Eye on Education

ASCO Academic Affairs Committee Plans Additional Outreach Efforts to Students and Residents at Academy 2022

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ASCO Academic Affairs Committee Plans Additional Outreach Efforts to
Students and Residents at Academy 2022

A primary focus of the ASCO Academic Affairs Committee (AAFC) over the last several years has been to expand on various aspects of its Marketing Plan for Graduate Education in Optometry (a guiding document developed in 2011), particularly the student-focused efforts to better educate optometry students and residents on the wide variety of graduate programs in optometry and vision science and career opportunities available to them in academia and research. Last year, the committee designed a ‘one-sheet’ color brochure (for use at in-person events such as AAO and AOA meetings) called Consider a Degree in Optometry and Vision Science! It features a listing of all the graduate programs at ASCO’s schools and colleges, a QR code for more information, as well as ‘How to get started’ and ‘Did you know?’ sections. (Limited quantities are available by request through ASCO.)

Another recent AAFC educational outreach effort was the online Graduate School Informational Event held in December 2021 that featured two introductory presentations: “What Does Graduate Education Really Mean (And Some Opportunities That Degrees Can Provide)” with Dr. Heather Anderson of OSU and “My Graduate Degree Journey and How it has Impacted my Career in Optometry” with Dr. Kelly Nichols of UAB, ASCO’s immediate past president. The introductory sessions were followed by a “Q&A” panel presentation highlighting the experiences of students who were pursuing graduate degrees. The presentation can be viewed here.

Most recently during the months of April and May, the AAFC, under the direction of chair Dr. Aaron Zimmerman of OSU, sent surveys out to OD students and residents in order to gain a better sense of their knowledge of and interest in graduate program opportunities as well as any barriers to the pursuit of such degrees. Additionally the survey attempted to identify the types of graduate degrees in optometry the respondents were most interested in.

The short surveys consisted of less than ten questions each (the student survey instrument may be viewed here: Qualtrics Survey | Qualtrics Experience Management). There were 923 student surveys, and 117 graduate surveys initiated. Response collection was completed in the middle of June. Of note from the results: student and resident responses were nearly identical for all questions. A fuller interpretation of the survey data will be forthcoming.

At the spring meeting of the AAFC, Dr. Zimmerman shared the interim survey results. Some take-aways from that presentation and the resulting committee conversation were:

  • First and second year appears to be the optimal time to reach OD students to increase awareness about graduate programs.
  • Any presentation of final survey data results should also suggest concrete ways that OD students can gain better insight into all of the pathways leading toward graduate degrees. 
  • A suggestion was made that the survey results be shared at the AOSA meeting and at appropriate ASCO SIG meetings.
  • When considering future recruitment messaging, the AAFC should encourage students to give thoughtful consideration to research-oriented graduate programs by contrasting them with more frequently sought-after MBA programs.

Dr. Zimmerman iterated, “Based on the results of the survey and suggestions on how to increase the rate of ODs pursuing graduate degrees, the profession needs to increase the quantity and improve the quality of the messaging. Students and residents need concrete examples of what a graduate degree might provide for them. We need to inform the students and residents about loan repayment programs and the profession needs to be creative in terms of mitigating some of the barriers such as high loans and relatively lower salaries.”

As for what’s next with the AAFC’s ongoing efforts to spread the word about graduate degrees in optometry and vision science, this fall the committee will again offer their “Ask the Experts” event at the Academy’s Residency and Graduate Program Fair, where students will have an opportunity to speak one-on-one with faculty members who are well versed in the benefits of graduate programs and the pathways to academia. The fair and ASCO’s event will take place on Friday, October 28, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. P.T.


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