Pursuing research may at first be daunting, but it is an excellent option for anyone who has a real interest in the area.
Optometry is a surprisingly versatile profession when you consider the different avenues available outside of clinical practice: practice ownership, working with ophthalmology, special interest practice, teaching, and research. I firmly believe that your optometry career is what you make of it.
Like many optometrists, my interest in the eye began after my first eye examination at age nine. I was fascinated by the eye and how it worked. It was a fairly simple decision for me when I had to arrange university preferences at the end of Year 12, optometry at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) went straight to number one.
The most rewarding facet is looking at your results and discovering you have just answered a question for which nobody previously knew the answer
I had never considered a career in research until my fourth year of university, when I became involved in myopia research as part of our Masters research project. At the time I was also working as a research assistant in the Contact Lens and Visual Optics Laboratory (CLVOL) at QUT. My interest in the eye, initially sparked during that first eye examination 15 years earlier, began to flourish and drove me to consider a career in research.
In my final year of university, I had a choice to make – either proceed straight into research or get a job in clinical practice. After speaking with numerous people who I held in high regard in both practice and research, I decided to take on full-time practice in Perth. However, a career in research was always at the back of my mind.
I had a similar experience in full-time practice as most other graduates. I navigated the steep learning curve of how to manage patients, recommend and prescribe optical corrections, and appropriately manage the vast array of eye conditions we encounter. I thoroughly enjoyed practice and developed quite an interest in children’s vision, and in particular, myopia and myopia control, given my personal experiences and research interests. This led me to move to a different practice where I had broader scope to begin learning and prescribing options to treat myopia progression such as orthokeratology and low dose atropine eye drops. During the next few years I enjoyed the scope of practice I was involved in, but began to realise just how little was known about myopia. So, three years following graduation, I returned to Brisbane to commence my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) candidature.
I am currently one third of the way through my PhD and find it incredibly rewarding and enjoyable, albeit very different from clinical practice. A PhD was described to me as a degree during which you learn how to research well, and this is certainly the case. It requires you to think in a completely different manner. Research is about asking questions, then setting out in a controlled, logical way to answer them. The most rewarding facet is looking at your results and discovering you have just answered a question for which nobody previously knew the answer. Without research, we do not have breakthroughs in understanding of different eye conditions or treatment interventions; this is why research is so important in our profession.
The mention of research as my career pathway of choice tends to evoke strong reactions from friends, family, and colleagues, simply because research isn’t for everyone. You do need a genuine interest in what you are researching, and at times, a large degree of self-motivation and willpower. You also require patience for when things don’t go your way. These challenges can be frustrating, but if you are patient and work through each problem carefully, everything eventually works out. I am incredibly lucky with the support I receive from my expert supervisory team and colleagues in CLVOL, as well as the personal support of my fiancee. I hope that the completion of my PhD will open the door to an academic career, combining my passion for research and teaching.
Rohan Hughes graduated from Queensland University of Technology in 2013 with a Bachelor of Vision Science and Master of Optometry. He worked full time in a Perth optometry practice for three years before returning to Brisbane to commence his Doctor of Philosophy candidature. He is also the current Vice President of Optometry QLD/NT.