“I was pushed to go outside my comfort zone, and it taught me so much”

07/09 2022 - Stores

“I was pushed to go outside my comfort zone, and it taught me so much”

When Pelsin Demir, former optometrist at Specsavers, finished her optometry studies and her master’s in clinical optometry, she knew she wasn’t done yet. One of her dreams was to do a PhD*. Now, after four years of research, she has finished it. “I’m so thankful for the funding from Specsavers. Everyone has been so nice to me, and my contact persons were always cheering. I wouldn’t have been able to do my PhD without them.”

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Pelsin started as an assistant at Specsavers in Kalmar, Sweden, when she was doing her bachelor’s study to become an optometrist. After the third year, she moved to Stockholm and continued working at one of the stores there. “I got the opportunity to teach at a university in Sweden as part of my work at Specsavers. When my contacts at Specsavers heard that doing a was one of my dreams, I got the great news that Specsavers wanted to fund it. So, I was fortunate! Ultimately, Specsavers financed two-thirds of my PhD, and Linnaeus University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences paid the rest. It was on me to decide on the topic.”

Hot topic: myopia

And so she did. Pelsin decided on myopia, as it was (and is) a hot topic, and there’s still so much to explore – especially in Sweden and Scandinavia. Fast forward to four years later: Pelsin and her team have done one of the first comprehensive studies of the prevalence and development of myopia in Swedish school kids. They have published four different papers on the subject.

“One of the first things we found out is that children with one or two myopic parents had both longer axial length and a more negative refraction. So, parental refractive error conditions turned out to be the most consistent factor associated with myopia in the kids. Surprisingly, we could not find any association with near work. But children who spent more time outdoors had a shorter axial length. That shows how outdoor time indeed protects the eye from becoming myopic.”

That brings us to the takeaways from the research for other optometrists. “Always recommend more outdoor time. It’s still the most evidence-based way of protecting the eye from developing myopia. And also, look at parental history, as it plays a vital role in myopic development in children.” You can read more of these takeaways in the interview with Pelsin at the learning platform Viewpoint.

Outside her comfort zone

Pelsin defended her research outcomes and the conclusion in September 2022 and has successfully finished her PhD. That brings us to the question: what’s up for the future? “Because of my PhD, I can work academically and teach students, which has opened many doors for me. I will continue working at Linnaeus University and give lectures on myopia. They also have a clinic where you can see patients on a running basis – which I sometimes miss.”

“One thing that Specsavers did well is pushing me outside my comfort zone. Because suddenly, I was an expert who did talks on the subject on the learning platform Viewpoint and wrote my own guide on the topic. Specsavers helped me to write my own pieces, and they always came back asking for more. I never knew when another presentation, article, or lecture would come up. I still remember the first time I had to talk in front of an audience. It was in Gothenburg six months after starting my research, and I was so nervous. But every time, it just got better and better. So, Specsavers also shaped me, and I am grateful for that.”

Pelsin and her supervisors during her PhD

Choose wisely

Now that Pelsin has the experience of doing a PhD, she might have some advice for others who wish to pursue a PhD in optometry. “In Sweden, we don’t have that many PhD students in optometry. But it is great! One piece of important advice I’d give: choose your subject wisely. It’s important that you choose the right topic in the beginning, so everything will go smoothly later because you’ll have read about it for so many years. If you get the chance, choose the right team and supervisors. I had the greatest supervisors supporting me and teaching me so much.”

“Something I advise you not to do is to compare yourself with others, especially with people who have been in academia for several years. Only compare yourself with yourself. Get out of your comfort zone; that’s how you truly learn and don’t be scared to take on responsibilities.”

Curious to learn more? Read about working as an optometrist at Specsavers. And, if you want to learn more about eye care and upskill yourself, head to the learning platform Viewpoint to continue the learning.

*What is a PhD?
A PhD (short for Doctor of Philosophy) is a globally recognised postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and higher education institutions. The PhD candidate has to submit a thesis or dissertation based on extensive and original research in their chosen field. Usually, it takes about three to four years of full-time study and research to complete a PhD.

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