Previous 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!’

Patricia Arthur 

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

I graduated from UNSW in 1981 and opened my first practice in 1982. Over the ensuing 25 years I opened, closed, bought and sold a number of practices where I operated as a solo practitioner. In the background was always the desire to study music at a tertiary level. So, in 2005, I started a Bachelor of Music degree at University of Western Sydney, graduating in 2012. I scored the Dean's Medal too!! Somewhere during this time, I began to ponder the visual perception of music and how similar that may or may not be to reading text. The only way to find out was to do a PhD. 

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

My research involves the visual perception of music: experts vs non-experts. This has been done by examining their eye movements as they read score. The next part is to look at more general visual perception parameters such as visual span and visual search: musicians vs non-musicians. These form the backbone of my investigation into the music/text processing  area that I am interested in.

Has doing research affected the way you practice optometry?

Oh yes it most definitely has! The obvious answer is that I don't practice as much anymore! But, when I do, I am much more likely to question why a certain technique is performed a certain way or even performed at all and I will go and seek out the information. Also, helping to teach undergrad subjects has been a wonderful way of refreshing long lost details of our craft resulting in a renewed enthusiasm for Vision Science. 

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

It's never too late. It has taken me so long to work out that I am much happier and better suited to this side of our profession. Life ties you up in situations and predicaments that can take quite some time to shake off! So, if someone has even the slightest inkling that research is the direction that they might want to go, take up a summer research assistant position or get fully immersed in the 5th Year research project. If you can't wait to get up in the morning and get into it...........!

Cecilia Chao

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

Hi there, my name is Cecilia Chao. It is the second year of my PhD program in the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW. I am originally from Macau and I went to Taiwan for my bachelor degree of Optometry. However, I was not satisfied with the undergraduate program in the university so I decided to go to Australia for a coursework master degree.

Dr. Michele Madigan was the one who taught and encouraged me to write a critical literature review in a course called Research Skills in Optometry. Since then, I found that research was so interesting - which led me to strive to complete the whole picture of a research topic by searching databases of knowledge for the missing parts relating to the topic. Whenever information could not be found and was “missing”, these gaps in the knowledge base would be suitable research topics in the near future. Clearly, it is the reason I decided to pursue my PhD.

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

I am currently doing a project in the field of laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK), mainly looking at the changes in corneal nerve morphology and neuropeptides in tears after LASIK. It is conceivable that LASIK causes damage to the corneal nerves and dry eye even though the outcome of the procedure is satisfactory. Findings from literature show that both corneal sensitivity and epithelial wound healing have been linked with tear neuropeptides concentration. However, the impact of neuropeptides in tears on nerve recovery after LASIK has not previously been studied. Hence, these are the main areas of focus of my study. Since the LASIK population in Australia is relatively small, my supervisors suggested that I should go to China for data collection. It was my first time to live and experience life in China. I found it extremely difficult during my stay there and I encountered many problems, such as cultural and language barriers. Fortunately, my supervisors and the investigators here are extremely supportive and encouraging. I really think they are the reason I keep working into this topic in China.

Has doing research affected the way you practice optometry?

In my opinion, doing research is not boring and dull. I am always excited whenever I do an analysis because a new piece of information may be discovered to contribute to vision science. In addition, learning new techniques and using the latest instruments to evaluate eye conditions are common in research. These opportunities strengthen my skills in practice and update the way I used to practice. For example, I consider whether the questionnaire I use is validated; judge whether an instrument is useful to assess tear film. Also, nerve morphology in different systematic and dry eye conditions is taken into account in the evaluation. Therefore, research is not only an insight into a specific topic but is also significance in optometry practices.

Any advice for anyone thinking of doing a PhD?

Doing a PhD is like developing a new recipe, your supervisors can only provide you with basic assistant and direction like a cookbook. In order to be successful, PhD students need to have their own input and vision in what is required to do in a research project. Always criticize existing knowledge in order to develop better research methods. At the end, it is your own tasty recipe that you would love to share with others. PS WORK HARD PLAY HARD!

