PhD Completion Seminar

PhD Completion Seminar

Today I present my PhD Research at the Completion Seminar.

I conducted a yearlong study in a youth justice facility in Victoria, Australia. Along with an assessment study (n = 27), I conducted a phase one language intervention trial using a series of six empirical single case studies. This evaluated the extent to which intensive, one-to-one language  intervention improved the language skills of male young offenders. I also investigated the feasibility of delivering SLP services using quantitative and qualitative data, including service efficiency data, qualitative field notes, and a staff focus group.

Teenage Crime. Making sense of it

Teenage Crime. Making sense of it

Nathaniel Swain is the WINNER of the University of Melbourne Three Minute Thesis Competition 2016, and RUNNER-UP at the Asia Pacific Competition 2016 out of 50 Universities in the region. 


Teenage criminals. Juvenile delinquents. What comes to mind when you think of the typical young offender? You’re probably imagining a male, between 15 and 18, disadvantaged, possibly maltreated, and more likely to be indigenous. But that’s only part of the story. 

What you might not have heard is that typical young male offenders have severe problems with their communication skills, 50% of these boys have what’s called “language impairment”. This means they can’t understand or express themselves with spoken language, as we would be able to.

So that’s where I come in. As a Speech-Language therapist I help all kinds of people with language impairments and other communication problems.

I was interested in these troubled boys in youth justice. These young men struggle to understand the complex language of police interviews, court appearances, or psychological intervention. The problem is their language impairments are hidden disabilities – masquerading as disinterest, or defiance.

Intervention for young offenders

Intervention for young offenders

My PhD research with young offenders, in Melbourne, Australia.

It is well-established that oral language skills are crucial for the development of literacy, social, and interpersonal skills. 

Research (Australian and international) has shown that approximately 50-60% of male young offenders have a clinically significant, yet previously undetected oral language impairment (i.e. problems coping with the demands of everyday talking and listening tasks).

Language difficulties contribute substantially to a young person’s ability to engage with youth justice services and in turn to transition back into the community. Unfortunately, language difficulties are often unrecognised and may be misinterpreted as disinterest, rudeness, or poor engagement. 

This applied research will evaluate the extent to which intensive, one-to-one speech pathology intervention produces improvements in the language skills of young people with language impairment. It is expected that the results from this research project will demonstrate the benefits of speech pathology intervention within a youth justice setting. 

A mixed methods design will also be utilised to further characterise the communication skills and deficits of young offenders, and to understand their lived experience with regards to communication impairment. 

Get in contact for more information.

Getting the Message Across

Getting the Message Across

My speech is chopped and changed and reordered continuously. How can I describe the enormity of the last three years of my life in just three minutes? I have to try. It's for the good of my research, and of science!

Next week I will present in the first heat of the Three Minute Thesis Competition at Melbourne Uni. A now international initiative, this event challenges PhD students, like myself, to distill their complex research into just a three minute talk.

Three minutes only! One second over and the participant is disqualified. 

But don't be fooled. This isn't a mini conference paper, or completion seminar. It's more like what researchers explain in a radio interview, or an op-ed piece. 

As a PhD student, in the meaty part of my doctorate, this competition could be just another time-waster taking away from my writing commitments. But even while I have been rehearsing for the first round, I have noticed how useful it has been.

KISS Principle

When you only have three minutes, you really have to know what the main messages are. Make. Every. Word. Count.

My scientific writing could benefit from this approach. I looked over some early drafts of my lit review and found this shocker of a sentence:

Researchers, academics, policy-makers, the media and other players in public discourses have contributed to understandings of young people who offend – of which a crucial component is the theorising of why youth offending occurs.

Looking back on this now, it is incredibly complex. I have to do a double take to make sure I understand my own words.