Michelle Hughes enjoys opportunities for impact in research, teaching at Nebraska

Michelle Hughes

Michelle Hughes enjoys opportunities for impact in research, teaching at Nebraska

26 May 2021     By Kelcey Buck

For more than two decades, Michelle Hughes has dedicated her career to studying cochlear implants, particularly the relationship between physiology and perception, as well as the feasibility of providing cochlear implant services through telepractice. When she joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as an associate professor of special education and communication disorders in 2018, she was ready to shift gears. 

“I’d been focused on research for 20 years,” Hughes said. “I had taught a cochlear implants course for several years in an adjunct capacity for the university and really enjoyed teaching. I had also been the director of an NIH-funded research training program for Au.D. students in my prior job and really enjoyed mentoring students in research. I felt the switch to academia would allow me to have a much greater impact with my work through training our next generation of audiologists and hearing scientists.” 

Changing career paths was nothing new to Hughes, who began her undergraduate career majoring in computer engineering at Iowa State University. When she decided that was not the right fit for her, she transferred to Nebraska and picked speech pathology and audiology. She immediately loved it. 

After earning her bachelor’s degree at Nebraska, Hughes headed to the University of Iowa for graduate school, planning to focus on speech-language pathology. She decided midway through to switch to audiology, in part because she was intrigued by cochlear implants. 

“After I finished my master’s degree in audiology, I landed a unique clinical fellowship at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Department of Otolaryngology that was a 50/50 split between clinic and cochlear implant research in the electrophysiology lab,” Hughes said. “The two lab directors, Drs. Paul Abbas and Carolyn Brown, were phenomenal mentors.” 

They encouraged Hughes to pursue a Ph.D., which she did, completing it in 2003. She then spent 15 years at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha before accepting her current position at Nebraska. In addition to her faculty position, Hughes is the director of the Cochlear Implant Research Lab (CIRL), where she and her team currently have two lines of research related to cochlear implants. 

“Being at UNL has opened a tremendous gateway to collaboration and exploring new areas of research,” Hughes said. “There are numerous internal funding opportunities for pilot projects that not only allow me to branch out with my research, but also to involve students in unique projects.” 

And the students are what Hughes cherishes most about being at Nebraska. The first cohort she taught graduated earlier this month and are beginning their careers in audiology. 

“They were a really great class and a lot of fun to teach, and I’m proud to be a part of their training.” 

And her first cohort of capstone students just finished their projects and are headed to their fourth-year externships. 

“Despite trying to finish research projects involving human subjects during a pandemic, they all did a fantastic job and turned in some really nice projects. I’m really proud of them,” Hughes said. 

Hughes was recently promoted to full professor, effective in August. While she appreciates this validation of her work, she continues to move forward with goals of getting two new areas of research funded. In the meantime, she will also continue enjoying being part of the university community. 

“I really love being at UNL. My coworkers are the best and the environment is wonderful!”

Special Education and Communication Disorders