Wendy Olsen, PhD, CCC-SLP

Hometown: Shreveport, LA

Year I became a Gator: 2019

Department: Physiological Sciences

Mentor: Donald Bolser, PhD

Research focus: Sensory afferents line the upper and lower airways of the aerodigestive track and can elicit airway protective mechanisms (e.g., cough, swallow, glottal stop, etc.) to prevent foreign materials from entering the airways. These protective mechanisms are thought to be a continuum of behaviors, but their specific neural components are not fully understood.

My research focus is: 1) utilizing basic science principles to assess normal airway protective mechanisms, 2) perturbing airway protective behaviors (i.e., chemically and mechanically) to relate to disordered/neurodegenerative frameworks and how these behaviors coordinate with respiration, 3) developing and augmenting computational models to predict and refine behaviors prior to experimentation, and 4) establishing collaborative relationships with other professionals to expand the scientific knowledge base.

Why I chose BREATHE at The University of Florida: The BREATHE Training Program’s collaborative spirit and scientific community is invigorating. The diverse network of basic scientists, clinicians, and engineers provides a rich, robust training environment that provides an invaluable opportunity for a new researcher. As a speech language pathologist, my training primarily consisted of anatomy and physiology, dysphagia, vocalization and how it relates to disordered populations. Many of the clinical research that investigates voice, swallow and cough function in typically functioning and disordered populations are informative. However, there are many questions that remain about these behavioral components at a cellular and neural level that I was interested in researching. The BREATHE Center at the University of Florida aims to answer these questions with it’s multifaceted research mission. In my short time here as a postdoctoral fellow, my mentor has provided crucial feedback and guidance necessary for the development of a healthy scientific career. I have also learned new scientific methods and protocols to address empirical questions that were not possible during my doctoral training. The many seminars, virtual meetings, and conferences are additional ways that the program enhances its members’ scientific culture. I am excited for all of the career changing opportunities the BREATHE Center has provided and continues to present.