Meet Lauren: a PhD candidate within the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences

Lauren Story is a creative crafter, game board enthusiast and final year Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) candidate, within the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

Lauren grew up in country Victoria, before moving to Melbourne for boarding school. She went on to study a Bachelor of Biomedicine, followed by a Master of Clinical Audiology. She enjoyed the University of Melbourne environment so much, that she stayed with the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology to pursue a PhD.

Her journey to studying a PhD

Lauren initially chose the University of Melbourne because of its reputation. “I figured I should aim for the best university I could and see where it got me,” she explains.

University was also a place where Lauren made friends who she, ten years later, still catches up with regularly. “When you go to university, it’s one of the first opportunities you have to interact with people who have really similar interests and similar strengths to you,” she reminisces.

During her undergraduate degree, Lauren attended a summer scholarship at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. This experience was fantastic, but it made her realise she would prefer to spend less time in a laboratory and more time connecting with people.

It was through studying breadth subjects, that she had the idea of pursuing an alternative field. Breadth subjects are a part of Melbourne’s unique curriculum for undergraduate students. You’ll be empowered to create a degree as unique as you are, by choosing subjects from a different area of study to the degree you enrol in.

“I was unsure, when I started, if I liked the idea of breadth subjects (I want to study science, give me more science!). But the breadth subjects turned out to be some of the most interesting subjects I took and gave me a broader view and understanding of many things. In fact, it was breadth subjects that led me to do my master's degree.”

Lauren decided to pursue a Master of Clinical Audiology - an area she fell in love with.

It was all about connecting with people, helping them understand their dizziness or hearing loss and bringing them back into the world of communication.

She decided to continue studying at Melbourne because of her positive undergraduate experience. Her master’s degree at Melbourne didn’t disappoint, and Lauren found she excelled in this new field.

“I loved being completely immersed in a department that was at the cutting edge in terms of research, with such a supportive teaching team and supplemented with clinical placements as well."

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Her PhD experience

After completing her masters, Lauren started working as an audiologist at the University of Melbourne. She is a vestibular audiologist which means she specialises in balance. Did you know that as well as using our ears to hear, we also use them for balance?

“The balance part of the ear is used to detect motion. When there’s something wrong with the ear, we can’t detect movement very well, which means we might be moving and our brain doesn’t know what’s going on, or it might tell us that we’re moving when we’re not. These are different types of dizziness and they can have very big impacts on people’s lives.”

Dizziness is often an invisible illness, which means there are no physical symptoms; it can be difficult for others to know about or comprehend. Lauren’s PhD focused on the patient’s support system; she investigated how chronic dizziness impacted a loved one’s ability to function and offer support to their dizzy partner.

Her research demonstrated that families, significant others, and patients would benefit from receiving more information.

“Families really struggle when they don’t know what’s going on and they can’t communicate about dizziness. I’m hoping that this research will inform healthcare practice for anyone who works with dizzy people. I don’t just mean audiologists; I mean doctors, physiotherapists and lots of other professions. I hope they take that into account and really try to bring the family into management to get better outcomes for the family members but also for the dizzy people, so they can get the right sort of family support that they really need to help themselves heal.”

Lauren is not only making a positive contribution through her research; during her PhD she took a group of students to Malawi to provide outreach hearing services, and she also started a qualitative support group for other researchers in her department.

What did she learn from her PhD?

Undertaking years of self-directed research meant that Lauren needed to implement a range of strategies to help her achieve her goal. Some of the strategies included the following:

  • time management
  • breaking the overall tasks into smaller milestones
  • understanding how you work best (i.e. in the morning or evening) and using that to your advantage
  • understanding the uniqueness of the challenge and being willing to change your approach to suit.

The PhD is often described as a rollercoaster, but you never really appreciate that until you have lived it. It is all-encompassing, and yet one of the most intensive self-development phases I've experienced in my life.

Lauren now applies the skills she learnt, to other aspects of her life. The organisational prowess she needed when completing her PhD is proving useful in her current wedding planning.

Her advice

Lauren wasn’t afraid to change her mind during the course of her studies, and it led her to her true passion. While it’s great to have direction, it’s ok if your path isn’t linear and you discover new things as you go.

In the words of Lauren, “Be open to making sure you’re doing something that is really what you want to do to make you happy. You’re going to do the best research and you’re going to be the best contribution that you can be if you’re doing something that you really enjoy.”

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