Name: Evan Finley
Program: University of Arkansas at Little Rock in consortium with the University of Arkansas for Medical Science and the University of Central Arkansas
Mentor: Samuel Atcherson, PhD
1. Can you tell us a bit about your educational and clinical background?
I definitely did not go to college thinking I would end up remotely close to anything audiology-related. Despite not being interesting in audiology initially, I had plenty of personal experience with audiology up to that point. I have had deafness in one ear and a severe-profound hearing loss in the other since I was about seven. So, needless to say, I spent plenty of time in and out of Ohio State’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic! One interesting fact about my hearing is that I did not get a cochlear implant for my deaf ear until 3 years ago, when I was 22. My education began at a small liberal arts college by the name of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. At some point during my sophomore year, I realized that as much as I loved studying Communication and Philosophy as a double major, I was not really sure what I would do with those degrees upon graduating. After some intense internal debate, I decided to give Speech and Hearing Science a shot. Wittenberg, however, did not have such a program so I transferred to The Ohio State University and finished my undergraduate studies there. As someone who is doing his AuD and PhD at the same time, my clinical experiences have been similar to other 2nd year students; I’m still learning! My clinical externship won’t begin until either my 5th or 6th year in the program. Most of my time spent outside of class and clinic is spent working on an NIH grant with Dr. Atcherson as a Graduate Research Assistant. We are researching the functionality and feasibility of a prototype transparent medical facemask.
2. Where are you currently pursuing your PhD and what is your topic of research?
Right now I am a 2nd year student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock under the mentorship of Dr. Sam Atcherson. Currently, I am looking into the relationships between auditory (re)habilitation and the psychosocial aspects of hearing loss. I believe communication between audiologists and their patients could be improved if we better understood hearing loss from the patient’s perspective. There is still a lot we do not fully understand about the patient experience from the moment of diagnosis to fitting/mapping and then every day following that. What we do know is that the experience varies greatly between all individuals of all ages. At the same time, audiologists should be expected to correctly identify the situation and needs of every patient and work diligently to satisfy them. Counseling is often an overlooked step in the process of treating patients. Understanding the technology we use is one thing, and communicating effectively with patients so that they truly feel cared for is another. You may have heard someone say that audiology is both “an art and a science”, and I certainly subscribe to that idea. Thus, I have made it my objective to find ways to blend together the art and science of audiology in ways that will help both professionals and patients better understand how to get the most out of their experiences together. I have not yet chosen a dissertation topic, but I am getting closer each day. When you consider that auditory (re)habilitation essentially encompasses all of audiology, picking just one topic is a bit tricky!
3. How did you secure a mentor? What did that process look like?
While studying Speech and Hearing Science at Ohio State I realized I had an intense interest in pursuing research in the field of audiology. I explained this realization to my childhood audiologist, Dr. Gail Whitelaw, who I now consider a friend and mentor and she helped me take the next step. Gail then put me in touch with Dr. Sam Atcherson in Little Rock about my interest in pursuing an AuD/PhD. From there we discussed many ideas at great length which all led to my eventual application and admittance into the AuD program with the expectation that I apply for the PhD program the following spring. Dr. Atcherson agreed to take me on as his mentee when I applied and I have been here since!
4. What stemmed your interest in your current topic of study?
Upon studying communication, philosophy, and little bit of psychology at Wittenberg, I developed a great passion for demystifying the driving forces behind human nature. I am trying to understand hearing loss from the perspectives of those who have it by using research supplemented by my own experiences as a person with hearing loss. I have always been curious about how two individuals with similar hearing losses can have drastically different life experiences. What is it about hearing loss that makes it such a barrier to success for some people but not for others? I want to help find better ways to give people with hearing loss their best chance for success and happiness.
5. What would you like to pursue in your career after you achieve your PhD?
My goal is to become an expert in auditory (re)habilitation so that I will be able to write, speak, research, and practice in that area to help further the profession. There is always room for every profession to grow and I greatly look forward to opportunities in the future that help me affect that growth alongside other professionals in our field. Ideally, I would like to be doing something that allows me to spend some time helping patients in the clinic while also doing research and teaching students. I love teaching, research, and clinic work equally so I would hate to have to give any one of them up!
6. Do you have any advice for students who have an interest in research?
I would tell you to not be be afraid of talking to your professors and advisor about potentially pursuing some research opportunities. Ask around your program’s department first and see which professors are currently doing research and who is in the process of starting a new project. Most professors will be working on multiple projects at the same time with each one in a difference stage of the process. One project might be in the idea phase while another one is in its data collection phase and another is in the writing phase. See what you can do to help out your professors and get a taste of the research process. You might even get your name on a research poster and a publication for your efforts! It never hurts to at least ask because your professors will at the very least recognize your interest in research and keep their eyes open for opportunities to throw your way. Your time as an AuD student is the best time to explore research opportunities with very little risk.
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