NCA Director: Teamwork moves all toward success

Rebecca Henderson // Special to Western News

Communication Sciences and Disorders professor Susan Scollie took the helm of Western’s National Centre for Audiology (NCA) this summer. She followed Prudy Allen, who served as director for 13 years, to the role.

Susan Scollie will tell you – she was elected a “caretaker,” not a director.

“It speaks to our collegiality; it’s a good-spirited group that is really happy to be working together. It’s a rare and positive element,” Scollie said of Western’s National Centre for Audiology (NCA), of which she took the helm this summer.

The Communication Sciences and Disorders professor follows Prudy Allen, who served as director for 13 years, to the role. The centre’s members elect a director, with Senate approval. It is a testament to the community that resides therein, Scollie said.

NCA is an interdisciplinary group that spreads across the entire breadth of campus but is united in a vision and a mission, Scollie stressed. Since stepping into the director’s chair last month, she has met with NCA principal investigators to determine the direction the centre’s members wish to go, while promoting and increasing interdisciplinary collaboration – at Western and beyond.

“The thing that brings us together is hearing, with a focus on hearing loss, understanding hearing loss, providing effective interventions, clinical service delivery, clinical training of people who can provide hearing health-care services – that’s our common denominator. There is a huge range of people who have that as the common thread of interest across campus,” Scollie said.

She is grateful to Allen and the legacy she leaves behind.

Allen built a robust research centre with substantial, state-of-the-art, world-class infrastructure that came from a series of successful Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grants, Scollie noted. She also took the centre from a collection of researchers with individual funding to achieving group-level funding for collective operation costs through the Ontario Research Fund.

Allen worked to increase the interdisciplinarity of the centre and to build bridges with basic hearing scientists, including those who work with animal models and “outside the realm of the profession of audiology,” opening spaces for future collaboration with researchers, health-care providers and industry partners, Scollie continued.

The NCA Scollie inherits is an established research centre and a respected training ground for audiologists beyond Western and the London community – she knows this. As the centre prepares for a period of renewal, Scollie is looking for ways to respond to members’ wishes of expanding partnerships and collaboration.

“What I’m really hearing from my colleagues is they would like to have ways of using membership in our centre to reach outside, as well. We have lots of good collaborators around the country and around the world. Members want to recognize the contributions their offsite collaborators make, as well as the centre’s reach,” she explained.

“If we have an active collaboration at another university, that is part of our research mission. We want to see how we can grow the reach of the NCA and really have more outreach activity, and more structured approaches to outreach, going on.”

The clinical community of audiologists in Canada, for one, has many Western NCA graduates. Scollie hopes to forge connections with the program’s alumni, offering research findings that might benefit their practice as well as clinical collaboration opportunities.

Growing the centre’s research capacity, its reach and its impact does come with some challenges, she noted.

“The granting landscape is always changing. We have always adopted a diversified strategy of funding and we need to continue that. We do a blend of Tri-Council funding, from mostly the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), but we are open to alternate funding. We have Ontario-based funding, service contracts, industry contracts for research and we try to keep that as diverse as possible,” said Scollie.

“We want to grow more on the CIHR side and have more interdisciplinary collaboration across campus. There are heavy opportunities for collaboration with Engineering and the Brain and Mind Institute, and continuing to grow those is a significant research priority.”

As for Scollie, she will continue teaching – with a modified teaching load – the development and clinical fitting protocols of hearing aids. The clinical teaching program in audiology resides in the Faculty of Health Sciences’ School of Communicative Sciences and Disorders and is one of the nation’s foremost training programs for the profession.

“My classroom teaching always has been, and always will be, very important to me. I really believe in the centre and I want it to be as healthy and robust as I can humanly make it,” she said. “Our teaching is one of the reasons why our clinical training program in audiology is so strong; we are the largest clinical training program in Canada.”

There are a number of exciting, ongoing research initiatives within the centre, Scollie added. Currently, there are PIs working to advance hearing diagnostics with support from the Ontario Research Fund, in collaboration with the province’s hearing industry, diagnostic and rehabilitation specialists as well as hearing aid providers, manufacturers and testers.

Individual lab activities in the centre include using animal models to understand how the brain adapts to receiving signals before and after hearing loss as well as before and after receiving a cochlear implant; hearing diagnostic development; development of tests for auditory processing and even telepractice for audiology.