Michael Vognphoe

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?
I conduct research at the Hearing and Speech Laboratory under Dr. Fan-Gang Zeng, here at the UC Irvine College of Medicine, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Our student body is cross-disciplinary, with backgrounds in Cognitive, Biological Sciences and Engineering. The main focus of our research is to improve Cochlear Implants; a device that can restore hearing to a profoundly deaf person. Currently, these implant devices provide users with adequate information for speech perception but lack any attributes that provide information about pitch, which is important for tasks such as music perception. My role was to design and implement a project to investigate anecdotal reports that while implant users can understand speech they cannot identify speakers; a presumably pitch-related task.

Our findings from tests with several implant subjects quantitatively conform to anecdotal reports that implant users cannot identify speakers. More importantly, we investigated the performance of speaker identification with additional acoustic parameters, e.g. frequency modulated information, and found that listeners' performance increased quite significantly.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?
I first got involved in research the summer before my junior year-the year that I transferred to UCI from Chaffey Community College. I was extremely excited about all the opportunities UCI had to offer and conducting undergraduate research was first on my list, primarily because research was strongly encouraged at my community college. Thankfully, I found all my needed resources on the UROP website! There was such a large list of professors offering opportunities for research; I carefully read about and called several professors asking for details about their work and communicated to them about the level of experience I would gain from those labs.

My interest in Dr. Zeng's area of study stemmed from the study of Bat acoustics in my previous Vertebrate Zoology course where I became intrigued by sensory systems including auditory systems. Dr. Zeng offers opportunities to students at all levels of experience including conducting individual projects and possible publication. During the interview, he made me feel right at home; he clearly explained the main focus of the experiments conducted in the lab and offered a few of his published articles that introduced cochlear implants to take home.

3. How has research enhanced you education?

Scientific research involves critical thinking, hands-on work, and application of acquired knowledge. The topics I learn in both the laboratory and classroom often complement each other and thereby enhance my overall education. More importantly, my exposure to the demands of research in terms of the reading of journal articles, implementation of projects, data analysis, technical writing and presentations at scientific meetings broadens my scientific education and gives me a well-defined sense of the level of work involved at a graduate level education.

4. What has been you favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?
Over the past year of conducting research, my most memorable moment was seeing the results of my study displayed on a poster, which I presented at the UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium in the spring of 2002. This signified the completion of my first project and the work that I put into completing it. It was an equally rewarding experience to share the significance of my work with others at the Symposium and to learn about other projects conducted by fellow students. My experience at the Symposium was a truly exciting and proud moment, and one I'll definitely remember.
5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?
After graduation I plan to attend dental school and earn my Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. Additionally, I would like to earn a master's degree in cranio-facial biology particularly through a combined MS/DDS program. I hope to conduct research in the field of cranio-facial deformities such as cleft palate and temporomandibular joint disease, both of which can damage or affect hearing.

Through research I have gained an insight to the level of work involved in graduate education; something I doubt I could have learned from solely attending class. Furthermore, my research experiences have elucidated the rewards as well as the challenges of conducting research and I plan to continue embracing them both.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?
The first thing the student should do is to evaluate his or her interests. Next is to visit the UROP website and learn about each professor and their field of study. Try to choose a mentor or laboratory that will allow you to stand out! Always keep in mind the potential level of involvement. Choose a lab that will keep you busy and entertained. Realize that sometimes a lab that may not seem to relate directly to your field or major may end up being your best experience! Being well-rounded is never a bad thing. Step outside the boundaries of your field and see what's out there; uncover your jewel! Most importantly, start searching now!

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '02 Ping Chen
Nov. '02 Sanjay Naran
Oct. '02 Alana Shilling
Sep. '02 Michael Vongphoe
Aug. '02 Ryan Wright
Jul. '02 Adrian Fernandez
Jun. '02 Allen Andres
May '02 Elizabeth Tsai
Apr. '02 David Bear
Mar. '02 Lorrel Brown
Feb. '02 Jiri Herrmann
Jan. '02 Kathi Hamor
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