Doctoral student seeks to reduce educational barriers for deaf and hard-of-hearing scientists

Megan Majocha (G’24), a fifth-year doctoral student in tumor biology at Georgetown University Medical Center, is advocating to make it easier for scientists like her—deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students—to pursue careers in medical research. Although Majocha realized at a young age that she wanted to be a scientist, it wasn’t until she was a college student at Gallaudet University, which offers bilingual programs and services in American Sign Language (ASL) and English, that she met a deaf scientist.

DHH students are underrepresented among all doctoral degrees conferred in the U.S., making up just 1.2% of recipients, according to the National Science Foundation. “To become a scientist as a hearing individual, you already have to have tenacity and persistence to overcome so much, but it just becomes that much harder when there’s a communication barrier,” said Majocha, who comes from a third-generation deaf family.

Building awareness of DHH student needs

Majocha learned to be an advocate for herself as she began her doctoral program in 2019 through the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-Georgetown partnership program. “Although I applied to several programs, I was interested in the NIH-Georgetown program because I love the Deaf community here in DC and because NIH has such great accessibility resources,” Majocha explained. “Here, I don’t have to fight to be heard.”

To navigate her coursework and engage with the Georgetown community, she relied on professors and support services. Majocha needed transcripts for audiotaped classes to learn the course content in scientific English, rather than ASL. She also required interpreters for a variety of communication, from presenting her work to colleagues in the scientific community to socializing with her peers during informal events. Support from her deaf colleagues and her principal investigator, who is learning ASL, helped her build her own supportive network.

As she completes her program, Majocha hopes for increased interpretation, transcription, and other accessibility services for DHH students at all U.S. colleges and universities, as well as efforts to ensure that faculty and students know how to use those services. More robust resources would ensure DHH students have equal access to careers and graduate programs in the sciences.

“I really hope our numbers will grow,” Majocha said. 

Read more about Megan Majocha’s advocacy for DHH students.

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