Meet our PhD Students


Sharon Oberstein 

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

I qualified as an optometrist in 1989.  My passion and understanding of Low Vision Optometry was initiated by my work in a private low vision practice in South Africa. I have been fortunate to balance a rewarding career in low vision optometry (having practiced low vision in private practice and supervised and taught low vision to optometry students in South Africa and Australia) with raising three children.

I joined UNSW Optometry clinic in 2004, and completed a post graduate course in Low Vision Rehabilitation in 2005. I enjoyed invitations to represent optometry on working groups, at continuing education events and in low vision rehabilitation organisations.  Six years later I found the courage to register for a PhD. I hope that with completion of the PhD by research and publication in peer review journals, I will enhance my critical thinking and research skills and gain academic recognition to support my passion as a Low Vision Optometrist.

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

The aim of my research is to examine strategies that might facilitate driving in individuals with central vision impairment.

My interest in this research area is driven by my passion to improve independence of individuals with vision impairment; and was sparked by a 16 year old girl with Stargardt’s disease who attended the UNSW Low vision clinic to explore her options for driving. She had reduced central visual acuity that did not meet the criteria for a driver’s license in Australia.

Further enquiries to support my patient revealed that there was limited availability and research into the use of bioptic telescope spectacles and other strategies for driving with central vision impairment in Australia. I hope to provide scientific evidence to clarify the safety and usefulness of these strategies, which could have a major impact for the individual with vision impairment wanting to drive; create awareness and guide driving licensing policy, especially in Australia.

Has doing research affected the way you practice optometry?

Yes, doing research has enhanced and developed my critical thinking and evidence based practice skills. It has taught me to question conventional practice and theories on the one hand, while exploring current evidence to amend or introduce new skills. I have been able to incorporate these skills into my patient care, optometry student teaching and supervising duties.

Presenting my research has facilitated travel to national and international meetings, where meeting and networking with the leaders in optometry and low vision has been inspirational.

Any advice for anyone thinking of doing a research degree in optometry (MSc or Phd)?

Being allocated the time to explore a topic about which I am passionate has been a privilege and valuable opportunity. As I began my PhD journey I was advised to approach becoming a full time student as one would a job; with its highs and lows, frustrations and rewards. I have needed to develop resilience and flexibility, my advice is to ‘aim for the stars and you’ll touch the sky!’