My name is Dr Pete Jones and I am a post-doctoral research associate in the UCL Child Vision Lab, which is based both in the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, and also in Moorfields Eye Hospital's Richard Desmond Children's Eye Centre.
My job is to design new types of child-friendly eye-tests.
Currently, there are remarkably few ways to quantify what the world looks like to an infant or child. This makes it hard to detect eye-disease early - when treatment is most effective. It also makes it hard for clinicians to evaluate whether a treatment is working. This is particularly problematic given that new ‘gene-therapy’ trials (of the sort currently being pioneered at Moorfields!) mean that, for the first time in human history, we may be able to treat many common causes of inherited eye disease.
On a day to day basis, a lot of my time is taken up programming. I use computer programs such as MATLAB to generate very precise visual stimuli, which I can then adapt in order to find a child’s ‘perceptual threshold’ (e.g. the dimmest light they can see, the smallest letter they can read, the faintest colour they can distinguish, and so forth). I also write computer code to calibrate equipment, and to analyse the data that our tests produce. A lot of the rest of my time is spent writing (e.g. reporting my findings in journals, applying for grants, or writing ‘public engagement’ pieces such as this), reading academic papers, and supervising students: mainly Psychology or Medicine undergraduates, who often choose to do research project in our lab as part of their degree.
Probably the most stimulating part of my job is trying to devise new ways to make our tests more accurate and reliable. Often this boils down to making the test faster and more fun for children. This can often require some… creative… solutions. For example, I spend a good deal of time working out how to incorporate cartoons and sounds into more traditional eye-tests, as well as finding new ways to ‘borrow’ fun new technologies from smartphones and computer consoles.
Recently, I have also become increasingly interested in how to make the results of our tests more accessible to parents and family members. In this regard, I am very grateful to Moorfields Eye Charity and its donors, who recently funded an exciting new pilot project in which I will be using cheap commercial technology (‘Google Cardboard’) to create personalised, interactive simulations of eye-disease, viewable on an ordinary smartphone. This is just one of many ways in which new technologies are set to change how traditional vision science works, and it is great to be part of a forward-thinking organisation that embraces change.
I have been working at UCL for over four years now, having previously completed a PhD in Psychoacoustics at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research. Before that, I did an MSc in Informatics in Edinburgh, and a BA in Psychology & Philosophy in Oxford. My career path is perhaps representative of how highly-interdisciplinary a lot of modern research is, and I work with people from a wide range of backgrounds (Medicine, Neuroscience, Maths, Engineering, Psychology, Computer Science, Physics…). Every day is different, and there are constantly new things to think about and new challenges to overcome.
If you are interested in finding out more about my work, or about the Child Vision Lab in general, please check out our lab homepage, where you can also find a sign-up form if you want to be notified about any of our upcoming studies. More information about me can also be found on my homepage, and you are always welcome to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.