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.

Short biography:

Pauline graduated from UNSW with a Bachelor of Science (Hons I) majoring in Vision Science and Pharmacology in 2016. Since graduating from UNSW, she completed her PhD in medicine in 2021 at the Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney. She has published over 25 original peer-reviewed research papers and 4 book chapters and presented at over 15 international conferences. She currently works as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) at Apellis Pharmaceuticals.

Why did you choose to study at UNSW Sydney?

Growing up my parents owned an optical business, so I was exposed to the optometry/vision science space for a long time. I was never really interested in a career as an optometrist, but I was always fascinated by the eye and how drugs worked. I wanted to explore my options without being locked into a specific career path. A Bachelor of Science was a broad degree that allowed to me explore my interests in both vision science and pharmacology. Since UNSW was one of the only universities that taught vision science, it was the ideal choice.

What’s your favourite memory or experience from your time at UNSW Sydney?

I will always be grateful for the friendships I made during my time at UNSW. Due to my university schedule, I used to see my friends at least four times a week, yet every time we saw each other we always had so much to talk about. This may sound a little boring, but some of my fondest memories were simple things, like having lunch at the quad lawn with my friends after class (with the odd occasion of being attacked by bin chickens) or the times we would search for a space to study in the library during exam season only to give up and go to the library lawn because we were so adamant we had to sit together. Looking back now, I used to take being able to grab a “quick bite” with friends for granted. It’s been over eight years since I studied at UNSW and some of my closest friendships started here, that I know will last a lifetime.

After graduating, how did your career path evolve?

I’ll admit, I didn’t take the most direct path to where I am today. After completing my undergraduate degree and one-year of honours, I worked as a clinical research officer at the Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney. After working for a year in clinical research, I was encouraged by my manager Prof Stephanie Watson to undertake a PhD. Throughout my PhD, the intention was to follow a career in academia, however, towards the end I began networking with different people from medical device innovators to pharmaceutical representatives to medical writers. This ultimately piqued my interest in careers outside of academia.

While exploring my options, I really wanted a career that would allow me to use the skills I developed during my honours and PhD years and one that would match my personality. Being an MSL seemed like the ideal role. The best MSLs tend to be self-motivated, outgoing, organised and have a strong clinical background with the ability to clearly and confidently communicate high-level science to key opinion leaders. These were skills I had developed or could further improve on. Moving into the industry was one of the best career decisions I’ve ever made.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

There are many parts of my job that I enjoy, but my top three would have to be:

1.      It is scientifically stimulating: Being an MSL you have to be a scientific expert in your therapeutic area, for me it’s ophthalmology. It requires constant studying, reviewing literature, attending conferences and anything else you can do to keep yourself up to date. While it can be challenging, it is that challenge that keeps me motivated.

2.      It is a very dynamic job: The role itself involves lots of travelling both interstate and international, but it is not the only dynamic part of the role. The job allows me to connect with people from many different backgrounds, from external clinicians to internal colleagues. It has given me the opportunity to learn about the marketing, sales, regulatory and clinical aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. It also allows me to further develop my communication and negotiation skills and understand how my job affects other areas of the business.

3.      I have a purpose: One of the best things about being an MSL is the ability to impact patients' lives in many different ways. For example, I’m currently working on a therapy for geographic atrophy (a disease that currently does not have an approved treatment in Australia). By having scientific exchanges with healthcare professionals, I can keep them up to date on the relevant scientific data and develop medical education programs that will ultimately impact the lives of many patients.

What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?

One of my greatest educational accomplishments was completing my PhD during COVID-19. My PhD had a heavy clinical focus. However, COVID-19 meant limited face-to-face interactions. Many of my patients were unable to visit the clinic given the restrictions. To be able to complete my PhD in time, I had to pivot my research project from a clinical trial to developing an international dry eye registry (known as the Save Sight Dry Eye Registries). To date, the registry is being used in 26 sites across eight countries in Australia, New Zealand, The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Spain, France, and Germany. It is an ophthalmic web-based registry designed to track the long-term effectiveness and safety of treatments for ocular surface disorders, which has been an unmet need for a long time. Knowing ophthalmologists and optometrists can track the effectiveness of dry eye treatments over long periods is extremely satisfying.

On a career level, the move from academia to the pharmaceutical industry was one of my proudest achievements. The decision to not undertake a post-doctoral fellowship and move straight into the industry was terrifying. I hadn’t met anyone who went straight into industry after their PhD. However, I do not regret the move, if anything I know my contribution as an MSL will impact the lives of patients in many ways. Since moving into the industry, I feel privileged to be in a position to advise others wanting to make the move.

Over the years what has been the best piece of advice you have received?

“Be curious, seek opportunities and do not be afraid of change.”

