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Best Paper of 2019 Award for School’s Dean

  • Date

    Fri 28 Aug 20

Professor Victoria Joffe

Professor Victoria Joffe, Dean of our School of Health and Social Care, has received the Best Paper Award 2019 from the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders.

The prize was for her popular paper “Improving storytelling and vocabulary in secondary school students with language disorder: a randomized controlled trial” which the Journal’s editorial team felt “had both methodological rigour and huge potential for impact” and also addressed an important gap in the available intervention evidence.

We caught up with Professor Joffe, who became Dean in January this year, to find out a bit more about her research.

What is your area of research expertise?

My research focuses on children and young people with developmental speech, language and communication needs.

Developmental difficulties are problems that are evident from birth and usually have some sort of genetic origin. My focus is on older children and young people who experience difficulties in talking and listening.

Currently, services to support these individuals focus on pre-school and primary school-aged children and there is limited, or no specialist support services to older children/adolescents, or adults with developmental difficulties in speech, language and communication. This is despite strong research which shows that these early difficulties are pervasive and long term.

My current research looks at developing appropriate interventions to support these individuals, and I have published interventions focusing on narratives (storytelling) and vocabulary enrichment. I work very closely with teachers and parents, and my interventions are created for use by teachers and teaching assistants in secondary schools. I am currently involved in three separate studies looking at interventions to enhance language and communication in children with autism, Down’s Syndrome and who stutter.

What made you interested in this field?

I have always been interested in the power of language and communication and its importance in connecting with others and developing relationships.

As a young child, my grandfather had several strokes and had aphasia, which is a language impairment resulting from a stroke. I used to accompany him to see a Speech and Language Therapist and remember thinking how magical and empowering it was as he learnt new skills and returned to be an excellent and powerful communicator. From that time, I knew I wanted to study speech and language therapy.

What are your main career highlights to date?

Being awarded a Flanagan Scholarship to study for a DPhil degree at Oxford University was a career highlight as it enabled me to study with experts in the field of child development and language and literacy disorders.

Another highlight was being awarded a grant from the Nuffield Foundation to address the significant gap in service provision for adolescents with language and communication difficulties. In this grant, I explored the effectiveness of two language and communication interventions, one focusing on storytelling and the other on vocabulary, when delivered by teaching assistants in secondary schools, for adolescents with language disorders. At that time, using teachers and teaching assistants to support the delivery of speech and language therapy was innovative and new. This is now an accepted good practice, and I work closely with teachers, teaching assistants and speech and language therapists in training staff on delivering school-based interventions.

The paper which won the Best Paper Award for 2019 in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders was based on this study. I am proud that my research stems from the classroom and therapy session, and my work is used to support children and young people with these difficulties.

What made you want to work at Essex?

I was attracted to joining a School that combined health and social care, and as Dean, working with colleagues to build and enhance our health and social care education and research. Frequently there is a frustrating disconnect between health services, and social care provision, and I was attracted to the potential to work with health practitioners and students and explore how we could develop inter-professional and multi-disciplinary working across all the curricula.

I was also drawn to the University’s long tradition of advocacy and social justice and wanted to contribute to developing health and social care practitioners who were confident in their evidence-based skills and knowledge to be strong advocates for their patients and represent the full diversity of the community they would be serving.

What have the stories about Essex students, graduates and staff working on the frontline during COVID-19 meant to you?

We have all been experiencing some really difficult times during COVID-19, but what has kept me going has been the bravery, professionalism, integrity and social responsiveness of the staff and students in the School.

Many of our students, graduates, and some staff too, have been working on the frontline. It has been awe-inspiring to see photos of these individuals, prioritising their patients and work over their own families, in full PPE gear during the hot summer, attending to the needs of their patients and serving the community. Listening to their powerful stories has brought home to me the true realities and horrors of the pandemic, and the suffering of many, and reinforced for me the pride and gratitude I have for all our staff, students and alumni of the School, and all health and social care practitioners.

What are your main hopes for your role at Essex?

I want to ensure that we train and prepare a workforce that is current, relevant, that meets the needs of the community it serves, and reflects and represents the full diversity of the community we serve.

I hope to develop our research portfolio and facilitate staff to produce cutting-edge, innovative and applied research which challenges current ways of working and pushes the boundaries so that we can confidently say we are prioritising patient care.

I want to ensure our students are identified amongst all other practitioners, as strong evidence-based practitioners, who deliver health and social care with integrity, compassion and kindness, and who continue to advocate for those most vulnerable.

We are not about giving our students simple answers, we want to challenge them every step of the way, and equip them to be curious, challenge and ask questions throughout their student experience and careers.