SUNY Optometry to Host German Fulbright Visiting Scholar Sandra Wagner

June 27, 2019

She will be at the College for six months beginning this fall.

Dr. Sandra Wagner
Sandra Wagner

They say the third time’s the charm—so there are limitless possibilities as to what could happen when Sandra Wagner crosses the Atlantic for trip number three to New York City. But this time, instead of a tourist’s agenda, she will have a scholar’s itinerary as the recipient of a German-American Fulbright at the SUNY College of Optometry.

Ms. Wagner is currently a research assistant and PhD candidate at the Institute for Ophthalmic Research in Tübingen, Germany. She works on analyses of ciliary muscle activity in myopia using optical coherence tomography and eccentric infrared photorefraction. But this October, she will start what will be a six-month visiting research fellowship at the College, working under the supervision of Dr. David Troilo and Dr. Xiaoying Zhu on treatment strategies to improve myopia control. “The fellowship at SUNY Optometry provides me with the opportunity to work in an outstanding scientific environment and I hope to thereby deepen my technical and analytical skills in optometry and vision research,” Ms. Wagner says.

Dr. Troilo, vice president and dean for academic affairs, agrees that Ms. Wagner’s work has the potential to expand current knowledge in the field. “Her work re-considers accommodative training for myopia control, basically flipping old ideas on their head, and potentially enhances the efficacy of multifocal lenses for myopia management,” he says. “I look forward to learning about the results of this project, which may enhance existing evidenced based treatments for myopia.”

Other than research, there are other academic areas that Ms. Wagner intends to explore while in New York. “I want to learn how research in vision science and optometry is performed in the U.S., how scientific questions are tackled, how clinical trials are designed and which methodologies are applied,” she says, adding that she also hopes to understand how the field is practiced and taught in the U.S., as compared to the German system. “I learned as an undergraduate that the way optometry is practiced differs a lot between the U.S., and Germany,” says Ms. Wagner, who hopes to see these differences in real life as opposed to a classroom. “Just to give one example, in Germany, the optometrist is not allowed to apply cycloplegic eye drops or to provide the patient with a diagnosis—she or he performs functional tests and screenings of the visual system, and in case of abnormalities, she or he refers the patient to an ophthalmologist.”

The Fulbright is not Ms. Wagner’s first time leaving Germany to deepen her optometry knowledge. In 2012, she headed to Sydney, Australia, for a research internship in the field of contact lens metrology at Brien Holden Vision Institute, Sydney. Four years later, in 2016, and back in Germany, she obtained her master’s degree in optometry and psychophysics at Aalen University. Her thesis was titled “Reducing the Lag of Accommodation by Auditory Biofeedback.” Says Ms. Wagner, “I was very curious about how biofeedback in vision science works [as a student] and immersed myself in the respective literature, most of it going back to the 1970s and ’80s.”

While Ms. Wagner’s enthusiasm to research vision care has taken her across the globe, the origin of her interest in optometry was closer to home. “My father is an ophthalmic optician with a private practice, and it was through him that I got interested in optometry,” she says. But instead of following directly in his footsteps, Ms. Wagner’s professional goals are to pursue a postdoc in vision science to determine if academia is her future path.

First, though, she has a city to conquer. “I am curious about getting to know what it feels like to actually live in ‘the city that never sleeps,’” she says about the move to New York. “I am looking forward to taking advantage of the cultural and culinary offerings of NYC—but most of all, I am excited to see a Broadway show and benefit from the huge variety of history and art museums and explore the city beyond its touristic hotspots and discover the diverse boroughs.”

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