Where Research and Clinical Practice Meet: Being a Research Audiologist

By Meredith Spratford, AuD, CCC-A and Sarah Al-Salim, AuD, CCC-A

You may have had research experience in undergraduate or graduate school and believe that working in research isn't possible unless you have a PhD. However, research audiology allows you to bring the best of your clinical skills to the scientific table to contribute to discoveries that improve patient quality of life. Research audiologists are lifetime learners, flexible, organized, detail-oriented, and passionate about helping others. Although no two research audiologists have the same job or responsibilities, many audiologists have found their niche in research audiology and expanded their duties over time.

What does a research audiologist do?

During the beginning stages of some studies, a research audiologist is consulted as the subject-matter expert to ensure that protocols are feasible to run. If not, they suggest ways to improve the testing experience for the participant. A research audiologist manages the day-to-day lab operations while ensuring that recruitment and data collection happens smoothly and on schedule. Data collection may include new ways to measure listening fatigue or test the efficacy of a new technology feature or hearing device not yet on the market. Research audiologists play a crucial role in interpreting and sharing research findings. They can present practical ways for clinicians to incorporate research findings into their everyday practice.

As part of their diverse set of responsibilities, research audiologists may perform any or all of these tasks:

  • Design studies: Develop protocols, generate stimuli, create surveys and questionnaires, work with institutional review boards (IRB) for study approval
  • Recruit participants: Develop participant networks through community outreach, search for participants through database mining, coordinate with medical professionals to recruit clinical populations of interest
  • Collect and manage data: Perform behavioral or physiological assessments to complete the protocol, check quality/integrity of data collection
  • Analyze and interpret data: Monitor progress toward study completion, perform statistical analyses, create charts and figures of data, translate data into clinical implications
  • Disseminate findings: Present at conferences; publish manuscripts; develop newsletters, infographics, and social media posts

Where do research audiologists work?

Research audiologists may find careers in a variety of settings.

  • Industry—Research audiologists (e.g., those who work for hearing aid manufacturers or medical equipment manufacturers) are on the cutting edge of emerging technology. They may create or validate new algorithms, features, devices, accessories, software, hardware, and more. Often, these researchers are working to ensure that a product meets the needs of both the patient and clinician. In these roles, audiologists work on cross-functional teams, including representatives from engineering, data science, sales, and marketing, to name a few.
  • Universities/academia—Many professors have grant funding that supports their research programs at academic research institutions. Research audiologists may manage lab staff and data collection, provide clinical supervision, and oversee student projects.
  • Research hospitals—Research audiologists who work in hospitals have their “ear to the ground” about what clinics need. Because of the proximity to ENT and audiology clinics, research audiologists in hospitals may be involved in clinical trials with new devices or drug therapies.
  • Military facilities—Research audiologists who work in military settings may work with active-duty service members, veterans, and family members. They often have a role in studies examining various impacts of noise exposure on hearing and are critical advocates for improving hearing conservation program standards.

What training do I need to become a research audiologist?

Research audiologists often hold a clinical doctorate of audiology (AuD) and apply their clinical skills and competencies within multidisciplinary teams. The knowledge gained from patient-focused education and clinical expertise is the most valued skill required as a research audiologist. However, clinicians often learn other skills over time, as well—such as project management and statistics. This is especially beneficial to those audiologists who did not have much exposure to research in graduate school.

Do I need past research experience?

Although having research experience is helpful, it is not mandatory. Research-minded clinicians can successfully transition into a research role without prior experience in a lab. If you carry clinical audiology skills and knowledge and have a deep desire to learn, can focus on details, and can take an idea and turn it into a plan, then you have what it takes to be a research audiologist.

Examples of how your clinical experience can impact research projects:

  • Suppose you have clinical experience testing young children with hearing loss. In that case, you can share strategies to help keep young children motivated during data collection, modify the physical testing environment to be kid-friendly, reduce distractions and background noise, and allow visual cues to aid in understanding.

  • Research projects may require the recruitment of participants from audiology and medical clinics. Knowing the clinical scheduling process and workflow allows for easy integration of study recruitment procedures into the clinic with little or no disruption to the flow of the clinic.

  • In many cases, participants grant permission to gather information and results from their health records. Knowledge of clinical documentation, medical coding, and different electronic medical record systems can make this process much more efficient.

  • Some projects aim to create procedures or tests with the eventual goal of incorporating them into clinical practice. Knowing the time and reimbursement constraints imposed within a clinical setting can help guide the implementation procedures and tests within the research setting—while also helping to ensure that the methods used within the research project are feasible in the audiology clinic.

Finding Opportunities

You may not know whether you’d like doing research full-time or in what type of setting. The Research Audiologist Information Support Network (RAISN) could be an excellent place to start exploring what opportunities are available for research audiologists. There are many opportunities to see firsthand if you might like working in a particular research environment.

If you are currently a student, you can

  • volunteer or work in a research lab at your university (even if not in your department);
  • participate in a research internship, like the T35 research training program; or
  • find an externship that includes clinical and research components.

Both students and clinical audiologists can do the following:

  • Be a participant in research studies.
  • Ask research audiologists (AuDs and PhDs) about their work.
  • Reach out to RAISN, and they can connect you with research audiologists who work in universities, hospitals, military settings, and industry.
  • Attend live—or watch recorded—research audiologist Q & A sessions. Check out this Career Portal Live they did with us. 

Many audiologists never knew research audiology was a career option when they started their educational journey to become audiologists. However, they can’t imagine doing a different job now that they’ve found their career home.