Advanced Care Research Centre

Student Spotlight - Wanok Godfrey

ACRC Academy student Wanok talks about being one of the first locally trained optometrists in Uganda, his experience as part of an interdisciplinary cohort, and his advice for prospective PhD students.

1. Name

Wanok Godfrey

2. What is your project title and who are your supervisors?

My PhD project title is 'Automated measurement of recreational reading performance on electronic devices as an indicator of visual frailty diagnostic aid and in ageing', and my supervisors are Prof Baljean Dhillon (Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences) and Prof Ian Underwood (School of Engineering)

Wanok stands in a blue shirt in front of a posterboard. The poster is the title of his thesis.

3. What is your background?

I did my bachelor's degree in optometry from Makerere University, Uganda and was amongst the first batch of optometrists to be locally trained. I have a fellowship in low-vision rehabilitation from LV Prasad Eye Institute in India and a Masters in primary care ophthalmology from the University of Edinburgh.

Before enrolling for this PhD, I was practicing optometry and providing low vision services to patients at a private optometry practice and a tertiary Hospital in Uganda. I like sharing knowledge and experience with undergraduate optometry students at Makerere University which is why I took up part-time lecturing roles at the institution immediately after my first degree.

4. What drew you to the Academy?

There are two main aspects of the Academy which were irresistible to me:

The first one is the multidisciplinary nature of the PhD projects supported by the Academy. As an optometrist, I have always worked with ophthalmologists, optical assistants, nurses and other healthcare professionals but I had never got an opportunity to work with disciplines/professions outside healthcare. My project will benefit from inputs from the disciplines of Engineering, Medicine (Optometry/Ophthalmology) and Data science. My cohort consists of engineers, medical anthropologists, public health professions, genetics and an architect. I have learnt a lot from all these professions during my training year and this is one of the most outstanding aspects of the Academy.

The second reason is the age group that is catered for by the Academy’s projects. This group is one of the most important stages of life as long as we continue to live and grow. Studies have shown that the rate of population ageing is much higher than has ever been experienced before. Therefore, the academy is addressing real life issues in the current times, and I wanted to be part of the team to contribute to creating solutions to challenges faced by the global ageing population which I will be part of in the next 30 to 40 years. In other words, one can say I am preparing for myself future self when I hit the magic numbers to qualify to be called elderly or ageing.

Nine people are lined up on a lake in kayaks. Wanok, a smiling young man with sunglasses, is holding the camera in selfie style.

5. How did you find your taught year?

The taught year was an opportunity for me to get to know members of my cohort better and learn many aspects of the global ageing population which I was not aware of by the time of applying. These new aspects were taught during the compulsory courses offered by the Academy. I was also able to choose elective courses which have increased my preparation for the research phase of my studies. Overall, the first year was a great foundation for what lies ahead of my PhD journey.

It is worth mentioning that by the end of my compulsory courses, we became more of a family than friends with my cohort members!

6. What is your PhD about and why does it matter to you?

My PhD topic is 'Automated measurement of recreational reading performance on electronic devices as an indicator of visual frailty diagnostic aid and in ageing' and the aim to explore the feasibility of using reading performance to monitor trends in visual and other physiological functionalities related to ageing.

The reason this matters to me is because reading forms a crucial part of our daily lives like communication by using texts, letters or emails, shopping when checking price tags in a grocery store or supermarket, and entertainment/recreation when reading novels. As we age, our ability to perform some of the tasks reduces due to deterioration of our visual system. Therefore, being able to predict trends in ageing based on reading performance would be of great contribution to the global ageing population and measured reading performance is among the best predictors of patient-reported visual ability and vision-related quality of life.

Wanok stands at the top of a creag, with the city of Edinburgh behind him. He holds the Ugandan flag.

7. What’s something that’s surprised you about your experience so far?

I was surprised with the impact fellow students can have on your individual project. The training year gave me an opportunity discuss my project with members of the cohort which also allowed me to open up about the difficulties I foresee but to my surprise, some of my classmates had suggestions which formed a strong basis/solution for the challenge.

8. Any tips for those interested in a PhD?

If you get an opportunity to pursue a PhD in your area of interest, grab it with both hands and do it with passion! No one is an island therefore you should not hesitate to call for support from anyone at any point in time. You will be surprised with the amount of information you can get by discussing your PhD project with anyone whenever there is an opportunity.

9. Twitter/LinkedIn/Github/any other professional platforms you would like to share?

LinkedIn: Wanok Godfrey | LinkedIn

Twitter: @WanokGodfrey