As a member of the School of Optometry & Vision Science alumni community, you are part of a locally and internationally renowned school. We are very proud of the accomplishments of our alumni, and their contributions to optometry, the wider community and beyond. Meet some of our alumni family and read about their experiences.
I’m probably unusual among optometrists in that optometry wasn’t my first choice as a career. Actually, it wasn’t my second choice either! When I left school, I went to Birmingham University (UK), to study physics but it didn’t take long after graduation to realise that I wasn’t exactly a recruiter’s dream. Fifty-odd job applications and not a single bite was a pretty damning sample, so at the urging of my dad, I began work with one of his friends, who was a Chartered Accountant. He was a lovely man, and I am grateful to him for giving me a try, but after six months, I knew it wasn’t for me and so I left. The experience wasn’t totally wasted though, I can still do your books if you run a fish and chip shop or a newsagency!
It was in a casual conversation with an old uni mate that the subject of optometry as a career came up and after a stimulating conversation with my own optometrist, it quickly formed itself into a career pathway. I still didn’t have it quite right though. In my mind, after completing training at the University of Manchester (UMIST) I would get my own practice, play golf a couple of times a week and that would be a nice life. What changed was that a year or so after I qualified, my boss at the time taught a contact lens clinic at the university. One day, he had another appointment and asked if I could cover for him. Of course, that was that! He never did it again and I was sucked into a teaching role and commenced a research Masters at the university. Incidentally, one of my fellow students at this point was our former Head of School, Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton.
After leaving UMIST I had a couple of research positions in the contact lens industry before Professor Brien Holden came calling, with the offer of a job in Australia. Sure, I thought, that’d be nice for a couple of years…and here I still am, nearly 30 years later.
The role I took on back then was as Director of Clinical Research in the Cornea & Contact Lens Research Unit, a position which included responsibility for a new project called SEE3. This was the collaboration that resulted in the invention and commercial development of silicone hydrogel contact lenses, which are now the most widely prescribed modality in the world. In fact, it wasn’t until after the bulk of work on silicone hydrogels had been completed that I embarked on a PhD. I was very much a latecomer in that respect and indeed, almost managed to talk myself out of it, for one reason or another. Fortunately, after some excellent encouragement from two very respected sources, namely Professor Dan O’Leary, who was Head of School at the time and Professor Des Fonn from Waterloo in Canada, I did decide to enrol and thoroughly enjoyed it from that moment on. Undoubtedly it was the right thing to do, for a number of reasons, but one very important thing was that it gave me the confidence to say, “I don’t understand.” If I had been more able to do that as an undergraduate, I might have been a better physicist.
The pathway after graduation led me through several roles until I became Executive Director of Research & Development at the Vision CRC, in what is now the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI). In collaboration with industrial partners, these organisations were responsible for several successful contact lens products and began the work that has since resulted in the development of myopia control technology.
Throughout my career, I always maintained close links with the School of Optometry & Vision Science through appointment as a visiting academic, and so when I left BHVI, it was a natural step to take up a Professorship in the school. This allowed me to continue to contribute to research and teaching and especially to postgraduate education.
It has been a great delight to see some of my former students become successful academics, researchers and teachers in our school, as well as elsewhere and in industry.
I've always been intrigued about the importance of eyesight. Good vision plays a huge role in a person's quality of life, and I wanted to work in a profession where I'd be able to provide a positive impact in people's lives. Optometry has allowed me the opportunity to help others by providing clear vision.
I really enjoyed my time studying optometry at the University of New South Wales. It was a wonderful place to learn from some amazing academics and leaders in Australian optometry. The optometry and vision science cohort of students tends to be smaller than that of other schools as well, and hence you build quite strong friendships with the peers you spend five or so years studying with. The coursework is challenging, so there will be a lot of ups and downs that you experience together. It makes your time at university all the more sweeter when you graduate!
I've spent my last two years working in corporate optometry in the greater south-west of Sydney. Although not technically deemed rural, I've had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of my patients who grew up in a rural setting as there is a lesser density of practitioners close by (for now!) - we're on the real outskirts of the Sydney region. My workplace sees a great mix of people from all walks of life, those of different ages and ethnicities, those who grew up in the city and the rural areas. I find there is a lesson to learn from everyone who walks into my consulting room, and that's what I love most about my job.
