Hong Kong-born Flinders graduate Boaz Mui (MAUD ’22) was at the end of a Master’s degree in Audiology and like many university graduates, began the hunt for a clinical position.
The prospect of extending his university stay and pursing the next step in his research career – a Higher Degree by Research – he admits was daunting.
Completing the most important part of the doctoral research degree – a thesis of up to 100,000 words – while completely achievable would be a big challenge, particularly with English being Boaz’ second language.
But there was something about delving into a world of fresh knowledge and continuing his research into the hearing condition tinnitus that he just couldn’t shake.
“I was hesitant in applying for a HDR (higher degree by research) because of the dreadful word count of the thesis!” he says. “So just like every other graduate, I started looking for jobs and thought I might study a PhD after a few years of clinical work. But it just didn’t feel right.
“I kept ruminating on doing a PhD and so I sought advice from my teaching staff and, of course, my supervisor (Professor Raj Shekhawat). They have been very supportive and reassuring, and so I thought, if this is where my passion lies, why not give it a go?”
Boaz begun his PhD journey at the beginning of 2022 after securing a scholarship awarded by UK start-up company Oto Health Ltd, which builds digital therapeutics such as smartphone apps for tinnitus, a condition described as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or humming sound in the head or ears.
Professor of Audiology, Dr Raj Shekhawat, left, and Flinders HDR student Boaz Mui.
Oto Health Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Jameel Muzaffa, and Dr Jimmy Chan, Senior Director of New Zealand digital health company The Clinician, are on Boaz' supervisory panel, as well as Flinders Associate Professor Niranjan Bidargaddi and primary supervisor Prof Raj Shekhawat.
Over three years, Boaz will investigate the accuracy of online hearing assessment apps, as well as the efficiency of Oto Health’s own tinnitus smartphone app.
Oto Health’s tinnitus app, called Oto, uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is one of the most clinically proven effective treatments to lower the severity of tinnitus.
Both hearing loss and tinnitus affects one in six Australians (around 3.6 million people) and can impact a person’s quality of life, causing them frustration and lack of sleep and, in severe cases, depression and anxiety.
There is no cure nor treatment that offers long-term relief for tinnitus, however, management strategies include psychological therapy such as CBT to reduce the stress and anger associated with experiencing the condition.
Boaz says while hearing health services are traditionally delivered face-to-face, they can create barriers for those who find it inconvenient to visit clinics in-person.
“Especially since the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a shift in clinical practice from in-person to online (telehealth),” he says.
“There are now apps that allow self-assessment of hearing levels and apps that may help reduce the impact of tinnitus, but their accuracy and efficacy are still yet to be validated.
Boaz’ final year of his Master’s degree played a part in his drive to take his research further.
“In the final year we had to work in groups on different research projects and mine was about how COVID-19 affected tinnitus patients because of symptoms and vaccination, change in lifestyle and mental health, and how they would like to see tinnitus care improve in the future,” he says.
“This experience sparked my interest in the research field, and I knew I wanted to pursue a career in this direction.”
Supervisor Professor Raj Shekhawat says four students are beginning their HDR journey with him in 2022, each project leading to greater outcomes for the audiology sector, and people with hearing conditions.
“We don’t have many PhD graduates in Audiology globally and Australia is no different, hence they are always in demand,” says Prof Shekhawat, who has an extensive network in academic and often connects his students with academics around the world.
“A PhD can open several lucrative career options with wider scope of growth and positive impact. Post-COVID-19, I am seeing a lot more audiologists contacting me for PhD plans locally and internationally.”
Boaz knows the next three years will be filled with both triumphs and challenges – one being the lengthy thesis that has occupied his doubts from the beginning.
“I have never done anything like this in my life, so just the thought of it (the thesis) shakes me to the core, especially as I come from a non-English speaking background,” he says.
“But I am sure no challenge cannot be overcome with determination, good time management, and support from my supervisory team.
If you are interested in participating in tinnitus and hearing research, please contact Boaz' team at Tinnitus.email@example.com
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