Research Director for a Non-Profit Organization

Yael Bat-Chava, PhD
League for the Hard of Hearing

During my first visit to the United States, while still an undergraduate student at Haifa University in Israel, I went to a concert that was interpreted into American Sign Language. I fell in love with sign language and, upon my return to Israel, I got involved in a kindergarten for deaf children, working closely with a 4-year-old girl and taking Israeli Sign Language (ISL) classes. My sign language teacher was an amazing woman. Deaf herself, she was at the forefront of expanding ISL and teaching it to deaf people, parents of deaf children, and professionals. We became friends.

When I came to the U.S. the following year to attend graduate school, my former ISL teacher asked me to find literature on deaf women for an upcoming meeting of the World Congress of Deaf Jews. Being the (nerdy) dedicated student that I was, I spent hours in the library, reading everything I could on deaf women before sending it on to her. I soon realized that although the issue of deaf women was interesting, deafness in general was even more fascinating. I read about social identity, civil rights, education, linguistics, and human development. It was such a rich field of study! I continued taking sign language classes (this time, American Sign Language) and reading anything I could find that was deafness-related. Many of my papers in graduate school were on issues related to deafness, including my dissertation (Identity of Deaf Adults).

I sometimes worried that I was specializing in a field that was too narrow, and (1) that I might never find a job where I could study issues related to deafness, and (2) that I could not even get a more general research job. Despite these worries, I decided that I had better study what I loved most, and hoped that the rest would follow. It did.

Shortly after receiving my doctorate from the Graduate Center, City University of New York, I found a general research job. For 4 years I was the Project Director for a large longitudinal study at New York University funded by the National Institute for Mental Health. The project studied adaptive and maladaptive pathways to development of Black, Latino, and White urban adolescents in three cities: New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. My own research within the project focused on ethnic identity. Just as funding for the project was about to end, I found out that the League for the Hard of Hearing was seeking a Director of Research to start a new research department. My previous focus on deafness and the experience of directing a large research project landed me the job of my dreams.

My psychology degree is extremely useful for some of the research projects I work on. In one project, my colleagues and I interviewed parents of children with cochlear implants about the psychosocial development of their children both before and after receiving the implant. In another study we are exploring why people with adult onset hearing loss are in denial about their hearing loss.

Many projects I work on have little to do with psychology, although my training in research methods and statistics is invaluable. Some of these projects are evaluations of ongoing programs. One such program is the College Preparatory and Readiness Program, in which deaf high school students attend an intensive 4-week summer program, studying mathematics and English. (Students gain about one grade level in both subjects during the program.) In another study, we are assessing the knowledge that vocational rehabilitation counselors have about the assistive technology that deaf and hard of hearing people can use in the workplace, and evaluating a curriculum designed to teach counselors about this technology.

Even more important than what graduate school taught me about psychology and research methods is that it taught me how to learn. And so, even though I never received formal training in analyzing qualitative data, I recently analyzed and published results of an interview study with parents of deaf children about their psychosocial development. My initial fascination with the richness of the field of deafness continues as I am constantly learning about different aspects of deafness and hearing loss: audiology, assistive listening and alerting devices, pertinent federal and state laws, and more.

I'm also learning how to present my research results to non-academic audiences, both in writing and orally. I have written articles for adults with hearing loss, presented papers at conferences for rehabilitation counselors and audiologists, as well as to parents of deaf children, and testified before a City Council Committee. Having multiple audiences forces me to think about my results in a way that makes my own understanding of them, as well as their presentation to others, much clearer.

People ask me sometimes why I wanted to be a researcher. I tell them that I didn't always know that this is what I wanted to be. I just wanted to continue learning. I'm finding that as a researcher in the field of deafness I am constantly learning and growing. What more could I ask for?

(Originally published in the March/April 2000 issue of Psychological Science Agenda, the newsletter of the APA Science Directorate.)