I'd be a food blogger, travelling around the world (in a COVID-free world) and sharing my food experiences! It's always been a dream of mine to jet-set to different countries and completely immerse myself in different food cultures and traditions. I find food so fascinating in its ability to bring people from around the world together, so it's definitely a passion of mine to storytell through taste. In my spare time outside of optometry, I run my own blog "Sydney Food Boy" where I write about the different foods you can find in Sydney - your tastebuds can travel around the world in our very own city if you know where to look!
Through my blogging, I have been able to increase awareness and provide much-needed exposure for a lot of small businesses in the food industry, many of whom were struggling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The conversations I've had with these business owners after a consequent increase in their customers and sales have been really humbling. It's great to know I'm able to provide support for others even outside of optometry!
The Optometry & Vision Science course at UNSW is demanding, but you'll have a wonderful experience here. You'll come across some amazing people in your time at the school, and there's no limit to the things you're able to learn. My biggest piece of advice would be to actively try to create opportunities for yourself while at university. What you put in is what you get out, so give it your all and the opportunities will be endless.
As a small child I had visited my optometrist only to find out that I needed spectacles to correct my distance vision. Putting my spectacles on for the first time was an amazing experience, as I discovered that from a distance, I could see leaves on a tree and writing on the board at school, which until then had been very blurry. Having clear vision was life changing. This instilled in me a passion to help other people by giving them the gift of sight.
Compared to other courses, Optometry tends to have smaller cohorts, so students can get to know one another and develop life-long friendships. My experience as a student both at the undergraduate and postgraduate level is that optometry students like to help one another through the course.
My career path with optometry has been varied as I have practiced clinically in private, public and corporate settings; assumed management positions and educational roles within corporate optometry; participated in leadership of the profession by being a Director and President of Optometry Queensland Northern Territory; and given back through outreach clinics in indigenous communities in Australia and on international missions. My career has now gone full circle.I am once again a full-time PhD candidate at UNSW School of Optometry & Vision Science.
My research topic for my PhD is to improve the delivery of glaucoma care by Australian optometrists. This involves lots of reading of the literature and interviewing with optometrists to understand their perspectives on glaucoma care delivery with the view of designing an intervention to improve care.
As President of Optometry Queensland Northern Territory, I am engaged in advocacy (lobbying governments and stakeholders), member services and advancing the professionalism of optometry (provision of continuing development and broadening scope of practice).
My proudest professional achievement is being President of Optometry Queensland Northern Territory as this role gives me the opportunity to give back to the profession that has given so much to me.
My proudest personal achievement as an optometrist was having a patient, who I had seen as a child, come back to see me as an adult to let me know that getting spectacles had changed their life. Being able to see the board meant they developed a love of learning that led them to complete high school and attend university.
While optometrists don’t wear superhero capes, I feel like we are very special as we give the gift of sight to our patients which can be life changing for them. So, if you are looking for a career where you can make a difference, optometry can give that to you. Optometry at UNSW Sydney is a wonderful collegiate community, where academics, staff and students are all very supportive to help you be the best version of yourself.
Academics and staff at UNSW are very supportive, encouraging their students to be the best version of themselves. A fond memory from studying my Master of Optometry were my lecturers taking a personal interest in my work, to the extent of acting as mentors who encouraged me to pursue higher degree research study.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lotte graduated with a Bachelor of Optometry from Kongsberg University College in 2003. She then pursued postgraduate studies and graduated with a Master degree in Optometry from UNSW in 2005, and a PhD from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)/Kongsberg University College in 2014. We catch up with Lotte.
I had a great time in Sydney and learnt a lot during my year at UNSW. If I was to do it again, I would have spent 1.5 years doing the degree instead of only 1 year, since the year was quite hectic.
We were 5 Norwegians doing the degree full time that year, two from India, and one from Malaysia. We really enjoyed our time together. We learnt a lot from each other, and we enjoyed Sydney together. We also met many nice Australian optometrists who did their master's degree part time.
After I graduated from UNSW I continued my job as an Optometrist at the eye department at the University Hospital, St. Olavs Hospital, in Trondheim, Norway. There I mainly worked with children, strabismus, and advanced contact lens fittings. After that, I worked for a couple of years at Specsavers, Mosjøen , Norway, before I started my PhD in 2009, which I completed in 2014. Today I work as a research optometrist at Oslo University Hospital.
I would say that my proudest professional achievement is the completion of my PhD. I studied “The effect of development and aging on direction discrimination of global motion in a healthy Norwegian population.”
