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Vision Scientist Spotlight - Niv Chandramohan

31 Aug 2021 7:27 PM | Anonymous

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hello! My name is Niv and I’m a vision science graduate from UNSW. I’m currently working as the Health Promotion Coordinator at Macular Disease Foundation Australia. I’m a born and bred Canberra girl who moved up to Sydney for uni. I currently live in Petersham with my fiancé, where I binge on true crime documentaries and charcuterie boards.

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 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 does your typical day or week at work look like?

A typical week at work prior to COVID-19 was very different to what it is now. Currently it’s all working from home, which I’m very fortunate to do. As I mentioned, I spend most of my time speaking to patients on the phone. Many come to us quite distressed after just receiving a macular disease diagnosis from their optometrist or ophthalmologist. I speak to them about their condition in layman terms and offer support services and resources that may assist them on their journey.

I also work with data a lot, which I surprisingly enjoy. I’m in charge of pulling patient and health care professional data and statistics for our community and try to manipulate them in a digestible way.

Another big component of my job is coordinating education sessions for seniors i.e. those most at risk of age-related macular degeneration. As you would all well know, prevention and early detection is key, so we work with our community to ensure their armed with the best resources to reduce their risk or slow progression of macular disease.

What are some obstacles you have experienced, and how did you overcome them?

My honours research project was investigating the role of intense pulsed light in contact lens discomfort. The inclusion criteria for participants was particularly niche and made it quite difficult to obtain the number of participants required for stats purposes.

Despite all our best efforts, I didn’t manage to get as many as I needed. Instead of scrapping the entire project, I pivoted to a completely different research proposal. I kept the participants I had, and created a small-scale, intimate version of my project where I could follow each participant individually. I also started writing additional papers to explore other aspects of my research, which in turn led me to publish two papers in CXO which was super exciting!

I’m guessing the moral of that story is don’t be afraid to pull a Ross Geller and pivot, pivot, pivot when necessary.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’m not too sure what the future holds. Career-wise, I hope to still be working in the education/innovation space within the general field of eye health. On a more personal level, I hope that I get to have my wedding (COVID-pending) and I hope that I still love true crime and blue cheese!

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were a student?

I wish I didn’t sweat the small stuff. Failing one weekly quiz isn’t going to be the end of the world. As someone who can be a tad perfectionistic at times, if one thing didn’t go my way I felt that I may as well just chuck the whole thing out.

Learning to persevere through the setbacks was a lesson that took me a few years to truly understand. Gaining that state of mind really changed the game for me.

What advice would you give to a vision science student who is pursuing a career as a vision scientist?

Vision science is a pretty broad field, so it can become overwhelming when considering job prospects. Uni will unintentionally give you so many opportunities for growth and new interests, so grab them 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.

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