Our Summer Studentship scheme
Our Summer Studentship scheme funds undergraduate students to gain experience in renowned hearing research labs across the UK. By funding them to complete a small research project for up to 8 weeks, we hope to inspire the most talented students to go on to consider a career in hearing research.
This year, we awarded nine Summer Studentships to students at universities across the UK. Audiology student, Alia Habib, won our prize for writing the best report about her project and experience at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre.
During her studentship, Alia tested a short questionnaire to see if it was a good measure of social isolation in people with hearing loss. She found that this new questionnaire was of high-quality and so could be used by audiologists to find out if interventions such as hearing aids actually reduce social isolation in people with hearing loss.
Alia said: “This summer studentship has been an invaluable experience, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. It was an incredible opportunity and has motivated me to enter hearing research in the future”
Alia tells us more below:
Evaluating a brief questionnaire to measure social isolation in adults with hearing loss
As part of the Action on Hearing Loss Summer Studentship 2017, I was sponsored to undertake a 2-month placement at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre. I worked on a research project with Dr Eithne Heffernan and Dr Mel Ferguson exploring social isolation in adults with hearing loss. Previous research has shown how hearing loss and social isolation are linked. This can then have an impact on the person’s quality of life, leading to other health conditions such as depression and dementia, and so it is crucial that this is identified early on.
My role included creating an online survey to test our ‘Social Isolation Measure’. This measure is a brief questionnaire that is specific to hearing and designed to be used with adults with hearing loss. As a student audiologist, this was an area of interest to me, as the social impact and effects of hearing loss can often be overlooked. People with hearing loss receive interventions (such as hearing aids) from audiology clinics and questionnaires are routinely used to look at how much benefit a person is getting from these interventions. However, no questionnaires exist that are good-quality measures of social isolation, and that could be used quickly and easily with patients in an audiology clinic. This is why my project is important and needed to be carried out.
Key findings from the project
We found that the Social Isolation Measure was a valid, high-quality measure of social isolation in adults with hearing loss. We also found that it could measure social isolation consistently, in a stable way over a period of time. This means that the questionnaire could now be used in audiology clinics. Using it would provide audiology clinics with valuable information so that they could show the impact of their services on social isolation. For example, it could help to provide evidence that hearing aids could reduce social isolation. The questionnaire also provides a good tool for opening up discussions about social isolations and related problems with people with hearing loss. This would ensure that people with hearing loss receive the right support, for example the interlinking of mental health and dementia support services, where needed.
What I gained from the experienceOver my 2-month placement, I gained a great insight into hearing research; an area that I previously wanted to explore. I was given the responsibility to oversee the daily running of the project. This included recruiting people to take part in the research, correspondence and data management. I developed several research skills, such as how to analyse data and write scientific reports. I also developed important transferrable skills like teamwork and time management. I also carried out activities that
involves patients and members of the public in research (known as ‘Patient and Public Involvement’). Patient and Public involvement is an important part of the research process, which helps to ensure that the research being carried out is relevant to the people who are affected and the wider population.
How it informed my future career plans
Having had more clinical-based experience as part of my audiology degree, I enjoyed gaining some research experience and seeing how the findings affect audiology as a whole. Alongside being mentored by Dr Eithne Heffernan and Dr Mel Ferguson, it was inspiring to learn from leading figures in hearing research by attending guest seminars whilst at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre. I also met with other researchers at the centre and learnt about the different areas they are working on, such as tinnitus and hyperacusis. This made me realise how broad hearing research can be, and what future applications their findings would have for this rapidly developing field.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my summer studentship and am grateful to Action on Hearing Loss for providing me with the opportunity to successfully undertake a research project. Following this placement, I co-authored a manuscript on this project for publishing in a top international hearing research journal. This experience has been a great platform for my future career, and I now hope to enter hearing research in the future. I believe that this was an invaluable experience and I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the research side of Audiology.
Find out more
You can find out more about the research we’re funding in our biomedical research (https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/finding-cures/our-biomedical-research/) section.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our research, sign up to receive our Soundbite (https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/finding-cures/our-biomedical-research/research-news/) e-newsletter. It’s a monthly email, filled with the latest news about hearing and tinnitus research, and hearing technology.