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Vision board come true: MSc Audiology grad fulfills dream of attending Dal
Convocation Q&A: Melanie Santhikumar
Congratulations to all of our Dal Health Class of 2021! To celebrate Spring Convocation 2021, we chatted with students from across Dal Health.
- Name: Melanie Santhikumar
- Pronouns: she/her
- Degree: MSc Audiology
- Where you’re from: Toronto
How significant is it for you to receive this degree?
To say that I am ecstatic to receive this degree is an understatement; it still feels surreal to me! I made a vision board three years before coming to the program, imagining myself at Dalhousie, even going as far as to create a fake acceptance letter, and sticking on pictures of Halifax. Having this vision materialize for myself is a huge personal accomplishment.
My parents fled the civil war in Sri Lanka and came to Canada as refugees in the late 80's. My mom worked in factories during the week and additionally worked evenings and weekends as a seamstress. Witnessing her struggle motivated me to want a better life for us. In addition, my father holds a Bachelor of Science from Sri Lanka, but was unrecognized in Canada, and he had to take up other types of work. Yet, my dad played an integral role in my early education. He went the extra-mile to tutor me so that I could learn more than what was being taught in class. I have always appreciated the privilege of access to an education in Canada because it is like a passport to eventually work anywhere in the world.
Of course, the reality is that when you pursue a dream in education, it does take a lot of discipline, sacrifice and perseverance. In my own case, there were many personal obstacles and obligations which made me question whether I would ever be able to pursue this degree and further my education. I am so grateful for the never-ending love and support of amazing mentors and the many friendships and relationships formed along the way, both across Canada and abroad! This degree would not have been possible without them, and it is a testimony to the power of friendship, unconditional love, and faith.
What were the highlights of your degree?
Having completed my undergraduate degree at a bigger university with larger class sizes, I absolutely loved the small and intimate size of the audiology program at Dalhousie. By establishing familiarity with the professors, it was a gift to have them be so engaging and readily available to answer questions without making me feel intimated. I enjoyed all of the opportunities we were given for observations, such as doing pre-school screenings in first year where we experienced real life applications of the career. The placements were the main highlight for me, even during the pandemic! My placement coordinator was aware that this city girl had a strong desire to try rural placements (Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Thompson, Manitoba). My last placement in Thompson, Manitoba was also unique, unlike anything I had experienced, and I am not just speaking about the cold! I had the most exposure to Indigenous cultures there. I also got to see how healthcare is practiced in remote settings with having one audiologist service multiple regions.
What will you miss about your time at Dal?
Dalhousie was a dream come true in many ways, so I already miss being in Halifax and on campus. I thoroughly enjoyed the events, interprofessional initiatives and opportunities to speak at student-led conferences. I was also part of the Tupper Concert Band and it was enjoyable meeting other Dalhousie and community members. I also really enjoyed having wonderful classmates (now colleagues!). One of my favourite memories is from when my mom came to stay with me. Valentine’s day before the pandemic hit, I bought her in to class to share about Sri Lankan culture and had her cook some spicy Sri Lankan food. My classmates not only ate her cooking, but also made her feel so welcome. It was a memory that spoke volumes to the openness and understanding of my peers.
What was your journey to Dal and to this program?
My undergraduate degree was broad enough that I was still unsure of which path to take after completing it. Did I want to pursue research, speech-language pathology, or teaching? Since I was 16, I had dreamed of the Maritimes (even though I, nor anyone I knew, had been there). As I grew older, I wanted to specifically go to Dalhousie University, considering its excellent reputation in the science field. While considering my options, I worked at a wonderful place called The Listening Centre. They used sound stimulation (music and voice) as training to improve focus and facilitate social adjustment, language and learning skills. Their goal was to help children and adults with a wide range of issues such as Global Development Delays, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disabilities or ADHD. After about a year doing that, I moved to France for 10 months to be an English Language teaching assistant and to explore whether teaching or speech pathology was the path for me. However, towards the end of my time abroad, upon the suggestion of my former employer at The Listening Centre (and mentor), I started looking into a career as an audiologist. The most appealing aspect was that I knew audiologists worked with auditory processing disorders, which I was seeing at the Centre. Without going into detail, auditory processing disorders are related to issues with listening and processing rather than hearing the sound itself. It was an eye-opener to realize the vital role that the ears play in our quality of life. As an audiologist, I knew I could have a career as a clinician who directly helps people, but also have the avenue to pursue further research should I choose.
What topics/research/work did you become passionate about during your education?
Since I came in with an interest in auditory processing disorder, I really enjoyed doing my so my research project working with someone who was also passionate about the subject, Dr. Greg Noel (Hearing Speech Nova Scotia) and the knowledgeable input from Dr. Steven Aiken. I was also grateful to have worked with Dr. Janine Verge and my peers in writing an article on technology accessibility and living with hearing loss. In the year-long process of meetings and research, Dr. Verge’s passion was contagious and I am now very interested in the subject.
How did COVID-19 impact you during your studies?
I cannot say enough how grateful I am to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders for doing everything they could so that we could graduate on time. At the time that the pandemic hit, we were wrapping up our second year of classes and were supposed to start our internships at the end of April. I had chosen to go to Yarmouth, but COVID meant cancelling all plans. Uncertainly of when placement would take place, if at all, and the stress of graduation possibly being postponed weighed heavily. Our faculty did a wonderful job having virtual townhall meetings to keep us updated and reassuring us, even if nothing was certain. They managed to abruptly move the classes scheduled for the fall to online summer courses. Even if it was difficult to adjust to online classes, the silver lining is that it kept us all connected, and we did not feel like we were wasting time, twiddling our thumbs and being unable to work. During the fall while concurrently completing my placement, I was a teaching assistant for a course. Doing it all over Zoom was a unique experience, and I was impressed with how wonderfully the first-year students handled starting grad school during a pandemic. In spite of the pandemic, I was still getting job offers before even graduating, which also speaks to the reputation of the program.
What’s next for you?
I recently moved to Grande Prairie, Alberta to start my career as an audiologist at Soundwave Hearing Care. My employer is also a Dalhousie alumni, and offers great services at her clinic; I am really looking forward to being part of her team. I continue to update my vison board, so it will be exciting to see what this Dalhousie graduate will continue to do!
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