Name: Hannah Glick
Program: University of Colorado
Mentor: Anu Sharman, PhD
1. Can you tell us a bit about your educational and clinical background?
I became an audiologist because human connection—our ability to feel seen, valued, and heard—matters. I became a neuroscientist because, for so long, the profession of audiology has focused on treating the ear and not the brain, where perception and cognition ultimately occurs. If we better understand the effects of hearing loss on the brain, we may be better able to improve early detection, intervention, treatment, and rehabilitation for clinical populations with hearing loss across the age spectrum.
I graduated with my AuD in 2017 from the University of Colorado. During the AuD program, I was fortunate to do clinical rotations through diverse hospital, industry, non-profit, and private practice settings. I completed my fourth year externship at Denver Ear Associates, a neurotology private practice in Denver. Over the course of my clinical training, I was fortunate to work with many amazing audiologists. I have Jennifer Torres, AuD, to thank in particular. Her passion for cochlear implants and counseling is contagious, and her mentorship challenged me to become a better audiologist.
While pursuing my AuD, I decided to simultaneously pursue a unique interdisciplinary PhD at the University of Colorado under the mentorship of Dr. Anu Sharma. This interdisciplinary “triple” PhD program involves coursework and training across the fields of speech, language, and hearing sciences (SLHS), cognitive science, and neuroscience. This education provided me with a solid foundation in the areas of neuroimaging, brain plasticity, and cognition. In my research, I use neuroimaging techniques to study brain plasticity using clinical (3-5 channel) and high-density (128-channel) EEG in pediatric and adult populations with hearing loss, from auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder to single-sided deafness to age-related hearing loss. During my PhD, I was a pre-doctoral NIH NRSA T32 trainee at the University of Colorado-Denver for 2 years, where I gained advanced training in data analysis and research ethics. I also spent a summer doing research in industry at a cochlear implant company. For the past few years, I have been managing Dr. Sharma’s lab, teaching, and focusing on research.
2. Where are you currently pursuing your PhD and what is your topic of research?
My PhD dissertation at the University of Colorado focuses on the effects of early-stage age-related hearing loss on brain plasticity and cognitive function. Age-related hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition facing older adults. Epidemiological studies indicate a significant association between age-related hearing loss and all-cause dementia. One plausible theory underlying the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline is that hearing loss may result in effortful listening, decreasing cognitive spare capacity. In the long-term, hearing loss may lead to increased cognitive load and decreasing cognitive reserve, potentially accelerating cognitive decline. Hearing loss may also induce changes in brain structure and function. For example, hearing loss or deafness may result in cross-modal reorganization, or the selective ‘re-purposing’ of deprived brain areas (e.g. auditory cortex, as a result of hearing loss) by intact modalities (e.g. vision). However, it is unclear how these changes in neuroplasticity relate to behavioral outcomes (e.g. speech perception and cognition).
For my dissertation, I am using high-density EEG and behavioral techniques to 1) examine the relationship between cross-modal reorganization of the auditory cortex by vision, auditory-visual speech perception, and cognition in adults with hearing loss, and 2) to evaluate the potential for intervention with well-fit hearing aids to restore typical cortical and cognitive function.
3. How did you secure a mentor? What did that process look like?
I chose a mentor based on three aspects: innovation, support, and character. While a great deal of important scientific discovery happens in the realm of basic science, I knew that I wanted to work more of a translational neuroscience research setting, bridging the gap between the lab and the clinic. Dr. Sharma “thinks big” and this type of innovative thinking has been a refreshing and inspiring force in my educational pursuits. I will not skirt around the reality that the PhD can be grueling at times. I wanted a mentor who could emotionally support me through the process, making themselves available to meet on a weekly basis. I also wanted a mentor who had the financial support/grant funding to support me, and a mentor who encouraged PhD students to learn to pursue their own funding opportunities. Character is another overlooked component in a mentor. Find a mentor who is a real person, a mentor who has a hobbies and a life outside of academia and strives for a similar balanced life for their students. You want to work with a mentor who you can communicate and get along with; you will be working alongside each other for many years!
4. What stemmed your interest in your current topic of study?
My grandmother—an immigrant from Finland to the United States and one of the most inspiring forces in my life—started developing hearing loss in her 50s. Witnessing the impact of hearing loss on her life fueled my desire to better understand brain changes in the context of aging and hearing loss. Further, I am appalled by the cost of hearing aids and lack of rehabilitation for adults receiving hearing aids and cochlear implants. With a better understanding of the impact of hearing loss on the brain, this may lead to innovation in hearing technology, changes in hearing healthcare policy, changes to billing/reimbursement for aural rehab, and innovation in individualized medicine.
5. What would you like to pursue in your career after you achieve your PhD?
For most of my PhD career, I thought I wanted to pursue a career as a tenure-track university professor. Last year though, I took an amazing entrepreneurship course in the business school at the University of Colorado, which opened my eyes to career alternatives. Many of the skills learned in a PhD (e.g., rapid “prototyping” (pilot studies), analytical skills, writing skills, public speaking skills, resilience, and flexibility) are just as applicable to start-ups or industry as they are to academia. This experience compelled me to network with scientists who have used their education in different ways to make a positive contribution to the world. I am open to multiple career routes when I graduate. In my opinion, PhD programs need to do a better job of exposing their graduate students to careers within and outside of academia. If you never explore all of the possibilities, you might never find which avenues you can best apply your skills.
6. Do you have any advice for students who have an interest in research?
You don’t have to do a PhD to be interested and involved in research. The clinical audiologists out there who take a research-based approach to working with patients, who keep up with what’s new in the research world, and who are committed to using evidence-based practice impress me so much! They take research and put it into action.
As a student, you will never know if you are interested in research until you get involved with it! For the curious and determined student who finds themselves asking a ton of “why” questions, the student who loves digging in and discovering new things, the student who has good communication skills, the student who wants to keep all of their career options open, a PhD might be the route for you.
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