It’s been 17 years since Els Walravens enrolled on to the Audiology master’s at the University of Manchester. Coming from Belgium, her main concern ahead of starting the course was the English language, something that she has mastered over the years with her career taking her from Oxford Road to the capital of Australia. Read all about her career, in her own words, below…
I started at the University of Manchester after meeting students and teachers of the master’s degree during a conference when I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in audiology at the Arteveldehogeschool in Ghent. This event made me realise that I wanted to learn more, and preferably at this university. I had a background in audiology, making English the main challenge when starting my master’s degree in 2003.
As well as being taught by experts in their field, I liked that some of my fellow students were already working in audiology and that I learned from other students with a different background. During my degree, I had a more in-depth introduction to research, and a highlight for me was having an article published based on my master’s thesis. I also enjoyed discovering parts of Great Britain with the University’s International Society and on my own. My main language both at university and in my own time was English, so my language ability greatly improved during my one-year post-graduate degree. I value that I’m still occasionally in touch with some of my fellow students and flatmates.
While finishing my thesis, I contacted the world-renowned National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) in Australia to find out about a research placement, as I wanted to know what audiological research was like. This was not available, but I was advised to work for the other part of the company, Australian Hearing, and apply for a position when it became available. I was interviewed over the phone and my MSc in Audiology from The University of Manchester made me eligible for a work visa.
I moved to Canberra in the middle of 2005 and worked for Australian Hearing for over five years, helping to provide hearing services to adults and children. The training and support from colleagues provided me with a solid experience in hearing aid fitting and all that comes along with it. Although I was based at Canberra hearing centre, I supported other hearing centres in New South Wales, and sometimes Queensland and the Northern Territory. These trips allowed me to see different parts of the country I may not have discovered otherwise. The welcome of my colleagues at Canberra Hearing Centre was crucial in starting to make me feel at home, and I was happy to be adopted for Christmas every time I didn’t return to my family in Belgium.
At the end of 2010, I started as a Research Audiologist at the National Acoustic Laboratories. As the research division of Australian Hearing, this organisation is probably most known in audiology for creating the NAL fitting rules. It was inspiring to start my research career with scientists from all over the world who are experts in different areas of hearing, hearing loss, prevention, diagnostics and intervention. I liked using my clinical skills to answer research questions about hearing aid features and hearing aid use and I also enjoyed learning how to prepare for a study, analyse the results and write up the study.
During my research at NAL I also learned broader skills, like working with colleagues in another state and communicating my work to both peers and research volunteers. During this time, I started volunteering again for the Special Olympics, screening athletes’ hearing, which I was introduced to during my bachelor’s degree.
Through the HEARing Cooperative Research Centre and the University of Queensland I was able to complete my PhD – Trainable Hearing Aids in Practice: Impact and Application – my biggest career-achievement so far. As a researcher and PhD student, I was able to present at and visit conferences, learning more about other research and meeting colleagues. A stand-out for me was going to the International Hearing Aid Research Conference in Lake Tahoe, California in 2016, where I heard established researchers from around the world, and met other students at different stages of their audiological career. At the end of 2018, I decided to move back to Europe after completing my PhD, to be closer to my family.
Since August 2019, I have worked as a Clinical Research Audiologist at Widex, a part of WS Audiology, in Lynge, Denmark. Here I help evaluate features, approaches or hearing aids using the experiences of external volunteers. Similarly to when I moved countries before, my main initial challenge is language, which I’ve enjoyed learning so far. I’m lucky to again have a welcoming group of colleagues who make me feel included and help me in any way they can.
Whichever degree you choose, ask questions and reach out. You never know where you might wind up!