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Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
As a child growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, Shilpi Banerjee got every Thursday off school, so she accompanied her mother to her job as a teacher in a school for the physically handicapped. Thursdays also happened to be the one day of the week when a speech pathologist and audiologist would work at the school, Banerjee said, so she had an early first-hand view of what those occupations required. Now, some 20 years later, Banerjee herself holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in audiology and is an associate professor and director of clinical education for Pacific University’s new School of Audiology. She brings a wide variety of experiences and is working to establish Pacific’s first EarClinic, due to open in a few months.
What did you study?
Banerjee earned her bachelor’s degree in audiology and speech therapy in 1992 from T.N. Medical College, Bombay University, in a program she described as being “very intense and in depth.” Unlike the United States, where an AuD (doctor of audiology degree) is required to practice audiology, students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in India were ready and able to serve as practitioners. She worked for one year as an educational audiologist for the K.D. Shruti School for the Deaf in Bombay. But she was looking at other options. “I was convinced I wanted to do something with hearing aids, as in manufacturing hearing aids.” Graduate studies in audiology weren’t readily available in India then, so Banerjee applied to several schools in the United States. Northwestern University admitted her with a full fellowship. Much to her delight, her faculty mentor was Mead Killion, founder of Etymotic Research, which produces hearing aid products, earphones, headsets, hearing protection earplugs and other products, many made for musicians. “I couldn’t have planned it better,” Banerjee said. “It was meant to be.” She earned a master’s degree in audiology and hearing sciences in 1994 and a doctorate in communication sciences and disorders in 2003, both from Northwestern.
What was your career path after doctorate?
Banerjee served as an instructor at Northwestern and Northern Illinois universities and also was a research associate at the National Acoustic Laboratories in Australia. She also worked as a research assistant at Etymotic Research in the Chicago area and at Starkey Labs in Minnesota, where she became manager of algorithm research, then senior research audiologist, the last post she held until coming to Pacific last year. Banerjee has also served as a technical expert for Frye Electronics, an audiological equipment manufacturer based in the Portland area. While in Minnesota, she was actively involved with the Minnesota Academy of Audiology and was recently awarded Honors of the Academy in recognition of her outstanding contributions to that organization. Banerjee also recently was elected to a three-year term on the American Academy of Audiology’s Board of Directors. Now at Pacific, she said, “I jokingly tell people I have three full-time jobs. I teach classes, I coordinate all the clinical placements and I’m getting our clinic up and running. “I’m very, very grateful for the support from the community and from my college in doing all of this,” Banerjee added. “I’m very excited to be here,” she said.