Tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to undertake a PhD at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW?
I graduated with an OD and a master’s degree in 2016 and 2018 from the School of Optometry, The University of Faisalabad, a renowned institute in Pakistan. Since 2016, I have been engaged in teaching and supervising research for both undergrad and postgrad students there. I have also been awarded two gold-medals from the Pakistan Optometry Society for outstanding excellence in academia.
During my bachelor’s research and contact lens course, I used to read work of Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton. She has been my role-model from day one. Her contributions to the field of optometry are amazing. I have always wanted to be like her. The opportunity to work with her was my primary reason for undertaking a PhD at UNSW. And here I am, living my dream and doing my research with Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton, Professor Eric Papas and Dr Jacqueline Tan-Showyin.
Who or what inspires you in life?
My father has been the biggest inspiration for me. Since my childhood, I have seen him working so hard for us. He promotes education and has always motivated his daughters to excel in their respective fields. What I really admire is his enthusiasm for life, and his ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions. I am extremely grateful for being his daughter, and I cannot thank him enough for everything. Maybe, by following his example in both my personal and professional life, I can pay back what he has given me. At least that is what I aspire to.
Tell us about your research and why you decided to go into this area?
I am looking at the longitudinal changes of Meibomian Glands (MGs). These glands play a significant role in tear production by contributing lipids to the superficial tear film. Meibomian Gland Dysfunction destabilizes tears resulting in evaporative dry eye and is estimated to affect over 60% of the population. My research aims to devise and evaluate new clinically meaningful metrics for imaging the meibomian glands and relating these to variations in composition of lipids with the progression of disease.
Optics and diagnostic instruments were always my areas of expertise. Incorporating both areas of my expertise to look closely at the factors which contribute to dry eye disease motivated me to pursue this project. This research project will also provide insights into the eyelid response and will identify early biomarkers in MG morphology or composition. We will be able to reduce burdens and improve the quality of life for those suffering with dry eye.
What are your career plans once you graduate?
Optometry in Pakistan is in its infancy. I would like to try my best to uplift optometry in Pakistan by providing quality education and research. I hope to initiate a PhD program and work for the self-regulation of Optometry in Pakistan.
If luck permits, I also plan to pursue my research interests as a postdoctoral research fellow.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about undertaking a research degree?
Hard work pays off and determination gets you a long way. There are many ups and downs in research degrees. Sometimes we experience setbacks; our experiments might be failing and protocols might not work. The only thing that keeps us going is determination.
Technical competency is also very important. Use your early years to learn as many techniques as you can; they will help you tackle an array of problems in the future. Be broadminded and think critically.
Take time to relax now and then and attend the tea and coffee breaks at work. Those breaks give you opportunities for informal exchanges with other researchers that can prove very productive. Working on communication skills will be very helpful as well.
Above all, perhaps, to be successful in academia you need to develop your persistence and preserve your creativity no matter what. Creativity is all about finding solutions to problems for which there are no recipes 😊