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HomemiprofessionSearching for the Answers to the Great Unknown

Searching for the Answers to the Great Unknown

Katherine Wong was confident she would never pursue a career in research or take further studies… now, armed with a Master of Optometry, she is running clinical trials, presenting papers internationally, and mentoring students.

After graduating in 2012, I began working at a busy optometry practice in the Sydney CBD. This was a crucial time for building up clinical experience and laying the foundations of good clinical practice. After two years, I accepted a position at the UNSW Optometry Clinic as the resident optometrist, which challenged me to grow in many areas including clinical patient care, teaching and research. From there, a growing interest in research led me to take up a full-time role as a research optometrist with the Eye Research Group at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW Sydney.

having an open and inquisitive mind can lead to a whole range of opportunities that you may not have considered before

A common impression about pursuing a career in research is that you have to be highly intellectual, but I am proof that this is not true! Conducting research is essentially about trying to answer a question that hasn’t been answered before and in fact, it’s a very humbling experience. I think anyone who has been involved with research will be able to identify with Albert Einstein’s statement “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know”.

Optometry is an interesting field of research, because it branches into so many other areas of science including physics, psychology, public health, microbiology and systemic disease. The main objective of the Eye Research Group is to work with industry to evaluate and develop innovative eye care products. We have conducted clinical trials to evaluate contact lenses, contact lens care products, the tear film, anterior segment infection, tear supplements and dietary supplements. We also have the exciting opportunity to evaluate new products under development before they reach the market. Dry eye disease has been a huge area of interest as it affects millions of people worldwide and can have a significant impact on vision and quality of life.

Running a clinical trial is challenging, as you need to be able to meet tight study timelines and often investigational products or placebo treatments are used, so there is no guarantee that patients will receive any individual benefits from participating.

However, the intention of research is for the information gained to benefit a wider population, and it is inspiring to see our participants interested in contributing to a cause that extends beyond their own. Although the benefits are not often seen immediately, research has the potential to change the way optometry is practised – it can provide scientific evidence to guide patient management and improve patient outcomes. Research is also a continuous process and it is common to have findings that don’t make sense or that are unexpected, which can feel discouraging. However, it is important to remember that one set of data is just one piece in a much larger puzzle. Significant advances in research are not often achieved by a single study, but rather from many decades of research conducted by hundreds of researchers.

Working at UNSW Sydney has allowed me to work with the latest technology instruments for diagnosis, management and research. My colleagues have been immensely generous in sharing resources and it has been a privilege to work with expert optometrists as well as scientists from various fields of research. My employers have also supported me in undertaking a Master of Optometry part-time which enriched my critical thinking, writing and presentation skills. In 2016, I had the opportunity to present my research at the American Academy of Optometry meeting in Chicago and recently a paper from my Master of Optometry research project was accepted for publication. I also have the pleasure of mentoring research trainees and supervising students conducting research as part of the Master of Clinical Optometry program. Seeing them grow in their enthusiasm about conducting, analysing and presenting research is very rewarding.

After graduating from the Master of Optometry program last year, I realised that I am no longer certain of where my career will take me. However, I do know that an open and inquisitive mind can lead to a whole range of opportunities that you may not have considered before.

Katherine Wong graduated from optometry at UNSW in 2012 and completed her Master of Optometry in 2018. She works as a research optometrist with the Eye Research Group at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW Sydney.