The world is forever changing, if you asked me five years ago, I never would have imagined working in the pharmaceutical industry. I always thought I would follow the academic path. However, this advice is something I have carried with me as I’ve moved through the industry. Being curious led me to explore other career opportunities, which led me to pursue a career in medical affairs. Change is inevitable, so it’s better to embrace it than fight it.

If you had to do it all again, what advice would you give to your first-year university student self? 

While the optometry and ophthalmology space may be a niche environment/community, don’t underestimate the power of networking. Make an effort to become actively involved in university groups, and organisations and make some friends along the way. You never know who will be able to open the door for future career opportunities. 

Why did you choose to study at UNSW Sydney?

I chose UNSW because I wanted to work with Professor Eric Papas. I was introduced to Professor Papas at the BCLA conference where he encouraged me to consider enrolling in a PhD. I received a Dutch scholarship and was accepted at UNSW. I also thought ‘could there be a more beautiful place to live and learn than Sydney?!’

What’s your favourite memory or experience from your time at UNSW Sydney?

It’s a tie!

The Friday afternoons at the ‘White House’ come to mind where PG students, faculty, and staff would gather to celebrate our hard work at the end of the week.

The other would have to be writing my thesis and having 2am chats with the overnight security guard and the custodian who arrived at 6am. We even joked about the ghost in the PG room.

After graduating, how did your career path evolve?

I moved to the United States as a postdoc and then quickly got promoted to a research assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Optometry. I was curious to learn more about the contact lens industry, so I transitioned into a Clinical Development & Medical Affairs project lead in Research and Development for Alcon, a Global Medical Device company. After five years in R&D, I made a move to the commercial side of the business and am now the Global Director of Professional Education and Development where I work to bring the voice of the eye care professional to help inform our Global Franchise Vision Care team.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

My favourite part is working with a diverse group of professionals that bring various perspectives to our work. I am constantly learning and challenged by the problems and questions we are asked to solve.

What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?

Developing my career and life without being afraid to try something new. This has afforded me opportunities to grow in multiple dimensions and define my own path in work and life. Too often there is an expected ‘career path’, especially for scientists. I am proud to have built a career unique to my talents which now allows me to contribute to the advancement of eye care in a meaningful way.

Over the years what has been the best piece of advice you have received?

My co-supervisor Percy Lazon de la Jara told me ‘Don’t let perfect get in the way of good’ and this has stuck with me; especially when I have multiple demands and deadlines.

If you had to do it all again, what advice would you give to your first-year university student self?

Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. So much is learned from new starts!

Bio Carolina Kunnen

Carolina Kunnen, PhD, BOptom, BHealth, FBCLA, is the Global Director of Professional Education and Development at Alcon, where she develops and drives the eye care professional engagement and educational initiatives within the Alcon's Global Vision Care Franchise Team. With a background as a Principal Clinical Development & Medical Affairs Project Lead in R&D, she possesses more than five years of expertise in clinical strategy development, spanning from ideation to commercial launch. Carolina is an experienced and skilled clinician, having provided patient-centered care for over 11 years in various clinical settings in the Netherlands, including a contact lens specialty practice.

Driven by her passion for optometry and desire to make a positive impact on the world, Carolina established The Optical Foundation, a non-profit organization providing eye care in Africa. With over 15 years of successful operation, The Optical Foundation offers comprehensive eye exams, education, and research, making eye care accessible in Ghana. Additionally, Carolina has taught optometry and orthoptics in the Netherlands, Ghana, and Australia.

Carolina completed her Optometry and Orthoptics degrees in the Netherlands and earned her PhD from UNSW Sydney in Australia. As a three-time TEDx speaker and co-host, Carolina is a proven cultural change-maker who inspires and engages others towards promoting innovation while advocating for diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, she actively contributes to the Netherlands Contact Lens Congress program committee.

Why did you choose to study a PhD in Vision Science at UNSW Sydney?

I chose to study for a PhD in Vision Science at UNSW Sydney, at first, from the recommendation of Professor Padmaja Sankaridurg from the Brien Holden Vision Institute.

Secondly, the School of Optometry & Vision Science, UNSW Sydney, has a well-known academic team in the field of Optometry and Vision Science. Moreover, UNSW Sydney is a worldwide high-ranking university that provides the best academic environment for students to develop their research careers.

What was your experience of being a postgraduate student at UNSW?

It has been a great journey.  I was a PhD student at UNSW Sydney, from April 2017 to August 2022 and in that time I learnt so much from the Professors, Lecturers and staff.

There was a lot of support for a young researcher like myself including travel support and financial support. I made use of this to participate in international conferences and meetings where I met great people; my professional network is much richer because of the opportunities for international travel UNSW afforded me. 

