Isabelle Jalbert, an Optometry and Vision Science lecturer at UNSW, walks us through her personal journey from student to researcher to lecturer.
It often feels like my research interests pull me in opposite directions but lately it feels like perhaps everything is coming together. I started my life as a PhD student and then young researcher in a CRC looking at contact lenses and their impact on the health of the eye. Since then a continuing interest has been to study the characteristics of the front surface of the eye (or ocular surface) and looking at the impact the challenging environments we live in have on its health.
Our research group uses validated questionnaires to study the impact of dry eye disease, ocular allergy and contact lens wear on the comfort of the eyes. Links between nutrition, exercise and eye health have been shown to exist for many diseases including cataracts and macular degeneration. We have recently found evidence of a possible link between health status (body fat percentage) and ocular comfort. We also confirmed the potential benefit of taking omega-based supplements to improve ocular comfort in people with mild symptoms of ocular dryness including contact lens wearers. We have recently shown, using a group of young UNSW university students, that itchy eyes occurs much more frequently than we previously thought, almost as frequently as dry eyes. We are currently looking to see whether environmental factors such as climate changes and pollen exposure can explain some of these symptoms.
For more on this research, see http://www.optometry.unsw.edu.au/research/dry-eye
Another key aspect of my research arose when I first joined UNSW back in 2008, teaching the management of eye diseases to optometrists-in-training . One of the challenges facing health practitioners like doctors and optometrists and those teaching is the rapid pace at which scientific discoveries change what might be considered the best of “gold standard” management for various eye diseases.
I quickly realised and felt much disempowered by the realisation that what I was teaching my students in year 4 of their 5-year degree was likely to be obsolete by the time they had been out in practice for a few years. Drawing from the experience of medicine and other health professions, it quickly became clear that the answer to this conundrum was to ensure that my students had good skills and knowledge of Evidence-Based Practice. Support from Science Faculty and the Office for Learning & Teaching allowed me and a team of academics from all schools of optometry in Australia and New Zealand and other disciplines to renew teaching in this area and develop a collaborative online resource: https://www.eboptometry.com
Efforts to foster Evidence-Based Practice skills in optometry continue through regular workshop held by the Evidence-Based Practice interest group. More exciting research in this area is planned. And I’ve continued to use the learnings from the Evidence-Based Practice project to inform my teaching and my research on the ocular surface health.
She also convenes the Evidence-Based Practice interest group. Outside the lab, she juggles a busy life with two young kids and tries to stay fit to maintain healthy eyes. Originally from Montreal, Canada, she has adopted Australia as a favourite second country but remains committed to passing on to her kids her interest in skiing and speaking French. For more on Isabelle, see research.unsw.edu.au/people/dr-isabelle-jalbert