Kholoud Bokhary

Tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to do a Masters of Optometry?

Hi, my name is Kholoud Bokhary, from Saudi Arabia, mother of two (1 girl and 1 boy). I have just completed my MOptom program and currently, I am conducting a PhD research project at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW. After I graduated with a BSc. Degree from the School of Optometry at King Saud University in my home country, I worked as an optometrist at the same school for about three years. During that time, I took my decision to carry out a Masters degree in optometry as I would like to broaden my knowledge and therefore, get a chance to have an academic position at the same school. After that, I made a lot of searches and found that the optometry school at UNSW would be the best place to fulfil my ambitions.

Which topics did you study? Did you have a favourite course?

I studied many topics which included two courses of advanced contact lenses, Neourovisual science, four courses of pathophysiology and Research Skills. I was interested in all the courses that I studied, particularly, the contact lens course as it had useful models and clinics. Generally, I found the course useful, interesting, organized, and covered all the specialities of the optometry field and was planned out very well in a comfortable atmosphere. Both the academic and general staff were kind and helpful.

Now that you have finished the course, do you find it has changed the way you wish to practice or are practising optometry?

I feel like this course has made a difference in my academic and practical life as well as added up lots of things to me as I feel more confident that I can function much better in my future.

Pauline Kang

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

I graduated from UNSW at the end of 2006. I decided to do a PhD as I had an interest in orthokeratology (OK) lenses and I was given the opportunity to do research with the ROK (Research of Orthokeratology) group. I am currently in my 2nd year.

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

Researchers are constantly investigating ways to reduce or even cease myopia progression due to the high prevalence of myopia especially in Asia. Animal models have shown that that the peripheral retina appears to have a large influence on the development of foveal refractive errors, more than previously thought.

OK involves wearing rigid contact lenses of a reverse geometry design and are a means of temporarily correcting low to mild degrees of myopia. I am investigating whether OK contact lenses can manipulate the way light focuses on the peripheral retina and to determine which lens parameters can effectively manipulate peripheral refraction while allowing clear central vision

Has doing research affected the way you practice optometry?

I have gained and acquired skills in different instruments which are used both in clinical research as well as in some practices. Additionally, I have gained knowledge in the different innovative procedures or options that are available to patients which I can advise them on if appropriate.

Any advice for anyone thinking of doing a PhD?

If you are thinking about doing a PhD, do it now! Although it takes many years, I believe that the time and effort invested while doing a PhD will be worth the opportunities it will open up for you in the future.

Moneisha Gokhale

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

I am an optometrist trained from India (L.V. Prasad Eye Institute). Having worked in the clinics, I was inquisitive to learn and explore research. The best option seemed to be a higher research degree. When opportunity knocked, UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science, known for its resources, was an ideal choice.

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

My research is to understand dry eye syndrome that affects contact lens and non-lens wearers. The causes of dry eyes are many ranging from pathology, environmental, and nutrition. I am trying to evaluate the different tests (clinical and laboratory) for dry eyes, the combination of which, I hope one day will help in diagnosing this condition better.

My research is also evaluating if consuming Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) like fish oil capsules is able to control dry eye syndrome. Whenever I used to examine patients at L.V Prasad Eye Institute, they always complained about “dry eyes” or “burning eyes” alongside other major problems. After the regular slit lamp examination, the patients would ask “did you see anything?” or “so why are my eyes dry?” Not being able to see any signs of dryness on their eyes, it was difficult for me to explain to them, the cause of their symptoms. My explanation for their condition used to be along the lines “I cannot see anything, but probably it is dryness”. And the patients would have a look on their faces that read “Didn’t I just tell you that my eyes are dry?” This funny situation repeated many times and with the opportunity given to understand dry eye better, I hope to have a better answer to the patients after the completion of my degree.

Has doing research affected the way you practice optometry?

Yes, definitely. It has made me aware of not only the amount of knowledge there already is, but also, how much we still don’t know. Many a times in the clinics, I ended up doing things “just the way they are” without questioning.  I now realise that research is the building block of clinical practice.  And most importantly, that ideas and theories are always evolving. A clinician needs to understand research in order to incorporate it into clinical practice. The topic (dry eye syndrome) of my research is only a tool for me to understand and  interpret research which I can then use for any of the other conditions that I may see while practicing clinical optometry.

