PhD student shares her rewarding road to further study in Clinical Audiology

From graduate research to working in a clinic, and returning to pursue PhD studies, Zoe shares her graduate experience in Adult Hearing Rehabilitation.

Zoe McNeice began her career studying a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Human Physiology. Despite being initially unsure of which area of Health Sciences to specialise in, she decided that the Master of Audiology delivered the best career outcomes in line with her interests and ambitions. After working for a few years in Adult Hearing Rehabilitation with National Hearing Care, McNeice decided to further advance her career by returning to the University of Melbourne in October 2020 to pursue a PhD. It’s great to have her back.

Congratulations on starting your PhD studies last year. Could you tell us about your PhD project and why you have chosen this specialisation?

Photograph of Zoe McNeiceFor Audiology, PhD topics and their supervisors are often pre-established each year. My supervisors are A/Prof Karyn Galvin, A/Prof Dani Tomlin and Dr Camille Short from the University of Melbourne, as well as Dr Barbra Timmer from the University of Queensland. My chosen topic involves Adult Rehabilitation, as I enjoy the process of building a relationship with regular patients. My clinical experience involves working predominantly with adults experiencing hearing loss, and providing aural rehabilitation using tools, such as hearing aids. My research targets how adults with hearing loss describe their listening difficulties.

This involves establishing what kind of information patients feel is important to tell audiologists and what patients need to say to provide a complete picture of their difficulties to their clinician. Once we have an understanding of what patients feel they want to say, we will endeavour to develop a digital tool that patients can use to better document this information and better relate their experiences to their clinician.

There seems to be a rise in the use of digital tools in the health industry. What are the benefits of creating a digital tool for your project?

Our envisioned tool will focus on enabling the documentation of patients’ day-to-day living. Patients can more accurately record their thoughts and experiences in “real-time”, rather than retrospectively describing their situation when they are at the clinic.

This project also has the potential to encompass telehealth services. Patients could send their documentations remotely before their appointment with their clinicians, which could serve as a method of initiating their future consultation. I believe this tool will have a lot of relevance going forward.

You worked for a few years as a Clinical Audiologist. Could you share your experience in entering the clinical working environment and returning to academia to undertake a PhD?

The course structure of the Master of Clinical Audiology involves placements throughout the degree. I found that this helped to prepare me well for the working environment. In saying this, there’s nothing quite like starting to work professionally as a Clinical Audiologist. I really enjoyed the aspect of becoming more independent and seeing all the clients myself, while managing a clinical diary and the corresponding caseload.

After a few years of clinical work, I believed I was ready for a change. After making contact with the University of Melbourne and hearing of this topic which interested me, I decided that it was time to pursue a PhD.

Why did you decide to study here at the University of Melbourne? What are the highlights of your postgraduate experience?

For my Bachelor’s degree, I chose this University due to its outstanding reputation, employability options, facilities, and very comprehensive library system. Afterwards, I continued my further studies here as I was very satisfied with my university experience.

Doing a PhD is significantly different from a Masters as it is individually focused, and you must be very self-motivated to do it. However, everyone has been so helpful in the Department and so I’ve found this support to be a highlight of my PhD experience. I’ve also really enjoyed the opportunity to assist current audiology students as I also provide teaching support as a complement to my PhD studies.

Could you share some advice with current Audiology students who are considering pursuing a PhD?

You should talk to as many people as you can who have done a PhD or are currently undertaking one. That's where you’ll get a lot of insight into what this experience is really like.

Making sure that you are well prepared prior to meeting with your supervisors. Taking notes before and after your meetings is extremely important. Try to maximise the time you have at your supervisory meetings as they provide guidance, clarity and encouragement, and the time of your supervisors will be in high-demand!

You should also ensure that you are engaged with the topic you choose. Choose something that deeply interests you and that you are committed to research for over three years. Consider how you cope with challenges and your ability to overcome them. Any research you complete as part of the Masters program will help provide a taste of whether or not research is the right pathway for you, as well as the direction you may go into. I recommend using these experiences as well as any relevant clinical experience to help inform this important career decision.