My proudest personal achievement is my lovely daughter who’s almost 3 years old.
Today I work as a Research Optometrist at Oslo University Hospital, doing research at the Ophthalmological section.
Right now, we’re doing research on Multiple Sclerosis patients, and we’re working continuously on a cornea register where we collect data on patients who underwent keratoplasty. We’re also doing examinations on keratoconus patients who underwent CXL-treatment, and we’re involved in a study regarding intraocular lens dislocation after cataract surgery. We are also in the planning stage of a contrast sensitivity project.
I really enjoy working with patients and clinical research, since I get to go deeper into the conditions, and we get to see the results of the different treatments.
I would say that first of all, a genuine interest for optometry is the most important parameter to succeed. To be curious, and stay updated is very essential. The more you learn, the more interesting it becomes.
It is also important that the student likes to work with people, and is interested in finding a solution for each patient.
Interest, eager to learn new things, and loving what you are doing.
Wilson graduated from UNSW with a Bachelor of Optometry (Hons)/Bachelor of Science in 2015. Since graduating, Wilson has worked as a Staff Optometrist at private practices in rural NSW and metropolitan Sydney, clinic supervisor at UNSW as well as travelled overseas to provide eye care to the Nepalese Everest community. He has also held positions on the Young Optometrists NSW/ACT executive team and has been a speaker at several of their events. He is currently exploring the application of virtual reality in patients with eye disease at the Centre for Eye Health. He has interests in ocular pathology and advancements in technology to be used in eye care.
When I was seven, I struggled to see the board in class. It unfortunately got to the point where I had to rely on others in order for me to see far away. That was when I had my first experience with an optometrist and when I understood the value of good eyesight. I was fortunate enough that a pair of spectacles improved my vision impairment. Having good eyesight gave me the opportunity to be independent again. This sense of independency helped fuel my drive to help others gain their independence from their self-limitations. I wanted to make change and felt that improving healthcare was one key to improving independence. I wanted to choose a health related field and thought Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW Sydney was a good choice in providing back to the community what I received at a young age.
I have been quite busy for the past five years.
Since finishing my Optometry degree, I moved to the Hunter Valley for a couple of years and worked in both regional and metropolitan practices as a clinician. During my first year out, I joined Young Optometrists (a not-for-profit organisation created in 2012 to help shape the future of optometry) as an executive board member, of which I am now the Chairperson. I was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks volunteering in the Himalayas, providing eye care to the Sherpa community through Eyes4Everest in 2017.
In 2018, I moved back to Sydney to start my PhD journey at the Centre for Eye Health and UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science in investigating how we could improve our understanding of perception and the visual system in people with macular degeneration and glaucoma using virtual reality. I was fortunate to be a recipient of a travel award to present some of my research at the Asia Pacific Conference on Vision in Osaka, Japan in 2019 and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in 2021. I was also lucky to be given the opportunity to supervise the fourth and final year Optometry students in the UNSW Optometry Clinic. I have also been involved in supervising research projects as well as lecture/teach in optometry courses.
I also started a full scope optometry practice called Lumiere Eyecare with my partner in 2018. We began this journey by setting up in a garage and providing eye care both after-hours and doing home visits. Our mission was to integrate the full scope of optometry so that we can provide holistic care to our patients. In October 2020, we moved to a shop-front in Wentworth Point.
My family has been my biggest influence on my career. My family immigrated to Australia as refugees from war-torn countries with almost nothing. I saw the hardship my family experienced and wanted to be their support as soon as I was able to. I was grateful that I was given the opportunity to have a decent education and life. I learned that the more I knew, the more I could provide and make an impact – on my family, friends and society.
I am passionate about volunteering and charity work and am/have been involved in a number of organisations and charity events.
As mentioned earlier, I am the current Chairperson of Young Optometrists, which is an organisation aimed to support optometrists and students by providing both a voice and a dynamic and progressive environment to advance the profession. One of our goals is to challenge the status quo and ensure that the future of optometry is one that has been chosen by optometrists, not dictated to us.
I also volunteered and was a team leader in the Red Cross Save-A-Mate program for eight years until the program’s end in mid-2020. This program was developed to provide support and promote the health and wellbeing of young people in high risk environments, particularly where drug use and alcohol is involved.
