How the letter A sparked one woman’s promising career in research audiology

09 February 2023

Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen is a promising young research audiologist, working at the frontier of audiological discovery at the Interacoustics Research Unit – IRU. We talked to her about her work as a research audiologist and a PhD student.

When Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen (34) talks of her work as a research audiologist, she lights up and starts explaining her subject in a way that suggests she often needs to do this. Explain the nitty gritty of complex audiology to the rest of the world. To all of us who know and feel the impact of sound or the absence of it – every day of our lives – but who know little of the way our perception of sound actually works.

That is Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen’s specialty. As one of the core members of the Interacoustics Research Unit (IRU) and a PhD student at DTU – the Technical University of Denmark – she conducts research focused on people’s ability to understand speech in a noisy environment and how this ability can be measured, and the results used to improve hearing care.

The details may be complex and understood mainly by her audiology – and engineering – peers, but the focus of her research is highly relevant in the standard audiological clinics, and this is what drives her.

 

Starting at the letter A

Lisbeth had recently finished the gymnasium – the qualifying education to apply for a university degree in Denmark. She was travelling the world, enjoying the endless possibilities of youth, and now she was due to choose her future education and career.

What do you do when the world is at your feet, waiting for you to take part, while you are contemplating what may be the most important decision of your life?

For Lisbeth, the answer was this: You start at A – the first letter of the alphabet. She went through a list of all the possible majors you can choose – but didn’t make it further than A.

‘Audiologopedics’ seemed a good fit. It dealt with language and hearing difficulties, their reasons, and remedies. The possibility to work with people and make a real difference in their life, combined with the aspects of physiology and anatomy, appealed to her.

‘I’ll apply for this major’ she thought – ‘and then I won’t have to read about all the other choices that start with B, C, D, E and so on, and I can continue my journey around the world.’ She recalls this laughingly. But she made her choice and started a different kind of journey. This one towards a future in audiological research.

 

A new passion

As part of her education, Lisbeth took classes in audiology, and immediately knew that this was what she wanted to work with. She wrote her thesis about the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT) in cooperation with Eriksholm Research Centre, which is part of Oticon, and this became an important step for her towards becoming a research audiologist.

‘My work on my thesis at Eriksholm really sparked my enthusiasm for working with scientific research, but my passion for audiology already started when we had the first course at university. I thought: This is what I want to do – not the linguistics or language difficulties. I found audiology to be much more tangible, as it dealt with the anatomy and physiology of a hearing loss.’

Lisbeth completed her master's degree in audiologopedics from the University of Copenhagen in 2016, and started working at a communication center in Roskilde, where she was a consultant to patients dealing with hearing and communication problems. She liked working with people, and helping them cope with hearing loss, but she missed the research work she had done as part of her master’s thesis. So, when the Interacoustics Research Unit were looking for a new research audiologist, she applied and got the job.

 

From working with patients to working with research subjects

‘I had enjoyed being an intern at Oticon during my studies and writing my master’s thesis at Eriksholm sparked my interest in doing audiological research,’ Lisbeth explains.

The Interacoustics Research Unit – IRU – has a declared goal to translate basic advances in audiology and hearing science into solving challenges faced by audiologists, ENTs, and hearing healthcare professionals.

Over the next 5 years, Lisbeth took part in several studies including authoring and co-authoring research articles that center around the ability to hear, distinguish, and understand speech in noisy environments. In September 2021, she published her first paper [1] as a lead author, examining sound pressure levels for stimuli used for hearing screening and diagnostic tests.

Finding an easy way to consistently measure people’s ability to understand speech in noisy environments would make a significant difference to people with hearing impairments and their rehabilitation process. That has captivated Lisbeth for years, and it became the focus of her industrial PhD which she began in September 2021 in collaboration with IRU and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

‘It was always in the cards, so to speak, that I would do a PhD eventually,’ Lisbeth says. ‘Søren Laugesen (Research Manager at IRU) agreed to be my PhD supervisor. We always worked well together, and his support was a deciding factor for me in choosing to do a PhD. Being able to research the subject of my PhD in advance was an exciting and important process, as I was determined for my work to be relevant – also outside of the academic community.’

Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen's manager at IRU, Søren Laugesen, sees Lisbeth’s pursuit of a PhD as an opportunity for IRU as well as for herself.

‘Lisbeth is adding further layers of competence to her profile which will strengthen her role as an independent researcher and lead of collaborations with IRU’s many external research partners,’ he explains.

 

Lisbeth is sat on a chair with wheels and wearing DD65 headphones. Her workstation is full of computer equipment, gadgets, wires, cables and all you could expect for a busy researcher. Lisbeth is working on a laptop, with windows and a view outside to nearby trees to the right of her.
Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen at IRU.

 

Making a difference matters

Lisbeth enjoys the deep focus and analytical work that are essential parts of doing a PhD. At the same time, she gets to work with people – just as she envisioned when choosing audiologopedics for a major.

‘I am focused on carrying out research that is also relevant outside the research community. I gather my own data and people come to IRU and DTU to participate in my studies. Meeting them and hearing their stories helps me stay in touch with people who have hearing impairments, and I think that is important.’

Her research manager at IRU, Søren Laugesen, agrees: ‘Lisbeth plays an important role in bringing both the patient’s and hearing-care professional’s perspectives into IRU’s research,’ he elaborates.

A lot of the work Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen has done at IRU so far has contributed to the Audible Contrast Threshold (ACT™) test being implemented in the Interacoustics Affinity Compact. A brand-new test that hearing care providers can use for the benefit of people with hearing impairments. But Lisbeth isn’t one to rest on her laurels. She is moving on to the second part of her PhD, where she will explore ways to make this new test relevant to even more people with hearing impairments, by making innovative changes to the usual test methods.

Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen expects to finish her PhD in one and a half years approximately. When asked what she plans to do after that, her answer is to the point: ‘More hearing research!’

 

References

[1] Lisbeth Birkelund Simonsen, Ole Geisler & Søren Laugesen (2022) Equivalent threshold sound pressure levels for click and CE-Chirp® stimuli delivered by the SnapPROBE™, International Journal of Audiology, 61:8, 698-704, DOI: 10.1080/14992027.2021.1964042.

 

About the author

Ina Clausen is a Master of Arts (MA) in Journalism, having graduated from the Southern University of Denmark in 2014 and specialized on strategic communication. She has more than 15 years of experience within the realm of journalism and video journalism, holding the position as Video Journalist at Interacoustics A/S since October 2018.

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