I was born with severe-to-profound hearing loss. As there were no routine newborn hearing tests performed at that time, my family did not know I was hearing impaired until I was almost two years old. Upon my diagnosis, I was immediately fitted with hearing aids, but it was unknown whether I would be able to speak. Fortunately, I rapidly learned how to speak within six months. Despite this, I still suffered socially and academically due to my hearing loss. I found it impossible to understand my classmates at school, especially during free play with lots of sounds, multiple people speaking at the same time and laughter. I depend heavily on reading lips to understand what people are saying, so unless I’m in a face-to-face conversation, I am probably not able to fully participate.
Growing up, I was horrified that my disability meant I was perceived as “abnormal,” so I made every effort to deny my disability. I grew my hair long to hide my hearing aids. Instead of admitting that I could not hear a joke or question, I would just laugh and try to guess what was said (I am still guilty of doing this sometimes, especially when everyone is wearing masks!). The ironic end result of these maladaptive behaviors as a child was that I was perceived as less intelligent by many of my classmates; but I still preferred that people think of me as less smart than remind them I had a physical disability.
Helen Keller once said, “Blindness separates people from things, but deafness separates people from people.” My inability to socialize at school and my struggle to belong led to depression for many years. Thankfully, I transformed my insecure energy and desire to prove myself into a productive lifestyle with a huge passion and love for my scientific work. Providing the scientific community with cutting-edge tools and novel scientific findings has become my strategy to prove to myself that I was never as dumb as my bullies claimed. By helping humankind through my work, I am proving that people with disabilities are just as valuable and have just as much to contribute as anyone else.
Perhaps the most important part of my story is how I’ve received tremendous support throughout my life and along my academic journey. My teachers and speech therapists helped me learn how to speak with minimal impediment despite my hearing loss. Notetakers in college and graduate school helped me capture all the information being taught in class. These resources and experiences taught me how essential community is in order to thrive. I believe my experiences exemplify the transformational power of properly applied principles of equity and inclusivity; this drives my philosophy as a mentor and collaborator, and as an advocate for open science.
I am also aware of how profoundly different my life would be without my hearing aids. Being the beneficiary of powerful biomedical engineering and technology gives me a deep appreciation for how science and tools can transform lives—this is a major factor driving my scientific efforts today.
Together, my experiences motivate me to be a compassionate mentor who emphasizes work-life balance, helps build self-confidence, and cultivates a joy for discovery. My challenging past has empowered me to ask provocative questions, strive higher, and work harder—and always with empathy. Those who grew up with unique challenges have unique perspectives, and if there’s anything that makes for creative scientists, it is an ability to think differently. Thus, I strive to build a team with people from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. I furthermore pledge to always work to ensure equitable opportunities for my current and future trainees and collaborators. I am committed to ensuring that the high-quality contributions from my lab members and collaborators receive the audience and recognition they deserve. This approach is especially important as scientists from marginalized and underrepresented backgrounds continue to face challenges in acquiring opportunities and proper credit for their essential contributions to science.