Research Training Program

The College of Optometry is pleased to announce its summer 2020 NIH National Research Service Award (T35) trainees! These seven students completed their first year of their study of optometry and spent the 13 weeks of summer working with College of Optometry faculty to explore their interest in research by completing a research study. The goal of the program is to encourage professional students to embark on a career in eye research.


Trainee: Joshua Canavan

Advisor: Philip Yuhas

Why T35 is important to me: The T35 program has helped me recognize the importance of optometric research and how it advances patient care. I have also learned some useful clinical skills and received great clinical and research oriented guidance from my advisors.

What I’m doing: I am investigating differences in ocular biomechanics between Black, Caucasian, and mixed race populations, both with and without glaucoma.  We hope that evaluating differences in biomechanical properties will elucidate reasons for differences in glaucoma prevalence between races.


Trainee: Curt Fritts-Davis

Advisors: Marjean Kulp and Andrew Hartwick

Why T35 is important to me: I want to be an active contributor to the knowledge base that has been established through clinical research, which is at the heart of proper evidence-based medicine. The path to becoming a competent researcher starts with proper training, and that’s why the T35 experience is invaluable.

What I’m doing: All three systems involved in the visual near triad have been individually shown to be negatively affected after traumatic brain injury. I want to investigate the efficacy of using quantitative pupillometry as a screener for deficiencies in the accommodative and vergence pathways in patients that have experienced a traumatic brain injury.


Trainee: Aprile Doubt

Advisor: Bradley Dougherty

Why T35 is important to me: The T35 program has given me the opportunity to learn about the fundamentals of the research process. The knowledge and skills that I am gaining will help me continue to do optometric research in the future. 

What I’m doing: I am working in Dr. Bradley Dougherty’s lab. We are developing a protocol to test the feasibility of providing low vision rehabilitation via a new multi-visit telehealth model. We believe offering these services remotely would greatly benefit the low vision patient population. It could allow patients who are at high-risk for COVID-19 or have a transportation barrier to access rehabilitation services without leaving their homes.



Trainee: Emily Watson

Advisor: Dion Yu

Why T35 is important to me: I am excited about T35 because it gives me the opportunity to learn the process of research and gain additional knowledge in the field of optometry and vision science. This additional education will help me to be a well-rounded optometrist. I am very grateful for this experience!


What I’m doing: I am working with Dr. Yu to design a survey to distribute to low vision patients to analyze possible patterns in subjective preferences on different settings to improve reading, like fonts, line and letter spacing, boldness and more. I will compare the preferences with laboratory findings relating the same factors and objective reading speeds.


Trainee: Megan Wells

Advisor: Andrew Hartwick

Why T35 is important to me: The T35 program is an excellent opportunity for me to learn how to conduct research and develop critical thinking and problem solving skills beyond the scope of a clinical setting. It has helped me develop a greater sense of appreciation for researchers and gain a better understanding of the numerous processes that must be accomplished in order to further understanding in the optometric field.

What I’m doing: I am working with Dr. Hartwick to examine light exposure data collected from individuals who developed photophobia after experiencing a traumatic brain injury. We are looking at the overall light exposure and sleep patterns for these individuals in their daily activities, as compared to an age-matched control group. We hope to further understand the role of ganglion cell photoreceptors, which play a key role in providing information to the brain about ambient light levels, in mediating photophobia.


Trainee: Sadhvika Venkat

Advisor: Stacey Choi and Nathan Doble

Why T35 is important to me: I’m honored and excited to participate in the T35 program because it will provide me a unique experience in which I will be able to further my understanding of conducting research and the direct implications it has in a clinical setting. Through the program I am confident that it will teach me invaluable research skills that allow me to contribute to optometric research with a unique perspective, and also help me to become a better optometrist in the future.

What I’m doing: I am working with Dr. Choi and Dr. Doble this summer to further investigate the benchmark parameters of the Stiles-Crawford Effect of the First Kind (SCE-I) that define cone photoreceptors in a healthy eye. It has already been determined what SCE-I function values are for certain wavelengths, but optical properties of photoreceptors cause variances when using different wavelengths of light. I will be further examining these differences. Through this, we hope to potentially provide further support for SCE-I testing for earlier detection of several ocular pathologies in the future.


Trainee: Elizabeth Stern-Green

Advisor: Phil Yuhas

Why T35 is important to me: I have always loved the idea of being a scientist and exploring new ideas. In undergrad, I did some bench work and had begun to grow a bit tired of it, but now after doing literature review and seeing the clinical side of research, I have a reborn love for what I am doing. T35 has taught me clinical techniques, writing skills, and critical thinking skills that I never would have gotten any other way.

What I’m doing: My project is about how repeated mild traumatic brain injuries impacts and changes the retina. This summer obviously had a slower start than we initially intended, but because of that I have actually been able to start the process of writing a review paper on current literature on the topic. This has challenged both my writing skills and forced me to really understand the project I am working on. Now that my project is able to be in person again, I am excited to start running some OCTs, visual fields, SLP, and ERG on TBI patients and controls in the coming weeks to actually have some data to analyze myself!