James Madison University

Rachel Mulheren Completing Fellowship

By: Lauren Mitchel ' 19
Posted: December 9, 2015

PHOTO:Rachel Mulheren

Rachel Mulheren ’15, is completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, one of the most esteemed medical schools for research in the country. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has about 1,200 postdoctoral research fellows from around the world and conducts leading research in a world-class environment. Mulheren’s studies at JMU helped to prepare her for this new chapter of her life.

Rachel Mulheren studied Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) as a graduate student at James Madison. Originally interested in language, Mulheren spent most of her undergraduate time at the University of Virginia focused on Russian and Linguistics. During a psychology class there, she was introduced to language disorders, a topic she had never heard of before. The subject sparked her interest and she began to focus her studies in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Mulheren came to JMU for her master’s and doctoral degrees. While taking a class on swallowing disorders during her graduate studies at JMU, Mulheren discovered a passion that guided her to this specialized field. The curriculum included externships working with adults in nursing homes and children in hospitals.

Dr. Cynthia O’Donoghue, the CSD department head, advised and supported Mulheren throughout her master’s and during the intensive process of earning a doctorate degree. During her doctoral program, Mulheren worked closely with her advisor, Dr. Christy Ludlow, a prominent researcher from the National Institutes of Health. Mulheren is one of the few students to be admitted to the PhD program directly from her master’s program. This is an extremely selective process and O’Donoghue helped Mulheren navigate through it.

People who have earned a doctorate degree will often pursue a post-doctoral fellowship to further their research training. These students work closely with a faculty member of an institution to which they are accepted for a temporary and defined amount of time. Mulheren is currently working with Dr. Marlis Gonzalez-Fernandez, a researcher at Johns Hopkins whose interests match her own. Gonzalez-Fernandez received her PhD from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and now serves as the director of Outpatient Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics and an associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins. Mulheren’s eventual goal is to develop as an independent researcher, and she feels that Gonzalez-Fernandez can help her accomplish this.

In her fellowship, she recruits patients and volunteers for case studies. She also analyzes data and writes articles on research that she has done. “I enjoy this specialty so much because there is such a variety of patients and issues. Each case is so different, and that’s what I find so exciting,” Mulheren explained. She now works with cancer patients, stroke patients and other patients who have swallowing disorders. Not only is Mulheren completing a fellowship at this time, but she has also been hired as a clinician at Johns Hopkins.

 “My main priority is to stay involved in research. My ultimate goal is to create my own lab and collaborate with other researchers and clinicians.” Mulheren plans to maintain her clinical practice alongside her research. She expressed interest in teaching if the opportunity presented itself, but stressed that her main priority for the future is her research. Positions as prestigious as Mulheren’s raise the national profile of the CSD program at JMU by increasing the visibility of the program to top-notch programs such as Johns Hopkins and on an international and national level.