In 2019, a group of friends and I co-founded a not-for-profit organisation called From Darkness to Light. This aims to provide orphaned children in Vietnam a fair go by providing the basic necessities for living as well as a means for education, so that one day they may create a self-sustainable environment for other children in similar situations. I am also involved with A Start in Life, a charity which assists young Australians in necessitous circumstances to overcome their barriers to education so that they may have an equal chance at life as their peers.
How you treat others, especially those who have less than you, isn’t a reflection of others. It is a reflection of you. Kindness goes a long way. A simple smile can change someone’s world. Be mindful, of yourself and others.
Spend time setting the foundations right. Chisel the mind - like a rough stone from a shapeless mass to a thing of beauty. Continue to question and learn, take ownership of yourself, so that you can achieve your goals and purpose in life.
Phil Anderton has been interested in eyes, optics and vision since childhood. This interest was augmented by his first experience at an optometrist in 1964, aged 14, where he was fascinated and converted by personally experiencing the clinical tests used by optometrists to measure vision and optical refraction. He decided to become an optometrist when he put on his first spectacles for myopia and saw the World clearly for the first time. He graduated in Optometry in 1970, completed MSc and PhD degrees and was appointed to the UNSW Optometry staff in 1978. He has published research in the areas of visual ergonomics, retinal physiology and pharmacology, tearfilm rheology and biochemistry, and the socioeconomics of rural healthcare access in Australia. He has served in various capacities advising State and Federal Governments on the Optometry profession, Glaucoma and Rural Eye and Vision Care. He was a foundation member of the Board of the CRC for Eye Rerearch and Technology where he developed an innovative system of postgraduate review. He was responsible for introducing postgraduate education in Ocular Therapeutic prescribing in UNSW Optometry in the 1990s.
In 1964, aged 14, I complained to my parents that things were blurred, and at school I couldn’t read the blackboard. This all changed when Newcastle optometrist John F. Miner gave me my first examination. All the tests seemed like magic to me, especially the phoria, duochrome and fan/block astigmatism tests. My decision to become an optometrist came when I donned my new -0.75 DSOU spectacles and first saw the leaves on distant trees. My favourite subject at School was Physics and the favourite topic was optics. The magic of a real inverted image formed by a positive lens still fills me with wonder.
There were five of us, all Anglo males. First year was a common Science year with Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. In years 2-4, all the optics and optometry subjects, and the clinics, were taught at the Technical College building in Mary-Anne street Ultimo. My favourite subjects were ophthalmic Anatomy and Physiology, and Optics.
I was a travelling rural optometrist for Gibb and Beeman (now incorporated into OPSM) for two years. I then pursued an academic career researching visual psychophysics, retinal mechanisms of adaptation, and retinal single-cell neurophysiology and pharmacology. I was appointed a full-time Academic staff member of the UNSW School of Optometry in 1978 and retired in 2005.
With colleagues Professor Tom Millar at UWS, and Professor Murray Fingeret from SUNY, I put together the original postgraduate MOptom course in ocular therapeutics in 1995. This was subsequently expanded and developed by Professor Fiona Stapleton. It was demanded by our rural optometrist colleagues and has developed into a major new direction for the optometry profession in NSW.
When I retired, I built a light aircraft (see photo) and used it to travel to remote Indigenous communities to deliver optometry clinics. It was an honour to serve these communities, and to have been virtually adopted as one of the local mob.
Any Tertiary student in any discipline needs to research their career options carefully. At UNSW, students must first complete a Bachelor of Vision Science, and some may not gain entry into the Clinical Optometry course, now offered at Master’s level.
The Vision Science degree offers excellent experience in the discipline, and prospective students should research options in both Science and Clinical Optometry. There is a definite need to create options to support rural students who wish to return home to practice. There are rural shortages in all health disciplines, including Optometry.
Please share any fond memories you have of your time studying at UNSW Sydney.
In 1968 there were five of us in year 3 of the Bachelor of Optometry course, and two of us were studying “Music” as a General Studies elective. As a part of this, we were required to listen to music in a room where vinyl records were stored and played to be heard by students through headphones. We were listening to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and, as a result were late for a bus to take us to Ultimo for a lecture by Dr Jack Alexander. He asked us why we were late. Our response was that we were listening to a Beethoven Symphony and just had to hear it all the way through. Dear Jack, who is a brilliant musician, just said: “I can’t argue with that”. We sat down and the lecture commenced.
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