Welcome to the SAA Becoming a ____ Audiologist Interview Series! There are very many pathways or fields of audiology. In this series, the SAA will interview both audiologists who work in varying fields of audiology.
Our first interview of the 2021 term is with Gabrielle Mechant, PhD, AuD, CCC-A, research/hearing scientist at the Boys Town National Research Hospital.
Q: Give us a quick description of who you are, what your official title is, and where you are currently working.
My name is Gabrielle R. Merchant and I am an audiologist and a hearing scientist AuD, PhD, CCC-A. My official title is Scientist II and Director of the Translational Auditory Physiology and Perception Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital.
Q: Where did you receive your bachelors and AuD and/or PhD?
I received my BA from Smith College (self-designed interdepartmental speech and hearing science major) in 2009, my PhD from the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program in speech and hearing bioscience and technology in 2014, and my AuD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2018.
Q: What made you want to become a Research Audiologist?
When I entered Smith College for my undergraduate degree, I entered through a program called STudent Research In DEpartments (STRIDE). I was paired with a mentor and started doing research my first year. I was very fortunate to be paired with Jill de Villiers, PhD, an expert in language acquisition. She was conducting research at the Clarke School for the Deaf and through that experience I became incredibly interested in hearing, hearing loss, hearing science, and audiology. I told Jill I wanted to get my AuD after Smith, but Jill encouraged me to consider a PhD (or both). I really enjoyed research and was always asking questions, so the ability to work in a position where I would get to ask questions and work to find answers to inform clinical practice became the dream.
Q: What do you do as a Research Audiologist?
I am the principal investigator (PI) of a translational hearing research laboratory that has an emphasis on pediatrics, conductive hearing loss, and wideband acoustic immittance. As PI of the lab, I spend a lot of my effort thinking about and designing experiments and studies, writing grants to fund those studies, overseeing data collection, analyzing data, and disseminating our research findings by writing manuscripts and giving presentations. My position is currently 100% research, but I collaborate very closely with our clinics (Audiology, ENT, and Pediatrics), and hope to return to the clinic at least one day a week at some point in the future. I also love to recruit and test participants whenever I can or it is needed. Not all PIs participate in data collection, but I really enjoy it because we use a lot of traditional clinical audiological methods in the lab and it keeps my skills fresh. I am also very fortunate to have a research audiologist who works in my lab who is absolutely incredible. She oversees a lot of the day-to-day data collection. (So our jobs often look pretty different, but function wonderfully together.) I also teach a few classes outside of my position at Boys Town as an Adjunct Instructor.
Q: What classes would you suggest for students wanting to pursue becoming a Research Audiologist?
I think the most valuable skills you have as a research audiologist are your clinical skills! Seeking out a variety of challenging and comprehensive clinical placements will be advantageous in allowing you to work in a variety of environments with different patient populations. Many research audiologists participate in data analyses, manuscript preparation, and presentations, so a statistics course or a research course is always helpful. A strong attention to detail and good organizational skills are also really important as a research audiologist – there generally aren’t courses that teach that, but you can certainly hone those skills through your coursework and clinical work.
Q: What opportunities do you remember from your under/graduate career that really helped you solidify your interest in research?
I was so lucky to enter Smith as part of the STRIDE program that I talked about earlier. Participating in research starting my first year as an undergrad with really amazing mentors was, without question, the thing that sparked my interest most.
Q: What kind of placements would you suggest to a student wanting to go into research?
Because there are fewer research audiology jobs out there, I think having a wide variety of comprehensive clinical skills is ideal as it potentially opens up more options of the types of labs or settings you can work in and with varied patient populations. Try to make sure you get experience in as many areas as possible – in diagnostics across the lifespan, pediatric specific experience is helpful if you will be working with children, hearing aids, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, tinnitus, and vestibular assessment. But also don’t worry too much if you aren’t able to get placements with all of these experiences, there are certainly opportunities for on-the-job training!
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were deciding to go into research?
How much time I would spend writing! And how much variation there is within research audiology in where you can work and what you do and who you work with. Despite it being a sort of smaller, niche area of the field, there are still a ton of options as to what your job looks like in the end. I think that is one of the coolest things about it – if you can dream it, it probably exists out there, or you can make it exist.
Q: Is there anything else you want to say or suggest to students considering going into Research Audiology?
Research audiology is amazing. It often comes with flexibility that you don’t get in the clinic, you are constantly getting to learn and be at and contribute to the cutting edge of evidence-based practice, you often get the option of doing a lot of things you wouldn’t be able to do as easily in clinic like work on manuscripts and give presentations, and you still get build relationships with patients and families. If you ask a lot of questions, enjoy reading research articles, or just like to constantly learn new things – I encourage you to explore it! The summer (National Institutes of Health (NIH) T35 program is a great way to experience what research audiology would be like during your audiology program! The Research Audiologist Information Support Network (RAISN) is another great resource.
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