New Speech and Hearing Program Joins Harvard, MIT

In an unprecedented unification of scientific disciplines, the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Services and Technology (HST) has created a new doctoral program in the sciences of speech and hearing.

The new Program in Speech and Hearing Sciences is the only one of its kind to specifically address new methods of research in hearing and speech, according to a statement released this week.

Dr. Nelson Yaun-Sheng Kiang, a professor of physiology at the Harvard Medical School and the head of the program, said he hopes the program will address medical issues ranging from learning disorders to new artificial hearing mechanisms for the deaf.

There are currently 250 graduate programs in hearing and speech nationwide, although none specialize in training scientists for research in that field, Kiang said.

"What we're doing is trying to teach people how to think about these problems," said Kiang, also a professor of communication sciences at MIT and a neurophysiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.


He said this new "thinking" will include a synthesis of all studies that involve communication: neurology, engineering, behavioral studies and medicine.

There are eight students in the speech and hearing program this year, but Kiang foresees a "steady-state" enrollment of 50 students in the near future.

According to the organization of the Speech and Hearing Sciences under the HST Division, all students who graduate from the new program will receive a Ph.D from MIT.

The HST Division received $4.5 million from the National Institutes of Health and approximately $1 million from private donors to fund the program, Kiang said.

"There has never been financial support to train researchers of this type," said Kiang. "But the people in the field realized that there were things coming out of research that could impact the health of the country."

Kiang's brainchild is the newest addition to the HST Division, which encourages cooperation between Harvard and MIT in the development of research in the medical sciences.

"The idea [of the HST Division] is to put people with analytical skills together with medical specialists," Kiang said. "It is a way to make the intellectual resources of the two schools work together."

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