The staff at UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science have shown tremendous resilience and collaborative spirit in 2020. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we have been fortunate to have some growth and diversification in our research teams and have exceeded in delivering educational excellence to our students. However, we have also regrettably been impacted by workplace change in response to the financial impact of COVID-19 on the University sector.
In February 2020, Professor Konrad Pesudovs was appointed as a part-time Professor to the School of Optometry and Vision Science through the highly competitive UNSW Strategic Hires and Retention Pathways (SHARP) scheme. He brings a wealth of experience to the School and will be researching ophthalmic surgical outcomes, including optical, visual and patient-reported outcomes, ophthalmic epidemiology and neural adaptation.
Also, in February 2020, Emeritus Professor Helen Swarbrick retired from the School of Optometry and Vision Science after a long and illustrious career. Helen commenced her work at the School in 1991 as a Research Optometrist at the Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit and in 1995 she was appointed to lead contact lens education. Helen is a world leading researcher in the field of orthokeratology who has played an important role in leading the Research in Orthokeratology (ROK) Group at the School of Optometry and Vision Science and the success of the School more broadly. Helen will be missed by her friends, colleagues and students at the School but will remain connected through her appointment as Emeritus Professor at UNSW.
We were delighted to have UNSW Alumni Emilie Ross, A/Prof Anthony Chapman-Davies, Tianni Jia and Dr Rajini Peguda back at UNSW, Emilie as a Staff Optometrist, and Anthony as a Principal Optometrist in our UNSW Optometry Clinic. Rajini returned as a Research Optometrist working with Dr Alex Hui and team and Tianni as a Research Optometrist in our Eye Research Group which collaborates with domestic and international industry partners to evaluate and develop innovative eye care products.
Dr Jessie Huang-Lung joined us as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow following the completion of her PhD at the Centre for Eye Health. Jessie is working with Professor Lisa Keay within our public health team. Her current project involves examining cataract surgery, refractive correction, falls risk and quality of life in older Australians.
Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Eye Health and Lecturer in the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW, received a prestigious UNSW Scientia Fellowship. This program supports early to mid-career researchers in the top 10% of their field with the aim to develop them into leaders of their field.
Postgraduate alumni, Drs Shyam Tummanapalli, Muhammad Yasir, Parthu Kalaiselvan and Rajesh Kuppusamy were appointed to the School as Postdoctoral Research Fellows and have been working with Professor Mark Willcox in his growing research program.
Dr Sheela Kumaran commenced as a maternity leave replacement for Dr Lisa Dillon and will be building new programs of research with Professors Lisa Keay and Konrad Pesudovs in public health as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Her research focuses on patient reported outcome measures, quality of life, and psychometric evaluation.
In October we farewelled Anna Delmadoros, Principal Optometrist in the UNSW Optometry Clinic. Anna was the Lead Clinician of the Ocular Pathology clinic, supervised and lectured Stage 4 students in primary care and had an extensive list of private patients. Her outstanding professional and organisational skills will be truly missed, and we wish her all the best on her next adventure.
Dr Lisa Asper, Senior Lecturer and Director of Learning and Teaching retired from academia in October 2020, after 32 years at the School. She worked tirelessly in her many roles in the School and was instrumental in coordinating the move to the new Master of Clinical Optometry program. Her wit and dry sense of humour will be missed at our Executive Meetings. Lisa has been appointed as a visiting Honorary Senior Lecturer at the School of Optometry and Vision Science.
Dr Mei Boon, Senior Lecturer and Director of Optics and Radiometry Laboratory (ORLAB) left us at the end of 2020. Mei, who joined us in 2008, has lectured extensively in our undergraduate and postgraduate programs. She has been an active member of staff holding several service positions throughout UNSW. Most notably she held the position of Alumni Liaison for the School for several years. In 2016 she was appointed as the Director of ORLAB which has thrived under her leadership over the past four years. Through her research she now holds a visiting academic appointment as an Adjunct Senior Lecturer contributing to research student project supervision.
Nicole Harris said goodbye after 18 years of work as an Administration Officer in our Optometry Clinic. Nicole worked closely with the UNSW finance team, our clinic supervisors, and coordinated our Vision Education Centre which provides screening to local school aged children. She also undertook executive assistant duties on a part time basis. Nicole’s bubbly personality will be missed by her colleagues here at the School of Optometry and Vision Science.
