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Sriram Boothalingam: Postdoctoral Fellow in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Modified: April 26, 2016

For Sriram Boothalingam, postdoctoral fellow in Communication Sciences, the best part about life at Northwestern is the depth of research and the great minds available in his chosen field of Audiology. “Northwestern is the birthplace of Audiology.” He says, “There are legends who I’ve known only from reading their papers and books, so it was an amazing opportunity to come here and interact with them in person.“ 

After attending undergraduate college at the University of Mysore’s All India Institute of Speech and Hearing, Sriram moved to Southampton, UK to receive his Masters in Audiology. From there, he worked for two years as an Audiologist in Scotland before moving to London, Ontario to work toward his PhD in Hearing Science at the National Centre for Audiology at Western University. He arrived at Northwestern in 2014 to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Sriram studies hearing, more specifically, how the brain is able to control the ear to modify how we hear. “We are able to attend to one thing while tuning something else out,” he explains, “There is a higher-level mechanisms that do that in the brain, but there is also a primitive, reflexive mechanisms that reduces the impact of noise and helps us hear speech. For example: you’re able to tune out background noise at a cocktail party to listen to people talk. I’m trying to understand that mechanism.”

Sriram came to Northwestern to work with Dr. Sumitrajit (Sumit) Dhar in Communication Sciences and Disorders. “The first time I met Sumit was at a conference where I was presenting my work.” Sriram says. “We immediately began bouncing ideas off one another, like measuring how the auditory system works when you stress it, giving it a fast or slow stimulus to see how it is activated differently.”

They are currently working to develop tools to reliably test the efferent system that can be easily transferred to a clinical setting. Sriram has secured a grant from the American Speech Language Hearing Foundation to accomplish this project.

In addition to this work, Sriram recently applied for an NIH grant. “I’m trying to understand how the primitive mechanism that controls hearing interacts with the higher-level mechanism in the cortex,” he explains. “You can change how you hear based on what you are paying attention to, and the only link between the brain and the ear is this primitive mechanism. We put in a grant to measure brain potentials as well as how this primitive mechanism works at the same time.”

Sriram has found the postdoctoral community to be very supportive and friendly. He is the chair of the international committee for the Northwestern Postdoc Forum, where he aims to help international postdocs integrate into daily life in a new culture. As someone who has been through this process several times, he understands the distinct challenges.

“When I first moved to the UK, I completely shut off,“ he remembers. “It took me a long time to understand how to talk to people. Even though I predominantly spoke English in India, it was very different in the UK. So I know how hard it is to adjust to a new country.”

His group has applied for a grant to bring in coaches to teach international postdocs how to communicate in different cultural settings. Sriram believes this would not only be beneficial to the international students, but the rest of the postdoc population, as well. “It’s good for people to understand how difficult the transition can be and what [international postdocs] are going through.”

After his fellowship ends, Sriram hopes to stay in Academia to continue his research. His wife, who is currently at the University of Toronto, is in the same field. They hope to find a University where they can work in the same field. 

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