in touch with… Raj Shekhawat

Professor Giriraj (Raj) Shekhawat is the new Professor of Audiology in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Fresh from London just last month, he took a moment to share his interests, vision and thoughts on personal productivity.

What do you do at Flinders University?

As the newly appointed Professor of Audiology I am looking after research, teaching and service implementation in the department. I’m looking forward to activating more research; I understand the teaching of audiology is going very well at Flinders but there is scope to enhance and grow our research.

Can you share some of your vision for this growth?

I strongly believe in multidisciplinary research and hearing is such an important part of everyone’s lives. I am a big advocate for better awareness, more hearing services and new research to take the discipline forward. So I’m looking forward to working with people from speech therapy, medicine, epidemiology, from across different disciplines to see what we can do to create more awareness, more research projects, and programs where there is greatest need.

For example, I know research shows Australia’s Indigenous community is disadvantaged in terms of accessing intervention and management of hearing issues so I would like to kick-start some relevant research in this area.

What does your own research focus on?

At the moment I have one international research grant, which is funded by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, a UK charity. It’s a three year program based on the use of brain stimulation for people with tinnitus, to see if non-invasive stimuli can result in a lasting impact on tinnitus reduction. The idea is to find what can be done and how we can optimise the technique. I am really grateful to SAHMRI, who I am collaborating with on this, including Dr Andrew Dwyer and Professor Mark Jenkinson who will be helping in terms of the human imaging of the brain to see exactly what is happening at a neurological level.

Can you share a challenge in your life?

Building awareness in the community when it comes to hearing and hearing disorders is a big challenge. When I was in London I’d often take the tube and you notice a lot of young people blasting music in their ears not realising that exposing themselves to dangerous levels of noise can result in permanent damage.

In industrial settings there are regulations that protect hearing but in entertainment there is a lot of damage being done. I have two daughters and they love their music and it’s important to ensure they know loud is not fun, celebrations are not about being loud. Loudness can result in permanent damage.

So that is something I am always trying to communicate. In a TedX talk recently I spoke about the significance of hearing and the steps we can take to prevent hearing loss. There are basic things, and once you have a conversation with someone and they have that awareness, they’re usually not hesitant to take those steps. (Raj’s TedX talk can be viewed here.)

What is something you are proud of?

Professionally, I’m proud of my achievements in both teaching and research, for me they are equally important and support each other. I have been appreciated by my students and received awards for my teaching.

My students created a wonderful video message for me when they knew I was coming to Adelaide, and this highlighted the fact that university students pay for their education and deserve the best experience. As an academic, it is my responsibility to deliver that opportunity and those quality experiences. I think teaching is extremely important and must be research informed, must use innovative teaching methods and needs to be engaging.

A lot of people are stronger in teaching or prefer research, I am someone who finds them equally inspiring.

How do you wind down or relax in your spare time?

I have two daughters – aged nine and seven – and a newborn son who is just four months old, so we have a busy household. I spend a lot of time with my children but I’m also a strong advocate for self-care. If we don’t look after ourselves we cannot look after others.

So I have a mantra that every day I will find at least half an hour for myself. This could be a mindful meditation, or just reflecting, or writing something positive, something I’m grateful for. These exercises, together with acts of kindness, are very important to make us better human beings and as a result we can be more productive.

People often say they’re too busy to take time out for themselves but I think that is like saying “I’m too busy driving to put fuel in the car.” Then the car is going to stop, and you won’t be going anywhere! You have to stop and put fuel in the car and similarly we need to stop and look after ourselves, and those around us.

It is important to always be kind to people – our colleagues, students, families. I have received so much kindness and professional generosity in my life and I always try to pay it forward. If I’m on social media I will write something positive, if I meet a stranger, a bus driver, a shop assistant, I will make sure there is a positive exchange. Once you get in the habit of this it becomes part of who you are and all of a sudden you see so much goodness in the world, people go out of the way to help each other.

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