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The Catalyst

Women's History Month 2014 - Hearing research student shows promise in lab, leadership

By Aimee Murray
Public Relations

When she’s not in a lab doing research or conducting activities for SGA or her college, fourth-year graduate student Kayla Hill loves spending time in the Office of Student Programs. The office serves as a respite for students and a resource for information about service opportunities, events and other campus happenings. photo by Sarah Pack, Public Relations

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today,” is more than a motivational quote, it’s how Kayla Hill, fourth–year graduate student and promising researcher, lives daily.

Originally from Arkansas, Hill, the second oldest of four girls, attended the University of Central Arkansas. It was there she met John David Swanson, Ph.D., who introduced her to research and became her mentor.

“He opened me up to the world of research and challenged me,” Hill said. “As an undergraduate, I wasn’t confident and he helped me begin to overcome that. He also helped me apply for a small travel grant to attend a conference which was in Charleston. That’s how I found out about MUSC.”

In 2010, as a result of the conference she attended at MUSC as an undergraduate student, Hill applied and was accepted to the College of Graduate Studies. Currently, Hill conducts hearing research focused on the causes of noise–induced hearing loss (NIHL) in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Although she had no previous research experience in this area before attending MUSC, Hill has developed a passion for otology research, especially issues related to NIHL.

“I’m fascinated by both the science behind our sense of hearing and the scope of hearing disorders that are awaiting medical solutions. NIHL is one of the most common causes of hearing deficits in the adult population and there is currently no established clinical therapy for the prevention and treatment of NIHL.”

Under the direction of Su–Hua Sha, M.D., Hill conducts research in Sha’s Molecular Otology and Signal Transduction Laboratory. Sha enjoys serving as her mentor and says Hill is a highly motivated, bright and personable student.

“Kayla has become a critical member of my laboratory by helping with various projects and building a team environment through interactions with postdoctoral fellows. She facilitates and plays an active role in weekly laboratory meetings and is always eager to volunteer for opportunities that may arise. She also has shown enthusiasm in mentoring undergraduate students during her Ph.D. training and has helped train and guide a summer undergraduate student in my laboratory.”

She praises Hill for reaching beyond her lab to work with other scientists in the College of Graduate Studies.

“In her first year in my laboratory, Kayla was able to take her data and interrelate it with class discussions to initiate collaborations outside of her realm of study.  Her ability to learn from collaborations and make connections in and outside of the field of hearing research will serve her well in her research career. I am fortunate to be the mentor of such bright student.”

Not only is Hill dedicated to conducting research, she also has emerged as a leader on campus, participating in student organizations.

As vice president of programs for the Graduate Student Association, Hill’s responsibility is to plan and coordinate all student events within the college. Most recently, Hill executed a Great Gatsby–themed cocktail party. Her next event, “Tea Time,” will offer new faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students an opportunity to play games and snack on traditional tea party foods, aimed at creating a relaxed atmosphere in which students can interact with faculty and postdoctoral fellows to network and solicit advice.

Hill also serves as the vice president for communications of MUSC’s Student Government Association as well as a student representative on the admissions committee for the Ph.D. program in the College of Graduate Studies.

“I really enjoy participating on this committee because it’s given me the opportunity to promote MUSC to our interviewees and share my story of how MUSC has impacted my life. As a student, I can provide a different perspective to the committee and it allows me a chance to be involved with the next generation of MUSC students.” 

In the Presidential Scholars Program, Hill works as part of a group of students from different colleges to complete outreach projects that address health issues.

“My group’s project focuses on important issues related to pregnant women and mothers with small children. We partnered with the Lowcountry Pregnancy Center and are planning a family health fair for March. Using questionnaires at the event, we hope to determine how effective our event is in communicating important information. We also hope to discover issues that need to be better addressed among this population.”

As a result of the energy and time Hill has devoted to research and extracurricular activities, she’s received several honors and awards. She received first place for her poster presentation at the annual MUSC Student Research Day, a graduate student travel award from the Association for Research in Otolaryngology and first place in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine seminar series. Hill also received an F31 fellowship award from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Even with all of the accolades, Hill remains humble.

“In undergrad I struggled with having confidence. Sometimes I still do. It’s something my mentors have really helped me with. I’ve improved so much. I think that’s one of those things that a lot of students in research struggle with and have to overcome as they begin to master their specific field. We all have to realize that we can do this and have the confidence to be one of the experts in our respective sub-fields in a world full of leading scientists.”
Hill believes that realizing she could indeed do it came with some responsibility. Her advice to new students is all about seizing opportunities.

“You need to be proactive, especially at this stage in your graduate careers. Sometimes training opportunities aren’t always going to present themselves to you. You have to go out, find them and take advantage of them.”

Editor’s note: In honor of National Women’s History Month, The Catalyst will feature women who make a difference at MUSC.

March 20, 2017

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