‘Enhancing Speech Fluency using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation’: An interview with Dr Jen Chesters

Dr Jen Chesters is a cognitive neuroscientist and Speech and Language Therapist, with a particular interest in how brain stimulation and imaging techniques can be used to better support people with conditions affecting speech, language and communication. Since receiving her PhD ‘Enhancing Speech Fluency using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation’ in 2017, Jen has remained at the University of Oxford where she is now conducting postdoctoral research that she hopes can help to support people who stutter. Dr Jen Chesters will be joining us at the Brainbox Initiative Conference 2019 where she will be talking about her current research projects.

Hi Jen. Could you give us a little insight into your current work?
I’m a cognitive neuroscientist and Speech and Language Therapist. I am interested in how we process and produce speech, and how this differs in people with conditions affecting their communication. In my PhD and post-doctoral research, I’ve looked at how brain stimulation could be used to support people who stutter to speak more fluently.

What’s your current focus in this research area?
I’m currently working on the INSTEP trial, which is a randomized controlled of transcranial direct current stimulation to improve fluency in adults who stutter. We are also using brain stimulation and imaging to better understand the differences in brain networks supporting speech processing in people who stutter.

That sounds like exciting research. What equipment are you using to help you carry this out?
We are using transcranial direct current stimulation in combination with fluency therapy in our current randomized controlled trial. We also use TMS, fMRI, structural MRI of the brain and vocal tract, and MEG to investigate the mechanisms underlying developmental stuttering.

How exactly did you find yourself getting interested in brain stimulation research?
I became interested in brain stimulation as a potential tool for improving therapeutic outcomes, and I think this potential is still some way from being realised. I am very interested in advances in the field that will increase our understanding of how brain stimulation modulates neural plasticity, and so could increase the replicability of results.

Is there any advice you wish you’d been given as an early-career researcher, or something that you’d like to pass on to the next generation of neuroscientists?
It sometimes feels like early-career researchers are bombarded with messages about what we ‘must’ do to have a successful career, but I’m not sure that there can be a single path to success. I think it’s really important to keep in touch with your personal reasons for pursuing a research career, and your particular passions and aspirations. 

And finally, when you’re away from the lab, what do you enjoy getting up to?
I really enjoy being out in nature. Ideally, I’d regularly walk along the beach, but as Oxford is some distance from the coast I make do with the river and countryside. I’ve also just joined a drumming team, which I love.

Thank you to Dr Jen Chesters for taking the time to speak to us about her research interests. Jen will be joining us at the Brainbox Initiative Conference 2019 in London this September.