An alternative career

As the first optometrist to be awarded an NIHR clinical doctoral fellowship, Jasleen Jolly shares insight into the career satisfaction she gets from the role

Jasleen Jolly

Tell us about your early career as an optometrist and how you became a clinical doctoral research fellow at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

I was fascinated by eyes from a young age and always wanted to delve deeper into how things worked. I was always attracted to research because it allowed me to ask those questions, and find some answers.

I completed my optometry degree at Cardiff University, opting for that course because it offered a particularly scientific degree with the occupational component, which seemed perfect. After a varied career spanning hospital work, charity work, private practice across two continents, research projects and teaching, I completed a master’s degree (MSc) in Investigative Ophthalmology and Vision Science at the University of Manchester.

What do you like most about being a clinical doctoral research fellow and what opportunities has it given you?

Completing the MSc enabled me to take up a post in Oxford Eye Hospital, funded by the Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). The role provided me with a rewarding mix of clinical research and NHS clinics. 

It is an amazing opportunity to not only keep developing my skills as a clinician, but to also learn what is involved in a career as a clinical academic. I was able to get involved in large trials running in the department, as well as develop my own research projects to answer key questions. One of the best parts has been playing with the latest technology. Personally, I have had the opportunity to work with smart-glasses designed as a low vision mobility aid, the retinal implant chip, and virtual reality headsets as a teaching aid.

The post has given me the opportunity to publish papers, present at international conferences and interact with a variety of professionals from all around the world. I have worked with a range of people, from professors, specialist ophthalmology fellows to medical students, vision scientists and biologists. It has been fascinating to see new therapies for previously untreatable blinding conditions being translated from the lab to the first application in patients. 

I have been lucky enough to develop skills in detailed vision testing, ophthalmic imaging, the development of clinic trials, and understanding biological processes, amongst other things. Academic research is very different to industry and I have really valued having an input into the direction of the work we do.

How has your role developed at the NIHR?

I have now secured a fellowship funded by the NIHR that will allow me to work towards a PhD in clinical research, whilst continuing to work with patients. The work is incredibly varied and fascinating. I feel highly privileged to be working with an amazing team at the forefront of future healthcare. The BRC scheme is a brilliant way of dipping into clinical research and working out which parts of the research pathway appeal. It provides variety, job satisfaction and an introduction to another side of optometry that is little explored.

What would you say to encourage other optometrists to consider a career in research? 

If you are interested in exploring the academic side of clinical optometry research, consider applying for a research post or pursue a higher research based degree. Research posts come up from time to time and often come with opportunities for professional development whilst working.

If any of you think your role in optometry is repetitive and boring, then perhaps it is time to make a change. There is more to optometry than meets the eye, so it is worth exploring the options. There are opportunities out there so why settle

The University of Oxford is currently seeking a full or part-time clinical research optometrist to work as part of a research team at Oxford Eye Hospital. For more information and to apply, visit the NHS Jobs website. 

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.