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

My only suggestion would be to choose a topic that one finds really interesting. It is better to wait for one than to rush into something unknown. I recommend a research degree (MSc or PhD), because it is a platform for us to ask the question WHY. It will change your homepage from “Facebook” to “Google”.

William Lau

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

I completed the B. Optometry degree from UNSW in 2006 and worked in private practice for a year before starting my PhD in 2008. I thought that I would like to work at a university as a lecturer (which requires a PhD), so I decided to start postgraduate study.

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

My research is to do with corneal biomechanics and their impact on intraocular pressure measurement. The Goldmann tonometer is the current gold standard instrument, however its accuracy is affected by corneal properties. Some relevant properties such as corneal thickness can be easily measured clinically, but it currently isn’t possible to measure corneal biomechanical parameters such as Young’s modulus in vivo. My work is based on a clinical instrument called the Ocular Response Analyser which claims to assess corneal biomechanical behaviour, but in a very different way compared to biomechanical traditional tests. I chose this research area as I wanted to stay in a relatively clinical setting.

Has doing research affected the way you practice optometry?

My research has led me to appreciate the varying results that different tonometers can provide. I would recommend to optometrists who primarily use non-contact tonometers to use the Goldmann tonometer on patients if high pressures are detected.

Any advice for anyone thinking of doing a PhD?

Starting (and finishing) a PhD is an enormous undertaking that requires careful planning. Anyone thinking of doing a PhD should think about what their career goals are, their financial situation and how well they can manage their time.

Kiseok Lee

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

I completed a Bachelor and Masters of Optometry in Korea in 2007 and I worked at an eye hospital for some time. While working at the eye hospital, I felt that prescribing was inadequate. I came across many challenging patients and really wanted to know more about what was happening and tried to find out from textbooks and doctors but no one had answers for me. That’s why I chose to do a PhD. There are no PhD courses related to optometry in Korea so that is why I decided to come to Australia to study. I intend to bring back the knowledge I have gained to Korea to further develop the profession there.

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

I am interested in how the visual environment can affect vision, especially in amblyopia. I am interested in developing new therapies for amblyopia. I am trying to apply different kinds of vision therapies which use computer games as a basis. Unfortunately, the study is too huge to complete within the three year timeline of a PhD study so now I am focusing on eye hand coordination and eye movement ability in amblyopia. This work is also valuable as clinicians do not have simple methods to screen or measure eye-hand coordination. Much equipment is expensive and complicated. I am developing new tests of eye-hand coordination using computers, webcams and the iPad.

Has doing research affected the way you practice optometry?

Yes, by harnessing popular and new technologies such as the iPad, I can work to improve tests used in clinical practice. I will use the tests I am developing in my future clinical work. Also, we will know about eye movements and eye hand coordination in amblyopia.

Any advice for anyone thinking of doing a PhD?

Before I started, I didn’t know what was involved in doing a PhD. As an international student, my depth of thinking and the breadth of my thinking is developing, both in the field of vision research and in the rest of my life. I really value the chance to meet different people who are interested in this area. As an international student, this is what I feel you will gain by doing a PhD here.

Ximena Masgoret

"When I began my research degree at the School of Optometry and Vision Science I never imagined I would have gained this great experience. I find the academic staff to be highly approachable and I was able to share with them my specific area of research interest.

The support and service of the academic and general staff are extremely valuable. This research allows me to broaden my skills but most importantly it improves my critical thinking skills. I have weekly meetings with my supervisors which helps me develop and encourage independent thinking. The annual review enhances my presentation skills in a conducive, enjoyable and supportive environment. In addition, I attained a grant scheme from UNSW to support my research.

The School also provides opportunity to graduate students in gaining teaching experience through casual teaching to undergraduate students. In summary, I feel that it has been an enriching as well as intellectually challenging process both academically and personally."