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Student Research Opportunities at NECO

Group photo for T35 Student researchers for 2015.

This summer was my first full one in Boston and extremely busy! As well as taking four 2nd year OD classes, I also spent my summer working on research for my Master’s degree by participating in the T35 research program. I came to the New England College of Optometry knowing I was interested in doing research and looking to find an outlet for my research interests. Hopefully this blog post will help to inform future students about the many research options available to students at NECO.

The MS/OD dual degree program is one that you can apply for either prior to acceptance into the college or during your first year in the OD program. What’s great about the dual degree is, as well as it being free for OD students, it also gives students interested in research the opportunity to explore a vision related research topic with the assistance of doctors who are specialists in that particular field. It has been a great learning experience so far: I’ve helped to design my experiment and will hopefully soon begin testing subjects! My research will be looking at Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Color Vision.

In addition to the Master’s program, I spent my summer as part of the T35 research program. This program consisted of 320 hours of directed research under the supervision of specific mentors. It was a great program for me and the other Master’s students because it allowed us to get further research done on our topics. However, it is by no means a requirement to be interested in doing a Master’s in order to participate in the T35 program. Many of the T35 students were fellow classmates who were just interested in doing a short research project. We also had a couple of students from other Optometry schools in the USA come to NECO and participate in the program.

The T35 Summer Research Program consisted of weekly lectures by NECO professors and other Boston researchers about the projects they currently have under way. There were also lectures discussing the ethics of research, aimed to help the T35 students to be ethical in our current and future research endeavors.

My mentors for the T35 program (and the MS/OD program) are Dr Vera-Diaz and Dr Panorgias. Under their guidance in the T35 program this summer, I helped develop a computerized test that looks at peripheral color sensitivity. My summer program hours were dedicated to researching AMD and color vision and putting together a collection of articles I can use for my future thesis writing. I also pilot tested my computerized test on my fellow T35 students to see if their color sensitivity was different depending on the location of the color or the specific color presented (red green blue or yellow). It was important to get an idea of how the computerized program was working to help better prepare for older participant testing in the fall and spring.

The program ended after 10 weeks with each research student presenting their project to the college community. After spending so many hours doing research, doing that final presentation was truly a rewarding and unique experience.

Starting at the end of August I will be entering into my first official semester as a Master’s student and will be taking additional classes as part of this joint program. Honestly, I’m pretty excited for it. There are about six students in the OD2018 year that are also in the Master’s program and we have become good friends working together throughout the school year.

The MS/OD program is definitely more work; it is about equivalent to having a part time job while completing your OD degree. However, it is a great way to participate in the innovative research projects going on at NECO as well as develop working relationships with some of the leading researchers in vision science. For students who don’t want to necessarily commit to the MS extension, the professors and associates at NECO are always available to listen to ideas and to help get students involved with research as much or as little as they would like. The T35 program is, of course, a great way to get involved in research at the school and within the surrounding Boston area for the summer. For future NECO students out there interested in doing research, I hope this blog post has helped to inform you about the many different research options available.

Maria is a Canadian student in her final year of the four year OD/MS dual degree program. For her MS project, she is working with Dr. Vera-Diaz and Dr. Panorgias examining color vision and early age-related macular degeneration.