What is your scientific background?
I completed my bachelor’s of science degree in pharmacology at McGill University. However, I wasn’t passionate enough about pharmacology to work in the field. Luckily, I used to work at an optometry clinic as an assistant and learned about vision rehabilitation. I completed my master’s degree at Université de Montréal in vision rehabilitation science with a 4.0 GPA. Then, I wrote the ACVREP certification exam and became a certified low vision specialist. In order to maintain my certification, I regularly attend conferences/seminars and obtain continuing education (CE) credits.
What are the hardest parts related to this work?
According to me, one of the hardest parts related to this work is explaining that there are no special glasses or optical devices that will give visually impaired people their pre-diagnosis vision back. Many people believe that they would be able to see the way they used to before their diagnosis, and it is extremely difficult to explain that it’s not the case. Occasionally, visually impaired people express feeling depressed and frustrated because they can’t do certain activities the way they used to. It can be challenging to find them the appropriate help they need to cope with their vision loss.
Which topic are you working on at the moment? Why did you choose this topic and how do you think you’ll make a difference?
I’m not working on a research project at the moment. However, during my master’s education, I initiated a research project to determine the depressive symptoms screening and management procedure for visually impaired elderly people in Quebec’s vision rehabilitation centers. The literature shows that 1 out of 3 visually impaired elderly people show depressive symptoms. I thought it was important to know if they were being screened and if there was a protocol in place to help them manage the depressive symptoms. This research project is still ongoing by other students. The results from this project could help initiate a province wide screening and management protocol to help visually impaired elderly people with depressive symptoms.
Did you ever doubt your abilities as a scientist? Why? How did you handle these situations/feelings?
It’s been a year since I graduated from Université de Montréal and started working full time as a certified low vision specialist. There were many times when I doubted my abilities as a professional because I didn’t encounter everything during my studies and lacked some experience. During these situations, I would try to do my own research to answer the question. In addition, I would ask my coworkers for help. Most of my coworkers have been working for a long time in the field and they’ve been extremely helpful in guiding me. Once I learn something new, I write it down in my notes to ensure I would remember it for the next time. I think it’s extremely important to remind ourselves that we’re constantly learning and there is no shame in asking for help!
Besides your scientific interests, what are your personal interests?
Besides helping visually impaired people adapt to their vision loss, I enjoy empowering women through pageantry. I want to help break stereotypes that pageantry is solely based on physical beauty. The women I’ve met through pageantry are educated, kind, passionate, confident and beautiful. Pageantry has taught me discipline in many aspects of my life. It helped me become more health conscious in terms of fitness and diet and it encouraged me to give back to my community through volunteering and fundraising for various charities. I am currently competing in the Miss Universe Canada 2020 pageant and my platform is about encouraging education and advocating for people with visual disabilities.
Is it hard to manage both career and private life? How do you manage both?
First, I believe it’s extremely important to have a career you’re passionate about because if your heart’s not into it, managing a career and private life will be difficult. Second, in order to manage my time effectively, I make to-do lists. I tend to write down everything I need to accomplish and give myself due dates based on their priority. Third, I also believe that having a good support system is crucial in managing a career and private life. There are times when I am overwhelmed and stressed however, I know that I have family and friends I could talk to and they’re always there to help me out. Lastly, I believe it’s important to have activities that help you distress. Personally, I exercise and keep a journal.
If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
Try new activities: If I could give my younger-self a piece of advice it would be to go out and try new activities. I believe that by trying new activities, we learn more about ourselves, discover our passions, challenge ourselves and these experiences help us grow. I wish I learned about pageantry sooner because it could’ve taught me leadership, discipline and proper work ethics early on which I could’ve used throughout my university studies. We’re so afraid of taking risks and being judged that often, we miss out on amazing opportunities. I would tell my younger-self not to worry about failing at a new activity and to just go for it.
In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women in science and possible future scientists?
In order to attract more women into the field of science, we need to show young girls the amazing work current female scientists are doing. We need to inspire girls while they are in their adolescence by getting them involved in science fair projects, explaining different jobs and letting them explore the field by bringing them to work or by giving presentations at various schools. Often, people are not aware of the jobs that are available. To draw women to science, we need to have more media coverage on the discoveries and advancements women in science are bringing. I was attracted to the healthcare field because I had older cousins who studied medicine and would constantly tell me about their work.
You can connect with Neelam Patel via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram at neelampatels.