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OD/MS: Graduating from NECO with 2 degrees!

My classmates listening to my presentation on myopia control with bifocal contact lenses in GRS.

Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a student at New England College of Optometry have been through the dual OD/MS degree program. As a graduate student studying optometry, my passion for learning about both the ocular and systemic conditions that affect the way in which my patients experience life through sight is fundamental for providing patients with successful management plans.

While the 4-year OD curriculum at NECO will fully prepare me to do so, the Master’s program and my own research project have inspired a strong curiosity for the novel, yet promising, treatment and therapy options being researched daily, and how they could potentially improve our patients’ perceptions of the world. With my OD/MS degree, I hope to incorporate research into clinical practice when I graduate by continuing to research novel methods of myopia control, and delivering them directly to my patients.

While the additional credits, lab work, and thesis defense associated with the OD/MS program may seem daunting, I’ve found the program to be very manageable and well worth the extra commitment. Master’s students take additional courses like Graduate Research Seminar (GRS), Research Colloquia, and Biostatistics to supplement the OD coursework.  In GRS, students take turns presenting articles from vision science journals weekly, allowing for discussions about both early and recent work done on topics like myopia control, retinal development, visual processing in glaucoma and albinism, and more. Several research colloquia sessions are held throughout the year, during which invited speakers lecture on a wide variety of vision science topics. The Biostatistics course has allowed me to analyze my own data using SPSS software, and become more comfortable with assessing the statistical analyses used in literature.

Outside of class, every Master’s student works with their mentor on an original research project. Having a good relationship with Dr. Rucker, my mentor, has been a critical part of my positive Master’s experience. In addition to performing research at NECO, Dr. Rucker is also a professor for the Anatomy and Physiology course, so she is very understanding of the workload and intense exam weeks that NECO students face. Because Dr. Rucker and I meet and communicate on weekly basis to discuss data and plan future experiments, the OD/MS program has never been overwhelming or stressful. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with an expert like Dr. Rucker, who has devoted her research career to studying the underlying mechanisms that drive myopia development. 

Before starting optometry school, I had very little understanding of myopia and its etiology. Now, 2 years later, I’m getting ready to present my own work about a potential myopia control method that slows eye growth at this year’s ARVO conference. ARVO is the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. I am excited to participate in scientific and intellectual discussions with other graduate students, researchers, and ophthalmologists.  I look forward to sharing the impactful and exciting research that my fellow OD/MS classmates are conducting at NECO as well! 

Stay tuned for reflections on my first ARVO experience and more information about my project in my next blog post!

Hannah is a third year Korean American student who is originally from Rochester, NY. She is a 2016 graduate of Boston College, where she studied Behavioral Neuroscience and minored in Medical Humanities. Some of her most formative experiences at BC include volunteering weekly at a children’s hospital, traveling to Nicaragua on a service and cultural immersion trip, and studying the neurobiology of eating and eating disorders through an undergraduate research fellowship. Hannah's decision to pursue optometry wasn’t completely made until the summer before her senior year at BC. Despite this relatively late start, she believes that her Jesuit education at BC has cultivated a deep sense of social responsibility to serve communities as an optometrist, perhaps by participating in vision science research adapted towards treatments for rare ocular conditions or by providing basic eye exams to underprivileged communities in the US and Latin America. She is thrilled to be spending another 4 years in the historically rich city of Boston, but this time, as a graduate student and living in the heart of Boston with 2 other roommates! She cannot wait to see where the next four years at NECO will lead her, as well as her classmates in the class of 2020!