The Centre for Optometry and Vision Science brings together a diverse range of researchers, but all with a focus on clinically relevant vision research employing the best techniques to optimise measurement of visual function and its underpinning structure. Some areas of research have been summarised below, but we are open to discuss particular ideas or projects potential PhD researchers may have in mind if it is a good fit with our expertise.
Refractive error results when the eye grows abnormally so that light does not focus accurately on the retina. One increasingly common error of focus, myopia (short-sightedness), tends to increase during school years as the eye continues to grow and can affect a child’s self-image and may impact his/her ability to participate in sports. Our Centre conducts the Northern Ireland Childhood Errors of Refraction (NICER) study, which is the largest longitudinal study in the UK and Ireland to examine how children's vision, in particular their refractive error, changes through childhood and adolescence. Further work is investigating the influence of how much time children spend studying, playing outside and using smart phones and tablets, and we have ongoing clinical trials investigating optical and pharmaceutical interventions to retard myopia progression.
We also have a significant interest in hyperopia and the contribution of the accommodation to overcome lower levels of hyperopia. We are involved in a large international project investigating the impact of hyperopia on learning in schoolchildren in Zimbabwe.
Researchers: Prof. K Saunders, Dr JA Little, Dr J McClelland, Dr S McCullough, Dr K Breslin, Dr L Doyle, Dr E McConnell
Novel ophthalmic imaging
Our group is currently involved in research to develop novel in-vivo ophthalmic imaging including Binocular Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) development in collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. This technique uses swept source OCT to generate high resolution whole-eye scans of both eyes simultaneously. Its binocular design also enables clinicians to perform objective binocular functional testing including pupillometry and strabismus assessment.
The group also uses both retinal and anterior segment OCT imaging to investigate retina in Down syndrome, and to investigate the utility of OCT for biometric analysis and quantifying of cataract magnitude. We are also investigating retinal cone imaging using a narrow angle Heidelberg Retinal Angiograph (HRA) in the ageing eye and in ocular diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes.
Researchers: Prof. R. Anderson, Dr P. Mulholland, Dr JA Little, Prof Kathryn Saunders
Visual disorders in Special needs
Our group has a strong international reputation for investigating visual processing and optical performance of children with developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Techniques such as objective photorefraction, higher order aberrations, advanced imaging, electrodiagnostic and clinical techniques have furthered our knowledge and help influence the diagnosis and clinical management of visual disorders in these groups.
The Special Education Eyecare (SEE) Project seeks to improve access to eyecare for children with developmental disability, providing more accessible, extended modes of provision for these vulnerable children in order to make a real difference to their educational development and quality of life.
Researchers: Prof. K Saunders, Dr JA Little, Dr J McClelland, Dr S McCullough, Dr L Doyle, Dr E McConnell
Psychophysical investigation of visual function
The group is involved with a number of studies using psychophysical methods to investigation visual function including:
Basic psychophysics investigating spatio-temporal interactions across the field of vision and spatial properties of different parallel visual pathways.
Development of novel perimetric methods in glaucoma using perimetric stimuli that scale in 3D.
The investigation of the role of the macular pigment in human visual performance in the normal eye and diseased eye.
Visual acuity chart design using high-pass filtered letters which has led to the development of the Moorfields Acuity Chart (MAC) in collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
Researchers: Prof. R. Anderson, Dr P. Mulholland, Dr R Beirne
Vision and Driving
The group is developing an increasing interest in how visual deficits (acuity, visual field damage, intraocular straylight, low-light sensitivity loss) affects the ability to drive safely.
Researchers: Dr J. Little, Prof. R. Anderson, Dr P. Mulholland.
Biomedical Science at Ulster University has an outstanding and sustained record of success in research, recognised in the most recent REF2021 to be internationally excellent, world leading and ranked 5th out of 89 UK universities within the category of Allied Health Professions which encompasses the disciplines of biomedical sciences, nursing, nutrition, pharmacy, optometry, health sciences and personalised medicine. Our research is not only producing outputs of world leading quality but also credited with having significant global translation, impacting positively on health professionals, industry, the general public and specific patient groups. We are proud to have externally recognised world-leading research environment which scored 100% 4*rating in REF 2014 and 2021.
