Faculty Profile: Yingjiu Nie
By: Dina Manco
Posted: December 8, 2014
Dr. Yingjiu Nie, an assistant professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), is pursuing new ways to break barriers in audiology. Before earning a Ph.D. in Speech-Language-Hearing Science at the University of Minnesota, Nie worked as an otolaryngologist in China. She comments, “Back in China when I decided to come over [ten years ago], I had background doing early hearing detection and intervention. We ran into some barriers due to the lack of knowledge. I thought I needed more advanced knowledge in [the field].” After completing her Ph.D., Nie worked as an audiologist for a few years until she joined the CSD department at JMU in 2013. “I am interested in clinical practice, research, and teaching; JMU has strengths in all areas, but the main reason I came to JMU is because they highlight clinic education in the program”, she said.
Publishing ‘Auditory Stream Segregation Using Bandpass Noises: Evidence from Event-Related Potentials’ in science journal Frontiers of Neuroscience is just one of the many impressive items on Nie’s resume. Nie is also currently focusing on two research topics: the effect of amplitude modulation interference on speech understanding in children and adults, and auditory stream segregation with cochlear implants. Both topics are extensions of her previous work at the University of Minnesota.
Regarding her research on speech understanding in children, Nie says, “I had this interest all the time, and when I did my Ph.D on adults, I was building up my knowledge and fundamental skills to transfer the study to children…I’m [transferring] what I learned to what I’m really interested in: different terms of interference in speech understanding.” According to Nie, there have been few studies assessing how children use various cues to understand speech and how they are still developing these skills until their early teenage years. She is focusing her research on how hearing loss might change the development of these skills in children. Her studies on this topic earned Nie a Research Teaching Grant from the College of Health and Behavioral Studies in 2013.
Nie is also studying auditory stream segregation in cochlear implant users. The goal of this project is to improve cochlear implant usability. According to Nie, one example of audio stream segregation is when a “music instrument is playing in the orchestra -- you can follow that particular instrument even while other instruments are playing. You take the pieces available to you [in the orchestra] and put these pieces together to form an auditory stream and segregate the pieces from sources.” People who have cochlear implants struggle with this process. Nie explains their pitch cues are weaker and because of this, they have trouble separating background noise from the person or thing they are trying to listen to. She states, “Cochlear implant users can reach 100% hearing in a quarantine environment, but in a normal environment their hearing could drop to 50%.” In her laboratory, Nie is using mostly pure tones and noise to determine how people put speech together and separate it from other stimuli. She is using her results to measure this ability in people with cochlear implants, as well as in people with and without hearing loss, to determine where she can improve cochlear implant effectiveness.
Nie plans to continue her research in addition to teaching courses at JMU. She also assists undergraduate students with their honors theses and will begin working with doctoral students on their dissertations soon. Undergraduate CSD student Harley Wheeler states, “Dr. Nie has been amazing at helping me to understand the implications of the research [we are conducting] and what the precursors are that have brought us to the need for our research…She is good at taking all this information and displaying how it all ties together, and thus where it becomes relevant in [CSD].”