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Third-year audiology doctoral student Kaley Graves stands next to the Speech and Hearing Science Building.

Student Spotlight: Kaley Graves, from patient to practitioner


Third-year audiology doctoral student Kaley Graves is missing the first week of classes this fall, but she has a great excuse.

Thanks to her sterling accomplishments as a budding audiologist, she’s on an all-expenses-paid trip to visit one of the premier hearing aid manufacturers in the world: Oticon’s headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“I had to reread that email six times to make sure it said ‘Denmark’ and not ‘Denver, Colorado,’ or something,” Graves said. It’ll be her first time out of the United States.

Earlier this year, Graves was selected as one of six recipients of the American Academy of Audiology Foundation’s Empowering Student Scholarship, sponsored by Oticon and awarded to students who show “exceptional promise” as future clinical audiologists.

“I have hearing aids in both ears, so I’ve been the patient my entire life,” Graves said. “Now I’m on the other side of the booth and can be the clinician, which I think is so fun.”

Graves grew up in Monticello, Ill., a half-hour drive from the University of Illinois campus. Audiology wasn’t initially her field of choice—she graduated from University of Illinois Springfield in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

That career path didn’t fit, but Graves found her way into intriguing research projects that focused on hearing and visual cues. One of her undergraduate mentors encouraged her to apply for a behavioral neuroscience position at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, also in Springfield, where she studied the development of tinnitus in lab rats.

Graves went on to perform hearing research for a decade, but she craved more human connection on the job. A suggestion from her own doctor set Graves on her current course.

“I was admittedly kind of a pain in the butt to my current audiologist about all the things that she was constantly doing to my hearing aids and all of the things that she would do on a daily basis with her patients,” Graves said.

“And she eventually was like: ‘You should probably just get into this field. You've already got the hearing background, go deal with people—it’s more fun.” Graves’ mother was especially encouraging of her daughter’s new career path. When her parents first discovered their child had hearing loss, “it was terrifying,” Graves said.

“[My mom] said for patients, especially families that have young kids who are finding out their child has a hearing loss, it’s going to be huge for them to see their doctor has a hearing loss and can be successful in life.”

Today, Graves keeps busy as president of the Student Academy of Audiology chapter at Illinois. The registered student organization doubles as a networking site for SHS students and an outreach arm for the department.

A few events they’ve taken on: Hearing safety stand-ups at the Urbana’s Market at the Square, free hearing screenings in the SHS building, and recently, cerumen (earwax) removals for the ClarkLindsey Village retirement community.

Especially for older adults, earwax buildups can be a primary cause of muffled hearing, Graves said. Graves and another member of her graduate cohort cleared residents’ ears while a handful of first-year students in the audiology program cleaned their hearing aids.

“Being able to do a minimal amount of work over two hours to improve their quality of life was huge,” Graves said. “So many people left that room super happy.”

Her audiology work extends to Illinois’ student population as well. Graves has booked a hearing safety presentation in the fall for the student bandmates of the Marching Illini.

“The first thing that I'm really going to try and drive home to them is to please wear ear plugs when you’re out and constantly practicing,” Graves said. “We were taught first year what the acceptable levels of noise exposure are over X amount of time. If they're out practicing for four hours and it's about 90 decibels, they need to do something to mitigate the effects of those loud noises.”

For now, though, Graves is preparing her Denmark itinerary: visiting Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, and seeing the Danish Crown Jewels. “I'm super excited to go be a tourist,” she said.

Of course, she’s ready for her Oticon visit. “They do a lot of innovation, they do a lot of workshops, they do a lot of Ph.D. student type-things,” Graves said. “I am just really, really fascinated by what I'm going to see behind the scenes at their research center.”

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