Meet a PhD Student

Fatima Iqbal

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.

Fatima Iqbal

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 😊

Meet a PhD student

2019

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Jeremy Chiang

JEREMY CHIANG

Tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to do a PhD 

I graduated from the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW Sydney in 2016 and worked for two years in the coastal town of Port Macquarie in both private and corporate settings. I decided to do a PhD because I've always wanted to conduct translational research that is applicable to clinical practice and continue my interest in teaching and imparting knowledge to future generations. 

Tell us about your research and why you decided to go into this area?

My research involves ocular surface biomarkers in a common and debilitating condition known as peripheral neuropathy caused by cancer chemotherapy. There is currently no standard protocol for diagnosis and no effective treatment, so we believe that the research will be able to contribute to more efficient detection and monitoring of this condition. 

I decided to take up this research because it involved a unique collaboration between the great minds of oncology, neurology and optometry. My supervisors Professor David Goldstein, Professor Arun Krishnan and Dr Maria Markoulli are leaders in their own fields and I was convinced that they will be able to foster a cooperative environment and develop my career as a future researcher and academic. I was also interested in being able to work with individuals from various backgrounds including neurophysiologists, exercise physiologists and medical oncologists within Prof Goldstein's IN FOCUS group which spans a collaborative network of hospitals and universities across Australia (https://www.infocusstudy.org.au/). 

What are your career plans once you graduate?

I plan to continue my research interests as a postdoctoral research fellow and develop my teaching skills to ultimately become a competent lecturer and clinical educator. 

Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about undertaking a research degree?

  1. Research is admittedly not always smooth-sailing, so having the passion for it and the right amount of interest in the particular area is I think pretty crucial. 
  2. Read up as much as you can on the topic you are thinking of taking up a PhD on, and be as broad-minded as possible in your consideration of research areas. 
  3. Speak to your intended supervisor(s) and pose as many questions as you can to ensure you know some of the logistics behind the particular research before diving into it for the next few years. 
  4. Be flexible with change. Your pathway or study design may change slightly, or even substantially, so be prepared for any alterations that may happen along the way. 

2018

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Sukanya Jaiswal 

suki

Tell us a little about yourself – you completed your BOptom at UNSW in 2013 – what have you been up to since then?

I have been working as a full time optometrist in corporate stores in Canberra and Sydney. In the last 2 years, I have been working as a locum as well which has taken me all over Sydney and regional NSW.

What inspired you to do further postgraduate study and to enrol in an MOptom at UNSW?

As a private practicing optometrist, I wanted to expand my skill set to behavioural optometry. Working in western Sydney, I see a lot of children with binocular vision and visual perception disorders. I want to be able to offer management options through vision training as spectacles are not the solution to all cases.

Furthermore, skills in fittings of hard contact lenses for managing complex corneal conditions are a real bonus for any optometrist in clinical practice.

Have you done any previous postgraduate study?

No, this is my first postgraduate course.

What are some of the highlights of your student experience so far? How will this be relevant to your work as an optometrist?

So far we have submitted for publication a literature review on impact of digital devices on binocular vision, tear film and dry eye. The topic is extremely relevant in society and knowledge I have gained through research I incorporate into advice for patients I see. The research process was arduous but rewarding, in retrospect, I was helped every step of the way by my supervisors.

Once in clinical practice, I think often we forget to refresh our knowledge by reading research articles and this course has brought me to research as a source of continued professional development.

I have also done an Ocular disease course which has been a great refresher of undergraduate knowledge and any new developments that have occurred since. Being run by CFEH, the course is full of case studies and clinical relevance. Best part is that its all online which allows me to work through it at my own pace.

What are your career plans once you graduate?

I plan on continuing work as full time optometrist in Sydney.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of doing postgraduate coursework study at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW? 

Have a look at the course on UNSW Handbook which explains the subject content. If you cannot commit to the full Masters Program, there are options for shorter postgraduate courses such as Graduate Diploma (36 units) and Graduate Certificate (18 units). 

The MOptom course will certainly add to the abilities of any practicing optometrist and being able to chose which subject to do when makes it easier to fit studying in with personal and work commitments. There’s plenty of support available from lecturers and SOVS staff. Fi, at SOVS, is always helpful in discussing courses  to help you plan for the course ahead.