Biomedical Sciences research activities are currently organised within distinct Research Centres: Diabetes, Food & Health (through Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE)), Genomic Medicine, Pharmaceutical Sciences & Practice, Personalised Medicine and Optometry & Vision Science.
Multi-disciplinary collaboration between the research groups is strongly encouraged and is widespread with research into, for instance, anti-diabetic and antioncogenic aspects of nutrition, the genomics of vitamin receptors, visual deterioration or cancer, imaging of neovascularisation. Our research investigates the interaction between cardiovascular disease and vision and the impact of health and disease, diet, diabetes on dementia, hypertension, autoimmunity, vascular and inflammatory disease, to name a few.
The research groups collaborate both internally and internationally on a range of prioritized multi-disciplinary themes in functional foods, gene-nutrient interactions; pregnancy and early life; healthy ageing, musculoskeletal health; drug discovery and delivery, personalized medicine and genomic medicine. The BMSRI has strong collaborations with regional and global pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies and many of our graduates and postgraduates gain employment in the government bodies, pharma, diagnostics, and health care sectors as well as academia and through self-employment.
The Biomedical Sciences Research Institute (BMSRI) offers a “state-of-the-art” research environment for high profile researchers to undertake internationally agenda setting research in strategically prioritized areas of biomedicine. This research environment within Biomedical Sciences at Ulster has been continually judged as exceptional and world-leading and awarded the highest 100% ranking within the RAE2008, REF2014 and REF2021. Furthermore, in the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) awards, it was ranked 2nd in the UK, with an overall satisfaction rate of 88%.
Our research is carried out in well-equipped laboratories allowing the latest methods to be applied to individual projects. Our infrastructure is managed as Core Facility Units (CFUs) with equipment and laboratories dedicated to supporting pre-clinical studies, controlled human trials with expertise in vascular research, advanced molecular bioimaging/microscopy, bioinformatics, cell technologies, cellular biology, chemical analysis, genomics, proteomics/metabolomics (including mass spectrometry & NMR analysis), ocular imaging and psychophysics, transgenics, physiology and pharmacology.
The BMSRI research infrastructure also includes centralized resources for: high throughput drug screening in vitro assays, clinical research & human intervention studies/ trials; the use and storage of mammalian cells and tissues; and in vivo studies and animal models that replicate human disease. The BMSRI uses its estate of equipment, specialist laboratories, infrastructure and internationally recognized biomedical expertise to offer clinical & translational services to Academic Researchers and Industrial Business partners. The BMSRI routinely engages in collaborative research with some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical and biomedical companies and through the support of Ulster’s Office of Innovation, the University has established a track record of success in the commercialization of its research outcomes.
Research within BMSRI frequently involves collaboration between clinicians, academics and businesses in the life and health sector contributing to the development and launch of innovative health technologies, medical devices, and therapeutics. In addition to high-spec capabilities such as human genome sequencing, flow-cytometry and tissue culture, the close proximity of our research centres to hospitals permits direct access to NHS diagnostic laboratories, Clinical staff, and expertise in research governance and healthcare economics.
Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study. We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.
In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.
English language requirements
In order to be admitted to research study at Ulster, you will need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application.
Get full details on the requirements for both home and overseas applicants can be found on our English language requirements page.
Careers and opportunities
PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.
The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.
Fees and funding
Details of tuition fees can be found under the fees schedule for the academic year of entry.
To work out for which fees you would be eligible and to find out more information about potential sources of funding, please view the Fees and Funding pages on the Doctoral College website.
We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies.
Get full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application.
Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system.
Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.
My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing
Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applicationsWatch Video
Kamin Hau - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.
Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health SciencesWatch Video
I completed my undergraduate studies at Ulster University, where I graduated in 2017 with first class honours in Biomedical Science with a Diploma in Professional Practice . I joined the Diabetes Research group as a PhD researcher in September 2017 and completed my PhD studies in June 2020.I am proud to say I not only completed my PhD studies within 3 years, but also became the World Champion (with a perfect score!) in Irish Dance during my PhD studies. My favourite memory was the opportunity to present my PhD work at the EASD conference in 2019. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be to enjoy every single minute as the time flies in. I really would do another PhD!
