To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science and International Women's Day, we caught up with Bhavisha to ask her about her research, her role models and her goals for the future.
What sparked your interest in studying audiology?
Like many others, I did not know much about audiology before joining the profession. I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare and I enjoyed working with technology so it seemed like a very good fit.
Can you tell us about your current research?
Audiologists use a number of assessment tools to test hearing and some of these are behavioural measures which assess a person’s responses to sounds. The sounds we present are usually pure tones (beeps) in order to test different frequencies and levels and diagnose potential hearing loss. However, it is very common for a patient’s main difficulty to be the difficulty hearing speech. Over the years there have been many tests developed that present speech sounds to assess speech recognition or discrimination.
The first part of my PhD study explores the usage of such testing in UK audiology service provision. Secondly, I have been developing a new spatial speech in noise task and investigating how it can be used to assess word identification and localisation performance of hearing aid users. Finally, I am exploring hearing aid user’s perspectives of the audiology assessment process in relation to their everyday hearing/communication difficulties.
How did it feel to be nominated for the Audiologist of the Year Award last year?
The nomination was a lovely surprise, but it was made even better when I found out that I had been nominated by one of my research participants. He emailed me shortly after the nominations were announced to say that the research subject was very important to him as a hearing aid user and someone who had experienced the audiological assessment process over many years.
You appeared on an episode of Teletubbies. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes that is my main claim to fame! It is great to continually try and raise the profile of audiology services, particularly in a fun way. Children are often frightened of coming to the hospital and we see many children with complex needs. In order to prepare them for their hearing test we give parents some materials including storyboards so they can explain the process in advance.
The ‘Listen’ episode of the Teletubbies features me using the games we play in clinic to test a child’s hearing (play audiometry), so it is another form of information for children and their parents. In fact, it’s been played many times all across the world. I was even recognised in Zambia as ‘the lady from the Teletubbies’!
You wrote recently about racial inequality in UK healthcare and particularly the audiology sector. How can we improve representation?
I am a Trustee for the British Society of Audiology and I lead the Membership group and the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) group. I feel this work is important in ensuring the BSA is accessible to all members and for all members to feel they are able to contribute.
There is also work that is needed to investigate inequalities in UK hearing healthcare provision with the aim of improving access to services for all patients. The first step to improve representation is to listen to views, experiences and opinions in order to identify and start to disassemble barriers. I have noticed that even just setting up a space to have these conversations can be extremely beneficial.
Who is your female role model and why?
Tough question! I have so many. My PhD supervisors, Debi Vickers and Jenny Bizley, are definitely my role models. Alongside their ever-expanding research and teaching work they have supported and encouraged me throughout my introduction to research and I am very grateful for that. The CEO of Deaf Kidz International, Kavita Prasad, is a powerhouse - with experience in international development and disability inclusion she is now committed to the safeguarding and protection of deaf children and young people and improving the access to hearing healthcare in low resource settings.
My role model in my NHS job is Nupinder Bhogal, Head of Paediatric Audiology within Hounslow and Richmond NHS services. She has created one of the best community paediatric audiology departments in London and is constantly adapting to face new challenges, particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In my family it was my mother who motivated me and my sister to do better and push ourselves, from piano grade exams to learning new languages. In fact, her catch phrase was always: “You can and you will!”. I am also lucky to be surrounded by female friends who strive to make so many positive changes in the world.
What academic superpower would you pick and why?
Good question! Two skills I’ve always come back to throughout my career have been resourcefulness and resilience. I’ve mentioned them in a lot of talks and blogs but they really are so important. Resourcefulness because I feel like I’m constantly looking for new techniques, new statistical methods and new writing tips - many people have already specialised in these so I embark on a journey of finding these people and reading their work, watching their tutorials and asking so many questions.
And when it all seems to get a bit much, there comes our good friend resilience. The ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Whether that was during a power cut in the audiology clinic in Zambia, deciding to adapt my PhD project because Covid 19 brought data collection to a screeching halt or trying to write a thesis on top of many other responsibilities. Resourcefulness and resilience save the day.
Do you have any skills or talents that most people don’t know about?
During the national lockdown I picked up a paint brush for the first time. I took inspiration from one of my new heroes - Bob Ross! After watching hours of his show, I plucked up the courage to give it a go and now I have far too many paintings of mountains and trees.
What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?
I love reading crime novels, playing piano, painting and spending time with my partner and our rottweiler and two cats.
What’s a goal you have for yourself that you want to accomplish in the next year?
I definitely want to submit my PhD thesis in the next 12 months! I would also love to get a few more research articles published. I think that is enough to keep me very busy.