Continuing our latest news post series Meet the PIs, today we are delighted to share an interview with Dr. Bas van Dijk.
Based at Cochlear Ltd., one of the two beneficiaries in the MOSAICS project, Bas is one of the co-supervisors of ESR4 – Enrico Migliorini. Below he shares his thoughts on what this role has meant for him so far and what he’s learnt from collaborating in the MSCA EID MOSAICS.
What is an aspect of hearing-related research that still fascinates you today as it did when you first encountered it? There are many aspects of hearing research, and especially Cochlear Implants that fascinate me. The one question relevant to this project is why is fitting a Cochlear Implant after 35 years still considered ‘an art more than a science’? The lack of high quality and quantity data is definitely at the heart of this, something we are tackling in the ESR-4 project of MOSAICS.
Is this also what brought you into this field of science? If not, what was the driving factor for you? When I was six I wanted to be ‘an inventor’, I made a ‘lab’ in my room with old radios and typewriters. When I went to high-school and had my first physics lesson I knew I wanted to be a physicist. That never changed, as I did my masters in Solid State Physics and then a PhD in Biophysics. Because I liked the applied aspect of physics, I then proceeded to take a medical physics position in the UMC Utrecht where I started working on Cochlear Implants.
What is your role in MOSAICS and what are your key responsibilities within the project?My role is to supervise ESR4 in his project on adapting the fitting process of cochlear implants through the use of machine learning techniques, aiming to improve performance on recipients, reduce the work load on audiologists, and allow identification of performance barriers caused by suboptimal fitting.
Are there any aspects of working within an MSCA EID that surprised you? I have been in a few EU projects, also other Marie Curie ones so most aspects were known. The best thing about these projects is the great environment it allows us to create for the PhD Students. Being part of such a project, working with multiple students on the same topic and having a large group of experienced researchers steering your project is really a unique benefit for the PhD Students in these projects.
What is your goal for your ESR? What is it that you want him to take away from this experience as part of MOSAICS?
The goals for my ESR are to investigate how machine learning and data science can help us make fitting more consistent in cochlear implants, with the ultimate goal to make sure all recipients reach their optimal performance. What I hope my ESR takes from this project is that medical data science is not just math and numbers but affects the lives of real people. Therefore, we should always be driven to do the best job we can.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a supervisor, and what has it taught you? Specifically for ESR4, the main challenge is that the data we need to do ‘real’ data science/machine learning is not available. CI studies are done on small groups of people and we do not consistently collect larger amount of high-quality data. This can not be ‘solved’ in this project but hopefully by showing feasibility on a smaller scale we can build the argument for clinicians, patients and companies to start collecting data on a larger scale for future applications.
In general in MOSAICS, of course, the global pandemic has been the main challenge. The resilience of all the students has been amazing. I remember how much my own PhD was also a social event, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to spend the first part of your PhD locked up in a room without meeting people. All the students have done an amazing job dealing with this.
If you could give one key piece of advice to an aspiring early-career researcher in your field, what would that be? Always be curious and never forget the impact your research has on the lives of real people. Take every opportunity to speak to recipients of a hearing device. It’s easy to forget this when you are programming an algorithm, doing statistics on datasets, or writing a paper. Never forget every number in our data represents a person whose life likely has been considerably altered by the technology that we have developed.
From your perspective, what skills are important for starting a career in the industry sector?
I would mostly answer this question the same as the above. Even working for a commercial company, and in the Marketing department now, what drives me daily is not ‘how do we sell more implants?’ but ‘how do we help more people and how do we help them better?’. I think this is very important.
If you could collaborate with any other field of science, which would interest you the most? I have always been very impressed by space research. There is something magical about working on a project for years, sending it into space and then waiting months or years or decades before you know if it was successful. Can we do a hearing experiment on the Moon or Mars please?
We warmly thank Bas for sharing his thoughts in this interview and for motivating early-career researchers to pursue their work in the interest of helping others. Stay tuned for the next piece in the series!