Dr. Prudence Plummer

Prudence Plummer isn’t one to sit around and wait for things to happen for her; this go-getter, originally from Australia, where she began her research, has since moved to the US, taking up faculty positions in Florida, California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, where she is currently an Assistant Professor at the Department of Allied Health Sciences, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Plummer has been on the move — and all of it is dictated by her passion for research.

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Prue Plummer (r) collects gait data from a participant with stroke, while research staff monitor performance of simultaneous cognitive task.

So it only seems fitting that a person with her energy was awarded a grant by the American Heart Association, “Training Dual-Task Walking after Stroke: Effects on Attentional and Locomotor Control,” and has more recently been awarded an R21 by the NIH, “Real-World Assessment of Dual-Task Performance After Stroke.”

Plummer is hoping to help stroke victims learn how to multi-task/perform other tasks while walking – a dual function so simple that far too many people take it for granted. “During my Post-doc, I became very interested in how people allocate their attention. The area that I developed an interest in is how cognitive and attention deficiencies, and mobile deficiencies, interact with each other. For me, the intellectual stimulation from this kind of research – which the mind is so challenged by – is much more satisfying than working in clinical practice. Working with stroke victims is an especially rewarding experience,” she says, and ”the research is needed to determine whether traditional gait assessments adequately capture the extent of gait limitations in real-world community environments. We may be underestimating our patients’ real-world disability, which could be contributing to their restricted community participation and physical activity,” she explains.

Was there one thing in particular that prompted her to take on such inspiring work? For Plummer, it was the bigger picture, a long-term interest as opposed to one isolated event. “I am mainly where I am today due to a general interest in these research areas that developed while I was still a physiotherapy student.  During my undergraduate honors research and my PhD research, I studied visual attention-shifting mechanisms and disorders of attention after stroke.  During my postdoctoral training, I gained more experience in gait rehabilitation for people with neurological disorders.”

While she does love the big city life, work is always the frontrunner. “My line of work has different challenges and opportunities and I just want to be in the place where the best work is,” she says. She does advise young researchers to take the grant-writing process seriously early on. “I think it is incredibly important. These days it’s impossible to get promoted if you don’t have a considerable amount of funding, so you need to acquire those skills and techniques early in your career.”

Her other advice, too, highlights the enormous amount of dedication that she devotes to her line of work. “Choose an area you are genuinely, passionately interested in. There is no point in dedicating yourself to something unless you really want to study it. Find people you can collaborate with. I was fortunate enough to have wonderful mentoring opportunities.”