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

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: DiabetesFood & Health (through Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE)), Genomic MedicinePharmaceutical 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.

Entry requirements

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

Tuition fees

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.