Sarah Craig - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
I completed my undergraduate studies in America at Texas Woman’s University where I majored in Kinesiology. I then moved to Scotland to successfully complete my Masters with Merit in Human Anatomy at the University of Dundee.My proudest moment was when I passed my viva! My favourite memory was …the dissections. I’ll never forget the friends I made and the good times we had together. I couldn’t have got through this without the support of my family, friends, lab colleagues, supervisors, and my boyfriend. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be to write up after every experiment, keep a lot of back up copies of the work, and to enjoy the experience.
Natalie Klempel - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.
I studied Medical Neuroscience at the University of Sussex followed by a year working in Industry and then a Master's in Genetics at the University of Lyon in France, before coming to Ulster University for my PhD in Biomedical Sciences.I want to thank my fantastic supervisors Declan McKenna and Colum Walsh for teaching me so much and for being so supportive. I had a brilliant PhD experience, made all the better by my lovely supervisors, office-buddies, tearoom-buddies, and other friends. I also want to thank the amazing staff at the Coleraine campus gym for being so much fun and for giving me my love of fitness. I am so glad that I decided to join in the first year - it was really the thing that kept me sane during the stressful periods and I so enjoyed being part of that community. My best wishes to the rest of my cohort and good luck for the future.
Charlotte Zoe Angel - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
I studied BSc Biomedical Sciences with DPP at Ulster University and graduated with first class honours in 2017. I completed my placement year within the university research facilities in NICHE which inspired me to apply for a PhD. My PhD research was part of an internationally collaborative study, the Seychelles Child Development Study, and focused on associations between maternal diet, inflammation and oxidative stress in pregnancy. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Ulster University and being part of the Seychelles team. My proudest moment was successfully completing the PhD Viva! A special thank you to Dr Emeir McSorley, I am extremely grateful for the incredible support and supervision I received throughout my PhD journey. My favourite memory was attending a team meeting and conference in Seychelles in 2019. A PhD can be challenging but I will never forget the great friends/PhD family who made the experience
Toni Spence - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
I am originally from Nepal, having received my undergraduate and master's degree from Bangladesh. During my Master's degree, I chose area of diabetes research and then I was offered a PhD in the School of Biomedical Sciences on Diabetes Research. Currently, I'm working as a Scientist at Randox Laboratories Ltd. Thus, I would like to thank my supervisors, without them I wouldn't be in this position today.My proudest moment was when I presented my research outcomes to an international symposium. My favorite memory was the love of university staff and colleagues during my PhD tenure. I’ll never forget my supervisors, and especially Professor Peter Flatt, who has guided me in each step of my PhD life. I couldn’t have got through this without Professor Peter Flatt and Dr Yasser Abdel-Wahab and the University’s staff support.If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be after all the hard work, you will receive a
Prawej Ansari - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
My PhD journey was a real big challenge for me. It was unforgettable moment for me when I knew the possibility of the full transfer of my PhD project to Ulster University. A special thank you to Prof John Callan, I am extremely grateful for the incredible support and supervision I received throughout my PhD journey. I would like to express my gratitude to my beloved family (my father ”Rizk”, my mother ”Amany”, my husband “Ahmed” and my two lovely boys “Eslam & Adam”). I am deeply grateful for their unconditional love and overwhelming care which pushed me forward throughout my long journey in PhD. Nevertheless, I’m profoundly appreciative for their continuous encouragement and everlasting patience.My proudest moment was when I passed my Ph.D. viva, I couldn’t wait to let my dad and mom in Egypt know about theses great news, they were really proud of me and I always proud of them as well. My dad and mom gave me all the love
Nermeen Ali - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
I joined Ulster university in Jan 1990 after completing Postdoctoral research in Germany (1986-88) and PhD in India (1985). DSc degree in Applied Microbial-Biotechnology has been awarded after the evaluation of my thesis based on Research, Publication & related activities, completed as a research-active academic member of staff (1990-2019). DSc thesis summarised my scientific outputs and contributions (183 research papers, 3 biotechnology reference-books, 43 research-informed book-chapters, 26 research-informed review-articles, 90 conference-abstracts,1 European Patent and 2 Technology-transfers; Supervision of National & International researchers-18 Postdoctoral/Exchange and 12 PhD; and affiliations as Examiner of 58 PhD researchers globally, and Fellow & Member of nine scientific & academic societies.My message to all researchers is that "Chase your Aspirations and Never Give up". I couldn’t have got through my long academic & Professional journey without