We bid farewell to Fi Anderson, Postgraduate Coursework Administrator. Fi was with the School of Optometry and Vision Science for nearly nine years and was a valued member of the team who managed our postgraduate coursework students’ journeys from enrolment to completion.
Finally, Kay Dulhunty who has been with the School for a number of years as our School Manager departed during 2020. Kay has supported four Heads of School during her time at the School of Optometry and Vision Science and the success of the school can be attributed to her many years of excellent operational management.
We sincerely thank all of the abovementioned for their enormous contributions to the School of Optometry and Vision Science and wish them all the very best for 2021 and beyond.
We were delighted to announce throughout the year the promotion of some of our academic staff. Dr Pauline Kang was promoted to Senior Lecturer, assumed the role of Director of Learning and Teaching and also joined the School Executive Committee. Dr’s Maria Markoulli and Juno Kim were promoted to Associate Professor and Drs Angelica Ly and Jack Phu were promoted to Lecturer.
Our staff received national awards as an acknowledgement for their dedication to their profession.
We congratulate Clinic Supervisor Dr William Trinh who was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours where he was awarded an OAM for his contributions to Optometry and his humanitarian work overseas.
Professor Konrad Pesudovs was awarded the H Barry Collin Medal for outstanding research from Optometry Australia. The third School of Optometry and Vision Science staff member to receive this medal in the past four years.
Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton featured in The Australian [see page 18 and scroll down - https://specialreports.theaustralian.com.au/1540291/18/] as one of the top 250 researchers in Australia and was named as the research leader in the field of Ophthalmology and Optometry.
We also congratulate Professor Mark Willcox who was the 2020 recipient of the NHMRC Marshall and Warren Ideas Grant Award for the highest scoring 2019 NHMRC Ideas Grant. His Ideas Grant titled “Tackling Hospital Acquired Infections with Peptide Mimics” is in collaboration with UNSW Schools of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the School of Physics, University of Sydney, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, University of Sydney and Macquarie University.
Internationally, our staff were making headlines and received some notable awards.
Lecturer, Dr Jack Phu was the first ever Australian to receive the American Academy of Optometry foundation’s Beta Sigma Kappa research fellowship for his work on glaucoma.
Professor Mark Willcox and his overseas colleagues were awarded a Vision Care Section Awards Committee, American Public Health Association 2020 Outstanding Scientific Paper/Project Award for his published papers relating to the COVID-19 pandemic which generated over 6,000 media stories. [Willcox MDP, Walsh K, Nichols JJ, Morgan PB, Jones LW. The ocular surface, coronaviruses and COVID-19. Clin Exp Optom. 2020; 103: 418-424 - https://doi.org/10.1111/cxo.13088] and [Jones L, Walsh K, Willcox M, Morgan B, Nichols J. The COVID-19 Pandemic: Important Considerations for Contact Lens Practitioners. Contact Lens Ant Eye. 2020; 43: 196-203 - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clae.2020.03.012]
Professor Mark Willcox also received the American Optometric Association Contact Lens Cornea Section (CLCS), Dr Donald R. Korb Award for Excellence. This award “recognises an individual who has been a true innovator and leader in the field of contact lenses and anterior segment disease”.
At the university level, we were delighted to have our team recognised with several awards. Associate Professor Maria Markoulli received a UNSW Faculty of Science June Griffith Boost Award to assist with her research. Associate Professor Isabelle Jalbert received an UNSW Vice-Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence in the General Category for 2020.
Dr Shyam Tummanapalli received the 2020 Faculty of Science Dean’s Award for Outstanding Thesis. His thesis is titled: "Evaluation of corneal nerves & tear neuromediators in diabetic peripheral neuropathy". This award recognises PhD graduates “who have produced a thesis that requires only minimal corrections, received outstanding and/or excellent levels of achievement for all examination criteria, and in the opinion of both examiners is in the top 10% of PhD theses examined.”
Professor Mark Willcox, Dr Maitreyee Roy and visiting academic, Associate Professor Judith Flanagan from the Brien Holden Vision Institute were honoured with UNSW ARC Postgraduate Research Supervisor awards in recognition of their outstanding contributions to their research environment and higher degree research community.