Moreover, critical discussions with supervisors and other experts at SOVS also helped me during my PhD journey, especially in the annual progress reviews, to focus on what goals to set and how best to attain them.

How did your career path evolve?

During the five years of my PhD journey, I learnt great skills which have boosted my career including how to develop critical scientific discussions, grant applications, systematic literature reviews, project management and academic writing,. Each of these skills has immensely contributed to the development of my research career.

What does your current role involve? And what do you enjoy most about it?

The PhD degree awarded by UNSW Sydney has opened up a bright future for my career. I have been recently appointed as the Head of a Myopia Control Clinic from one of the largest eye-care groups of practices in Vietnam. Furthermore, the networking set-up during my PhD journey also initiated great opportunities to collaborate internationally for research projects in the field of myopia management.

What are your proudest achievements, both professional and/or personal?

As a PhD alumni from UNSW Sydney hailing from Vietnam, I was awarded a 2022 Developing Countries Eye Researcher Fellowship from the Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) that supports the development of young potential eye researchers in developing countries to build their research career.

Personally, my biggest achievement is the proud smile (and happy tears!) my mother had during my Graduation Ceremony held at UNSW Sydney in August 2022. My mother flew from Vietnam to attend the ceremony with me and I will remember that moment forever.

Do you have any advice for future students considering studying a PhD at UNSW School of Optometry & Vision Science?

There are three key pieces of advice that I would like to impart to students considering undertaking a PhD at UNSW Sydney:

  • Make the most of your time as a PhD student by drawing on the enormous resources of the School and University - especially the academic resources in the library

  • Carefully form a plan and list out your milestones with critical input from your supervisors and stay focused on achieving it 

  • Be friendly to and supportive of other PhD students. The networking you do during your PhD journey is the greatest way to build up the next phase of your career.

Please share any fond memories you have of your time at UNSW School of Optometry & Vision Science

Some of the unforgettable memories that I would like to share from my time at UNSW SOVS are:

  • The date when I received the approval letter from UNSW Sydney accepting me into their PhD program in 2017 and when UNSW approved my PhD award in 2022

  • My initial training with the UNSW SOVS HDR Coordinator, Associate Professor Maria Markoulli, and other PhD students at SOVS

  • The initial training for the clinical trial of which my PhD thesis surrounded under the guidance of my supervisors: Professor Padmaja Sankaridurg, Dr Monica Jong, and Associate Professor Yen Hai Tran

  • The time of writing my thesis in addition to the number of publications as an outcome of my PhD

  • My graduation ceremony held at UNSW Sydney 

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.

Why did you choose to study Optometry and Vision Science?

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.

What was your experience being an Optometry and Vision Science student?

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!

After graduating, how did your career path evolve?

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.

If you were not an optometrist, what would you be?

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!

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment outside of the profession of Optometry?

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!

Do you have any advice for school leavers considering studying Optometry & Vision Science at UNSW Sydney?

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.

Why did you choose to study Optometry?

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. 

What was your experience being an Optometry student?

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.  

After graduating, how did your career path evolve?

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. 

What does your current research involve? And what do you enjoy most about it?

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). 

What are your proudest achievements, both professional and/or personal?

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. 

Do you have any advice for school leavers considering studying Optometry & Vision Science at UNSW Sydney?

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.

Please share any fond memories you have of your time studying at UNSW Sydney.

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.

Short Biography:

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. 

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.

Hi Lotte, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Do you have any memories of your time at UNSW you would like to share with our alumni?

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.

What have been doing since graduating from UNSW?

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.

What are your proudest achievements, both professional and other interests?

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.

Congratulations on both those wonderful achievements.
Could you please tell us about your current role, and what you most enjoy about your current work? What is next for you?

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.

What advice would you give to optometry students?

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.

What qualities are important to succeed? 

Interest, eager to learn new things, and loving what you are doing.

We thank you very much, Lotte, for agreeing to be interviewed for our Alumni Profile. We are extremely proud of all your achievements. A special mention, too, to the MOptom class of 2015; you are always welcome to visit if you are ever in Sydney again.
Short Biography: 

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. 

What made you choose to study Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW Sydney?

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.

What has been your journey since finishing your Optometry degree? 

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.

What or who has been your biggest influence on your career?

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.

Tell us a little bit about the organisations that you volunteer with outside of your day-to-day job

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.

What advice would you like share with our commencing Optometry and Vision Science students?

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.

Short Biography:

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.

Why did you choose to study Optometry?

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.

What was your experience being an Optometry student?

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.

After graduating, how did your career path evolve?

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.

What are your proudest achievements, both professional and/or personal?

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.

Do you have any advice for school leavers considering studying Optometry at UNSW Sydney?

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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