I already had a bachelor's degree in music when I decided to pursue audiology four years ago. I went to an open house at one of the audiology schools I was applying to, and listened to professors explain how to put together a successful application for their AuD program. I recall one professor making this comment: “You'd be surprised how many applications we get from people with music degrees who think that they would be good at this,” he said with a laugh. My heart sank as I looked around the room and saw other prospective students chuckling to themselves. For some reason, a dichotomy exists between the worlds of science and art. There is a stereotype that scientists are not creative and artists are not analytical. I was moving from what is considered to be an artistic field (music) to a scientific field (audiology), and witnessing firsthand how people in these fields perceive such dichotomy—but I felt that there were very few differences between the two.
In the sciences, we try to explain something that occurs universally. We try to find repeatability and uniformity–something that is true for everyone everywhere. In the arts, we use our own unique experiences to shape the message that we are sharing. In audiology, we do both. We try to understand the mechanisms that affect the function of the auditory system and their impact on an individual's ability to communicate. The science of audiology is the process by which we methodically develop that understanding—whether that is a discovery about a specific patient or an observed phenomenon in a lab. While we try to explain and learn more about universal knowns, we also try to understand unique experiences (the art of audiology).
In music school, we study theory, history, and pedagogy. Our posture and technique are under scrutiny to the level that even the pinky finger is watched. We constantly collaborate with others in ensembles, and receive critical feedback and evaluation. It's often felt rigid and overly structured. But once we master the scales and theories, keep the pinky finger in the perfect position, and hone our ability to work with others, we are liberated and free to add our own interpretation to our performances. We still return to these basics, but we are able to make the music our own.
I feel the same way about audiology. I remember making videos with my classmates, taking case histories of one another, then analyzing and evaluating the videos to decide what could be improved. We learned how to think through masking procedures and analyze audiometric patterns associated with different etiologies. That also felt rigid. But slowly and surely, I am starting to feel that same liberation in audiology—the freedom to make my own decisions based on a patient's needs as well as on feedback from other professionals and not depend on a script or checklist.
Music school taught me a lot of things—empathy, collaboration, context, and communication, among many others. My experience in music school also helps me in the realm of research. Both the scientific and creative processes involve a historical context as well as critical and creative thinking.
My perception of art and beauty used to center around the music I hear or play. Now, that has expanded to seeing beauty in matching real-ear targets accurately, counseling on how a cochlear implant works, or exploring how a pilot study could be expanded. I see the beauty in this because I know what the results of these metrics mean: better quality of life for patients and their families. Audiological care is more than just clicking buttons and checking boxes; it's providing individuals with the means to access and make sense of sounds, including the beauty of music. And that, to me, shows the harmony of art and science.
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