During December we held a hybrid/virtual visit with our Dean of Science, Professor Emma Johnston and Dean of Medicine and Health, Scientia Professor Vlado Perkovic where we showcased our activities and successes at the School throughout 2020. Professor Johnston was pleased to present our staff (albeit virtually for some) the following Faculty of Science Awards:
- Dean of Science Standout: Dr Dale Larden
- Research Excellence: Professor Mark Willcox
- Education Excellence: Dr Nayuta Yoshioka
- Excellence in an Operational Role: The UNSW Optometry Clinic Team
- Early Career Excellence: Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith
- Collaboration and Partnership: Dr Ajay Vijay
- Communication Impact: Dr Nicole Carnt
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Excellence: Associate Professor Michele Madigan
Head of School, Professor Lisa Keay also recognised the following staff with School awards at the Dean’s Virtual Visit based on UNSW's Values in Action:
- Builds Collaboration: Associate Professor Sieu Khuu
- Demonstrates Excellence: Dr Jackie Tan
- Displays Respect: Ms Nicola Kapo
- Drives Innovation: Associate Professor Juno Kim
- Embraces Diversity: Dr Anne Barnes and Associate Professor Maria Markoulli
2020 proved to be the School of Optometry and Vision Science’s most successful year on record with grants earning the school over $6 million in research funding.
Professor Mark Willcox had an extremely successful year receiving a grant from Business NSW as part of the Innovation Districts challenge for a biodegradable anti-viral coating and spray with Patrick Liu from EcoAid BioTech. UNSW awarded Professor Willcox a COVID-19 Grant to support research on ‘New disinfection systems to overcome PPE shortages and provide long term protection against infection in hospitals and public settings.’ He was also successful with an NHMRC Ideas Grant: “tackling hospital acquired infection with peptide mimics” and received an Innovative Manufacturing CRC Grant with colleagues to conduct further research on “a novel approach to biofilm disruption and removal.”
Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton, Professor Michael Kalloniatis, with support from Michael Yapp, Dr Angelica Ly, Dr Jack Phu, Paula Katalinic, Pauline Xu from CFEH, Dr Maitreyee Roy and Associate Professor Juno Kim from the School of Optometry and Vision Science and Professor Arcot Sowmya from the School of Computer Science partnered with Big Picture Medical, Brien Holden Vision Institute, The University of Adelaide, Menicon Australia Pty Ltd and were awarded a Cooperative Research Centre Project Grant for an artificial intelligence diagnostic tool to improve optometry accuracy at the point-of-care.
Professor Michael Kalloniatis and colleagues received an NHMRC Ideas Grant on “predicting visual function from structural data in health and ocular disease.”
Professor Lisa Keay and colleagues were awarded a contract from the Federal Department of Health to join a consortium with Westmead Institute/University of Sydney, The George Institute for Global Health and Brien Holden Foundation to conduct the Second National Eye Health Survey. She has also received a 2020 NHMRC Ideas grant with Associate Professor Julie Brown at The George Institute for Global Health in road safety and injury prevention.
Associate Professor Sieu Khuu and Professor Lisa Keay led a successful bid for an educational partnership with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT to develop a new Graduate Diploma in Orientation and Mobility to be offered in 2021.
Associate Professor Juno Kim, in collaboration with Associate Professor Stephen Palmisano and Professor Robert Allison from the University of Wollongong were successful with an ARC Discovery Project Grant for their research on virtual reality and cybersickness.
Dr Nicole Carnt was awarded a Rebecca L. Cooper Medical Research Foundation grant for her research on ‘Preventing Sight Loss from Cold Sore Infections of the Eye’.
Drs Mei Boon, Nicole Carnt and Sharon Oberstein were supported with a grant to continue their research from the Russell Estate. We sincerely thank the Russell family for their support of our School and researchers.
Although it has been a challenging year here at the School, we have adapted well, and our output has been incredible as evidenced by our awards and grant success.
While we are still working in a hybrid capacity, 2021 will see us continue with the important research that we are undertaking as an outcome from the grants afforded to us.
Our teaching has gone from strength to strength with the new combined modalities of delivery. We have become more efficient, and we have worked collegially as a team to become a stronger organisational unit.