Poonam Singh Nigam - DSc in Biomedical Sciences
I started my PhD after I completed my undergraduate in Biology at Ulster University in 2016, with a dissertation project that focused on genetic variations in bacterial species. I continued using some of these techniques in my doctoral research, which primarily involved the investigation and development of mass spectrometry imaging in vitamin D treated prostate cancer, looking at the metabolic and genetic variations upon treatment. I worked with international collaborators at the University of Edinburgh and Maastricht University, where I got to learn and develop mass spectrometry techniques that have not previously been carried out in Northern Ireland. I now work as a postdoctoral researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, where I am helping to develop and implement a mass spectrometry imaging facility for users across the world with the super powerful 21T FT-ICR mass spectrometer.A PhD is a demanding process but when
Karl Smith - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
I graduated Ulster University in 2016 with a degree in Biomedical Science with DPP (Pathology). I was then offered a PhD studentship with Dr Catriona Kelly and Professor Neville McClenaghan at CTRIC which I started in September 2016. My PhD explored the pathophysiology of Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes, the most common co-morbidity associated with Cystic Fibrosis.My proudest moment was undoubtedly passing my Viva (via Skype!), but I was also proud to be given the opportunity to present my work at the UK Cystic Fibrosis Trust Conference in 2018. Through this conference, I was able to meet with people with CF and the challenges they face which was important reminder that the research I was doing mattered. I couldn't have got through this without the unwavering support of my family, who were always there for me in the good times and the bad. I am also extremely grateful for the support and mentorship of my supervisors Dr Catriona Kelly, Professor Neville McClenaghan and Dr Dawood Khan
Ryan Kelsey - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
My proudest moment was when I knew the possibility of the full transfer of my PhD project to Ulster University, the University which I loved and started my first steps towards my PhD in, and also being a PhD graduate from one of the highly reputable universities such as Ulster is a big thing which I should always be proud of. I think there is no that word that can ever express my deepest thanks and sincere appreciation to my supervisor Professor Kathryn Burnett for her ideal supervision, valuable guidance, encouragement, generous help and ultimate support throughout my PhD project. I have been really lucky to have her as a supervisor. Also my deepest gratitude to Mr Linden Ashfield, Principal Clinical Pharmacist, Antrim Area Hospital (NHSCT) for his help and endless support throughout the whole research project. Also, I could not have got through this without the support of my beloved family (my father ”Sayed”, my mother ”Gamila”, my wife “Nermeen”
Ahmed Abuelhana - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
I came to Ulster University in 2016 as an exchange student from East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST) and I got the Ph.D. opportunity with Prof John Callan in the School of Pharmacy of Ulster University in 2017. From then on, my Ph.D. journey begins. My Ph.D. research focused on the targeted treatment of pancreatic cancer and the thesis title was "The Delivery of Multiple Payloads to Solid Tumours using Ultrasound Targeted Microbubble Destruction". During my three years of research, I successfully developed a microbubble-based targeted drug delivery system for pancreatic cancer treatment and significantly improved the treatment efficiency and survival rates in the preclinical tests.From 2016 to 2021, I spend my five years in the Coleraine campus at Ulster University and I met wonderful supervisors and researchers here and shared happy memories. Five years are short and five years are long. It’s long enough to understand “good craics” and “aye
Jinhui Gao - PhD in Biomedical Sciences
I graduated from Queen's University Belfast with a Master's in pharmacy in 2014 and subsequently began working as a community pharmacist in the Greater Belfast area. My career began to take an unusual turn when I got involved with a small startup company who developed a novel blood glucose monitor for diabetic patients. From here, my interest in diabetes was piqued and I applied for a PhD project (somewhat optimistically!) in the Diabetes Research Group at Ulster. Nearly four years later, I'm still there working as a postdoctoral researcher. Not bad considering I never thought I had a chance of getting a PhD spot!My time within the DRG has been, and still is, fantastic. I've made life-long friends (and surprisingly few enemies!) who have been patient, helpful and a joy to collaborate with. I couldn't have got through it without them (you know who you are). Likewise, the guidance from my supervisors, Prof. Peter Flatt and Dr. Nigel Irwin, has been invaluable. I'm probably most proud of
Ryan Lafferty - PhD in Biomedical Sciences