The entrepreneurial researcher

You can compare research to video games. At least if you ask Håkan Hua, an ambitious young researcher whose goal is to make life better for people with hearing loss.

The door to Håkan Hua’s room is wide open, but rather than Håkan, a few Super Mario Bros. figures are sitting by the computer. Håkan is in the coffee room with his team.
“When I’m at work I want to have the door open, it should always be ok to come in,” says the 28-year-old head of LiU’s Disability Research Division.

Håkan Hua’s career has got off to a strong start. In five years he has finished his training, done research and clinical work. He completed his doctoral thesis in the autumn of 2014. It showed that noise in the workplace affects people with hearing loss more negatively than people with healthy hearing. They feel worse both physically and mentally, and become more tired – at work and after work. Håkan is passionate about this area, but devoting his doctoral studies to working life and hearing was not the obvious choice for him.
“Previously I was at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, doing research on cochlear implants and hearing aids. When LiU offered me this I thought ‘Wow, completely outside my field.’”

And he had no idea he would end up as an audiologist. He took the sociology programme at senior secondary school, but added electives in business and languages. So from an early stage his interests were interdisciplinary, which made him a good match for the audiologist programme.
“I sat there with the University of Gothenburg course catalogue in front of me. I started reading it from the front, starting with ‘a’. When I got to audiologist, I stopped turning the pages.”
What if he had started reading the catalogue from the back? A successful translator? (The Swedish for translator is översättare, beginning with the last letter of the alphabet.) With Håkan’s skills in Chinese, it sounds possible.

Driven by the Gnosjö entrepreneurial spirit

Håkan Hua finished his doctoral thesis in three years – one year less than most people. But going all-in, doing things a bit more efficiently than everyone else, seems to be Håkan’s style. Even in elementary school he studied more than his classmates. When they went home, he slogged away at Chinese with a strict home language teacher. At university he started teaching before he had finished his own studies, and was offered two doctoral positions. Where does this efficiency come from?
“I grew up in Gnosjö, a town in Sweden that’s famous for its entrepreneurial spirit. The way I see it, a researcher has to have a bit of this, to master his or her research fields. Gnosjö taught me that you have to work hard.”
At work his door is open, but when he goes home he prefers to keep the door closed. He has far fewer things going on in his private life, and is a fair bit more reserved – at least he says so himself. The little spare time he has, he devotes to his family and to video games. Actually, mostly to video games. Håkan has played them since he was three, and thanks them for his good English.
“Research and gaming have several things in common: speed, problem-solving and the desire to be better at what you do, for instance. Maybe it’s an exaggeration to say that I want to save the world with my research, but in both gaming and research you try to make the world a bit better at least.”

Research focused on patient benefits

In Sweden about 1.4 million people live with a hearing impairment that affects their day-to-day life. What motivates Håkan Hua is that his research can one day advance to a clinical environment, so it can bring real benefits to patients.
During his doctoral studies it became clear that women and young people with hearing loss reported higher levels of difficulty in their professional life. Why? This is one of the projects Håkan is working on now. In another, he joins one of Sweden’s largest manufacturers of assistive technology for hearing, to evaluate a new microphone system. It works in addition to a hearing aid, to help people with hearing loss in meetings and similar situations.
“I will continue my research on hearing loss in the workplace for some time. But in the future I’d like to go back to where I started, to do research on cochlear implants and hearing aids.”
At work, all doors seem to be open for Håkan Hua.

Faktaruta:
Age: 28
Title: postdoc
Home: Linköping
Role models: My parents
Motto: “Sometimes things don’t end up they way you planned, but you learn from all your experiences, both good and bad.” I don’t know if that’s a motto per se, but it’s something a teacher told me once after I’d had a few setbacks. The words have stayed with me, and I’ve returned to them over the years.

Therese Ekstrand Amaya

Research - Cognitive hearing science
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