The overall objective of this training program is to identify, motivate, and train the next generation of neuroscientists in Computational Approaches to the Neuroscience of Audition and Communication (CANAC). This objective maps elegantly onto the 2017-2021 NIDCD Strategic Plan and its Priority Areas that aim to understand the neural basis of hearing and communication at different scales of analysis and in real-world listening environments. These Priority Areas require not only rigorous experimental manipulations and data collection but also coherent computational theory to understand the data and to make testable predictions for future science. As such, we propose a T32 training program to develop the next-generation of scientists grounded in the experimental neuroscience of auditory and communication systems, while also being thoroughly trained and versed in theory and computation. A unique aspect of this training proposal is its integrative philosophy which leverages a highly collaborative and cross-disciplinary approach to science fostered by faculty on the Penn campus: students will master techniques from diverse traditional fields to become independent investigators vested with skills in both computation and experimental neuroscience. Our program curriculum includes core and elective courses designed to achieve this breadth of knowledge and is consolidated by suggested research laboratory rotations that will be taken by interested first- and second-year predoctoral students from associated graduate groups. Upon successful completion of a preliminary exam at the end of the second year, interested students will apply formally to our program, based on a written statement of interests and plans, a thesis proposal, grades, and letters of recommendation. Accepted trainees will receive two years of funding for PhD-thesis work and individual advising on current training options, funding opportunities, and future career plans. Students will receive cross-disciplinary training: they will be co-mentored by two faculty members, one whose expertise is computational and another whose expertise is in the experimental neuroscience of auditory and communication systems. Additionally, because of the direct translational and clinical importance of audition and communication, clinical faculty will also serve as members of the trainees' thesis committees. We will instruct all of our trainees in the responsible conduct of research, and will continue efforts to enhance diversity of our applicants via targeted recruitment, broad advertising, and dissemination of program outputs. We have devised a sophisticated evaluation team to keep track of progress and outcomes, and plan a comprehensive training program for predoctoral trainees, including journal clubs, seminar series, and an annual retreat. Together, these activities comprise an integrative, directed training program that will develop a talented and diverse pool of students to become long-term leaders in the field of auditory and communication neuroscience. !
Hearing loss is commonplace: (1) 2-3 children out of every 1000 born in the USA have some form of hearing loss and (2) by the age of 75, over 50% of adults have disabling hearing loss. Language impairments, such as aphasia, also affect a significant number of Americans: 150,000+ each year. Thus, the proposed training program is extremely relevant to public health. It will help identify, motivate, and train the next generation of auditory and communication neuroscientists to exploit the explosion in computational and theoretical techniques from the very earliest stages of their scientific careers, so that they can help lead the way to better diagnoses and treatments of a wide range of hearing and communication disorders.