Niv Chandramohan is the Health Promotion Coordinator at Macular Disease Foundation Australia. She graduated from UNSW with a Bachelor of Vision Science (Hons Class I). She is passionate about educating the wider community on ocular health and has a keen interest in innovation and education in dry eye disease. She has published two review papers based on her work on intense pulsed light and contact lens discomfort. Outside of all things eyes, Niv enjoys true crime, HIIT workouts and finding the perfect shade of red lipstick.
Why did you choose to study Vision Science at UNSW?
When I started at UNSW in 2013, I was enrolled in the Bachelor of Optometry/Bachelor of Vision Science double degree, and later moved to the single Bachelor of Vision Science degree.
It may seem stereotypical, but I vividly remember the first time I visited an optometrist at the age of 8. She was kind and approachable, and then proceeded to diagnose me with moderate-severe myopia in the realm of -5.00D. What stuck with me was how this one woman was able to so simply find the antidote to the problem that was literally blurring my world.
As I grew older, my high school studies led me down pathways such as physics, biology and chemistry. Learning about the behaviour of light both frustrated and interested me to no end. In the most basic way, it also fascinated me to understand just how the brain and eye spoke to each other.
UNSW was the obvious choice for me. As a born and bred Canberra girl, there weren’t many health-related university courses available, so I knew I would have to make the pilgrimage to Sydney. My sister had studied medicine at UNSW, so I was quite well versed with the layout of the campus. After researching UNSW’s School of Optometry and Vision Science, I saw the depth and breadth of opportunities available and knew that there were plenty of career paths for me to play with.
What was your experience being an Optometry and Vision Science student?
My experience as a SOVS student was definitely filled with highs and lows, comparable to The Big Dipper at Luna Park. I definitely struggled in my first year. I was living away from home for the first time and 9 am lectures seemed slightly too far away, despite living on campus a whole three-minute walk away from the SOVS building. Despite this, I received some great support from my lecturers and tutors who all did as much as they could to assist me through.
I definitely found my feet from 2nd year onwards, and after realizing that the practitioner side of Optometry wasn’t for me, the decision to move to a Bachelor of Vision Science was clearly the right choice.
The highlight of my many years at UNSW was definitely when I undertook my honours research year with my wonderful supervisors Associate Professor Maria Markoulli and Professor Eric Papas. My research explored the role of intense pulsed light in contact lens discomfort and meibomian gland dysfunction. I had taken on some summer research projects during the previous years, but my honours year was definitely where I found my footing and thrived. I ended up graduating with first-class honours which was a really lovely feeling given my unsteady beginnings.
After graduating, how did your career path evolve?
I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do after I graduated! Having a Vision Science degree is so great because you have such a wide array of opportunities at your feet, however by the same token it can also be an overwhelming choice. I toyed with the idea of doing a PhD, but decided that I needed a break from uni (for a bit!) I considered research, but couldn’t find anything I was passionate about. When speaking to my honours course convener, A/Prof Michele Madigan, she suggested I explore non-for-profit work. I started looking at what was out there and stumbled across the Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA). Although I admit I’m much more of an anterior than posterior eye girl, I loved the idea of working in health promotion and education.
I’ve been at MDFA for just over a year and a half as their Health Promotion Coordinator. I spend most of my time speaking to patients who have been diagnosed with a macular disease, as well as involved in other patient-focused initiatives and advocacy work. Getting to be the first port of call after a patient has visited their eye specialist is a great feeling. I can provide them with all the support and advice they may require during an otherwise very overwhelming time.
Every day in my role is different, and my desire to help people in this capacity originated at UNSW and has since been strengthened at MDFA.
What are your proudest achievements, both professional and/or personal?
One of my proudest professional achievements was when COVID-19 hit, and my organization could no longer deliver face-to-face education sessions to the community. We had to pivot in order to keep in touch with our community, whilst also ensuring that we were able to deliver our important educational work.
I spearheaded a webinar program that is still ongoing. A few times a month we have vision experts (ophthalmologists, optometrists, researchers) speak to our community on topics that are pertinent to them. Hearing how much these webinars mean to our members is such a great feeling.
On a more personal note, prior to my honours year, I spent a year undertaking research at UNSW whilst also looking after my 2-year-old and 3-month-old nieces. I spent almost 9 months with them, and it was such a joy to see them grow and change every day. I like to think I made some kind of meaningful impact on their lives, because they definitely did on mine.
Do you have any advice for school leavers considering studying Vision Science at UNSW Sydney?
This degree will require a lot of yourself, but you’ll reap the benefits in spades. Keep on top of your work and remember to check in on yourself. Studying is important, but don’t forget to make friends, they’ll carry you through your years. Grasp any opportunity with both hands. It’s cliché, but I think I still wouldn’t have found my niche if it wasn’t for saying yes to every opportunity that came my way. Those opportunities may just open doors to things you didn’t even know were in your reach.
Please share any fond memories you have of your time studying at UNSW Sydney.
As someone who lived on campus for the entire duration of my university degree, I definitely have many fond memories. If I was to think of one that sticks out, I’ll always remember the joy of finishing exams for the semester. Celebrating a semester of hard work was always well earned, and lying on the Village Green in the sun post-exams was always the perfect cure.