How to get into a MSc or Phd in optometry?
Vinod Maseedupally earned his PhD from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia in 2013, he currently holds a postdoctoral research fellow title at the same university. At the university he teaches practical aspects of contact lenses, clinical optometry and dispensing optics to undergraduate students. He also teaches postgraduate course work students.
Vinod started his optometry career with a Diploma in Ophthalmic Techniques (DOT) at LV Prasad Eye Institute in 1996. He joined the BS Optometry program at the Bausch & Lomb School of Optometry (BLSO) laterally in 2003 and completed it in two years. The period before and after bachelor degree, he played various roles at LVPEI and BLSO. These roles include consultant at the contact lens clinic, research optometrist at Brien Holden Eye Research Centre and teacher at the Bausch & Lomb School of Optometry. At BLSO he was widely revered for his teaching skills. He extensively taught ‘Contact Lenses’ and ‘Visual Optics’ to undergraduates.
He presented his work at various international conferences and he was also invited to lecture at various symposiums. He has publications in peer-reviewed optometry and ophthalmology journals.
About the author
At one point, when you were an undergraduate student or even after completing your undergraduate degree, you may have thought of giving it a shot to get a PhD degree from a prestigious university. Some just embark on the journey right from the application process to a successful completion of PhD, while some still contemplating on getting into PhD. I want to step back and say here that the expression ‘Higher Degree Research or HDR’ is more appropriate than a PhD in this article as HDR involves either pursuing Masters degree or a PhD.
In this article, I will give a snapshot and how to approach a university and also get into a HDR program. I say ‘snapshot’ because the process differs between different universities around the world. That is why I stress this point that, do not consider this write-up here as bible verses for processing your HDR application. However, I request leaving your questions and comments in the comments section below. If I am not experienced enough to answer your queries some of my friends who are already in the field may want to answer.
Am I ready to get into MSc or PhD?
I strongly advise you to put this question to yourself. This is as important as when you had asked (even if not asked) yourself ‘should I get into optometry?’ after your 12th standard. Choosing optometry would have changed your career course. Likewise, choosing a PhD or Masters degree program will also spin your rest of the career path. You will put 4 to 5 years of your life in earning this degree, therefore choose wisely.
I would strongly recommend you reading ‘Tough love: An insensitive guide to thriving in your PhD’ blog written by Chris Chambers, Neuroscientist, UK. I echo with those 42 points he listed out. This list is not only to those who are interested in getting into HDR but also to those who are already into it.
When is the right time to start thinking about it?
You need to make up your mind by the middle of the third year of optometry course (if you are in a four year program) if you are willing to undertake HDR program. This saves a lot of time. Some universities accept your overall grade that you have earned by the third year of the optometry undergraduate course. This means if you have good grades by the third year, you have a HDR placement by the end of your 4 year optometry course. Mind you should have an outstanding grade point for this.
Your final year research project in important!
In most optometry courses, the final year involves a research project. Please consider this research project as a very important one. Also, conduct the project in an effective manner. I mean to say, the outcome should be ‘publishable’ quality. If possible, present your work in a national conference. These days we have many optometry and ophthalmology conferences where you can present your research outcomes. All this adds up to your HDR application.
Your undergraduate degree marks
Of course, this is a major factor that decides if you are competitive enough for a scholarship. While your overall grade from whole optometry course is important, your grades in the each of the final two years carry lot of weight.
Choosing the University
Once you have made the decision to pursue PhD you need to choose a right path. The first of it is choosing the university. Everyone’s dream is to earn a PhD from a renowned university, and then you look for top ranking universities and go with it. Unlike engineering, optometry degrees are not offered in all universities be it in India or outside India. Therefore you have a constraint in choosing the university. Moreover, it is important to choose the topic of your research and then choose the university. Some universities are good in research related to clinical science and some are best at basic sciences. Similarly, some are good in contact lens or anterior eye research and others are good at retina or glaucoma. As a result, knowing your topic of research is simply the deciding factor of the university where you would like to undertake your HDR.
It is always wise to have more than one university in mind and also start applying for more than one university. This always gives option of choosing between universities later.
Choosing the supervisor
A supervisor is the guide during your HDR journey. This is another very important factor that you might want to consider during your HDR planning.
Choose a supervisor who knows your field/topic and are experienced– they can guide you better, this you will know from their publications.
Choose a supervisor who is not busy and is available – don’t be lost after you have joined into your HDR program
Make sure the potential supervisor has experience in guiding HDR candidates
How to approach a potential supervisor?
Supervisor profiles are generally available on the university websites. Write to them about your interest and topic of interest. Be specific on the topic so that they know that you are already into it. Match the topic that is close to what the potential supervisors are currently working on. This again you will know from their latest publications. It is okay if you have not ended up doing the exactly on the same topic, at least you have shown that you are genuinely interested.
Do not write to the potential supervisor as “I want to do a PhD under your guidance as you are the expert in this field.” Rather say that you are interested in research on ‘X’ topic and how it might impact current scientific field and in the process you are interested in earning a PhD. Being proactive on the topic makes it easier for both you and the supervisor.
Attach your CV and a very brief (may be a paragraph or two) research proposal with your email.
Will I get a response?
Firstly you will (may) not get a response. Don’t get disappointed. They are not working for you. They are already in academia; they value their time as you do yours. They may be on sabbatical. May be they are overwhelmed supervising current HDR students. May be they are not in the country. Whatever may be the reason, do not get disappointed. Write to them again. But remember, you cannot write to a potential supervisor and pester them when you have poor undergraduate grades. You certainly will not get a response.
Some universities have expression of interest form on their website, where you can put your details including your research interest. This then directed to the school administration and then to the potential supervisors. So the supervisors do not directly deal with you, but rather indirectly through the school administration.
If you are lucky and formidable, you will get a response from the supervisor or may be from the school administration. This is good. Then the ball will roll on.
I will conclude here, but will write a part II of this article next month. The topics I will cover include admission and scholarship process, identifying your referees, what if your grades are low in your undergraduate degree and more in the continuation article.