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PhD presentation in Montpellier


Emma Gibson


By Ashleigh McMillan


When Emma Gibson presented at an international conference her two-minute grading scale for meibomian gland dysfunction, it was welcomed by time-poor practitioners.

The University of New South Wales PhD student attended the International Tear Film and Ocular Surface (TFOS) Society’s conference held in Montpellier, France, in September. As part of her PhD, she created a scale for grading meibomian gland dysfunction, which was presented at TFOS in poster format.

‘There are a couple of parts to a PhD, and one part for me was developing a grading scale for meibomian gland dysfunction which can be used in clinical practice,’ Emma said. ‘There are grading scales about but they’re quite long-winded and they tend to be used in research rather than in clinical practice.

‘For an optometrist who has half an hour to do an eye test, doing an assessment which takes 15 minutes just isn’t feasible, so I’m developing a scale which is quick to use, about two minutes in a routine practice without any specialist equipment. That went down really well; there was a lot of interest,’ Emma said.

More than 70 posters were on display at the conference. Presenters stood near their posters for three hours each day, fielding questions from attendees about the research.

‘It gave me a lot of time to discuss the poster with people and they could come up to you one on one,’ Emma said. ‘The abstract about the posters was available a week before, so attendees could decide beforehand which ones they wanted to look at.

‘My colleagues who attended TFOS and I had recently been in the UNSW one-minute thesis competition, so we’d practised discussing our posters with people. We were often presenting to people who didn’t have any optometry background, which was a challenge but a really exciting experience,’ she said.

Emma received funding for the trip through the UNSW postgraduate student support scheme, which paid for her flights to the conference.

She runs optometry practicals at UNSW and teaches in the dispensing clinics. Due to her UK background, she is not registered to practise optometry in Australia. Emma wants to stay in academia and return to practice, by either sitting for the OCANZ examination here or returning to the UK.

‘I’ve learned so many skills during this PhD and there’s so much more learning to do. I don’t want to learn it and then never use it again, so it would be lovely to put it into practice.

‘TFOS is only every three years and this was perfect timing for me. My PhD is looking into the effects of sex hormones on dry eye disease, so the tear film is a really important part of that.

‘Networking was a huge part of the conference, to actually be able to establish relationships with the people who you’re working with was really useful. Getting a wider view of what’s going on with tear film was great, because you kind of get blinkered into what is going on at your university. It’s so nice to see that there’s so much interest in this subject across the world,’ Emma said.

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