people being able to enjoy their life to the fullest. I want to share my knowledge in this field with others and collaborate with other researchers in swallowing but also with other disciplines.

"In Germany we say: 'Über den Tellerand hinausschauen!' This means something like: looking beyond your own nose or looking behind the horizon. I want to look beyond the boundaries of my own professional discipline and am motivated to learn from the perspectives and experiences of others."

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