Dr Ashik Mohamed is an awarded researcher specialising in ophthalmology and was part of an international collaboration through the Cooperative Research Centres Program. Dr Mohamed undertook his PhD with the Vision CRC while residing in India and is now the Head of Ophthalmic Biophysics and Faculty in Ophthalmic Biostatistics at the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) in Hyderabad.
Ashik is a medical doctor and received his master’s in Medical Biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. While working as a researcher at LVPEI, India’s top institute for ophthalmology, he discovered the CRC Program.
“The LV Prasad Eye Institute was one of the four core participants in the Vision CRC,” he said.
The Vision CRC was the world’s largest vision correction research centre and ran from 2003 until 2015. The CRC and its predecessor, the CRC for Eye Research and Technology, together generated over $300 million for its collaborating partners through the development of contact lens and spectacle lens technologies. The legacy continues through the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI), which was a major participant in the CRC Program, and then as the Brien Holden Vision Foundation.
Through the CRC, Dr Mohamed collaborated on the Accommodating Gel Project, which was very commercial in nature.
“As I was looking into the project, I was very attracted to the direction of the research, in particular the biometrics and biophysics of the crystalline lens, and my mentors recommended that I pursue a PhD through the CRC.”
“The LVPEI and the BHVI were collaborating partners in the Vision CRC, and the latter offered me to do a fully remote PhD. I did the lab work in India at LVPEI but was affiliated to the BHVI and the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The other institutional collaborator in this project was the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, which is the top research centre for ophthalmology in the USA.”
Ashik was constantly growing from his experience in cooperative research. He explained that “collaboration opens researchers to several ways of doing research they might not have learnt during their education. For example, I learnt from my collaborators in Australia and the US on how to remain on the cutting edge and how to see the translational value of research. This experience also taught me international diplomacy and communication. I also learnt the nuances and issues involved with industrial research. I learnt how fast it is, how demanding the process is and how industry sees research. Industry likes to take decisions very quickly in moving forward with product development.”
Ashik’s PhD with the CRC Program opened doors to great opportunities for professional development.
“During my PhD, I learnt how to teach research students, I made several presentations for international conferences supported by the CRC, and I was introduced to several colleagues within the network. This enhanced my potential for collaboration and improved my visibility at an international level. I was also involved in several voluntary membership activities in which I mentored junior researchers and future leaders in eye research in developing countries.”
Ashik’s multi-dimensional PhD experience culminated in his reception of the prestigious UNSW Alumni Award recognising his great impact as a scientist. “I travelled from Hyderabad to Sydney to receive the award in-person.”
Ashik was generous in giving advice for current students and early career researchers. “I would advise students to perform your projects with due diligence and maintain a good relationship with your mentors. If you are doing an industrial PhD, establish good rapport with your industrial partners, try to establish a professional network and do not confine yourself to the lab. Be involved with professional organisations in your field, to develop your leadership skills. If you do all this, you will be highly employable in both academia and industry.”
Ashik also talked about the state of cooperative research in India. “Unfortunately, there is no program like the CRCs here. We have funding agencies such as the Department of Biotechnology and they do encourage collaborative projects with investigators from the USA, Europe, and Australia. For example, with Australia, there is an Indo-Australian Strategic Research Fund Program.”
In terms of industrial research, Ashik mentioned the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in India. “They encourage projects which have commercial value and give them seed funding.” There are also various start-up incubators in cities like Hyderabad. When asked if the CRC model could be applied in India, he replied, “It can certainly work, but it would be a novel model, so time would tell if it could be successful. But it is possible and would be a good model to work on.”
Ashik’s current role is the Head of Ophthalmic Biophysics at the LVPEI. “I am still collaborating with institutes in USA and Australia. I am also still working on a project which came out of a prior collaboration in the Vision CRC and is being funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the USA.” This research keeps him busy, but he still manages a second role at the institute. “I also explored biostatistics during my PhD. So now I teach statistics to ophthalmologists and clinical fellows here and I am involved in several projects to contribute to data analysis and management. So, I have a role both as a scientist and a statistician.” Between his skills as a scientific researcher, a data analyst and a medical doctor, Ashik brings a wide-ranging interdisciplinary approach to his research.
It is exciting to see a CRC alumni become one of the most awarded researchers of his field in one of the biggest countries in the world. The team at the CRC Association wishes him the best in his future research endeavours.