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Dr Isabelle Jalbert   Photo: Justin Malinowski

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By Helen Carter
Journalist

 

As one of Clinical and Experimental Optometry’s new young associate editors, Dr Isabelle Jalbert wants to encourage optometrists in practice to continue to support their local journal.

‘I have always believed that scientific journals are extremely important for clinical optometrists,’ she said. ‘It is important to retain this journal so that Australian optometry can be recognised around the world.’

Dr Jalbert, a senior lecturer and deputy head of the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW Australia, feels her varied background as a researcher, optometrist and teacher is helping in her new editing role, which is unpaid and demanding.

‘I think I have a good perspective of what will be of interest to optometrists in practice and can help try to keep the balance right for Clinical and Experimental Optometry,’ she said.

‘It’s a delicate task to make sure that we select the right papers to publish: those that are novel, scientifically sound and will be of interest to researchers but also making sure that we publish enough articles for those who are more focused on clinical practice. The underlying principle is about the quality and interest of the science.’

As a mother ‘to two kids and one dog’, and with a very supportive husband who helps her to manage the very busy load of an academic, Dr Jalbert squeezed in this extra role because of her ‘love affair with research’ and keen interest in scientific publishing. She finds the role enjoyable and fun.

‘When I worked in large practices in Canada, there were always the latest editions of Optometry Vision Science on the lunch table for us to peruse and discuss between patients,’ she recalled.

‘I was asked by Clinical and Experimental Optometry‘s chairman Leo Carney if I would be interested in contributing and could not wait to say yes. I have always been very interested in the process of scientific publishing so I was very keen and glad to have the opportunity to be involved more intimately.

‘I enjoy reviewing papers and had been reviewing extensively for CXO before being asked to join the editorial board.’

Top three journals

Clinical and Experimental Optometry has 10 associate editors, each chosen for their different fields of expertise. It is one of the world’s top three optometry journals and is circulated to more than 9,000 readers. About 350 papers a year are submitted to the journal, of which only 20 per cent are accepted and published.

The associate editors work closely with the editor in chief, Emeritus Professor Barry Collin, and journal administrator, Nicholas Walker.

Dr Jalbert and Dr Lauren Ayton were appointed associate editors in January, after Associate Professor Sharon Bentley stepped down in 2015 after four years of dedication and commitment in the role. Another new associate editor, Deakin University lecturer in optometry and vision science, Dr David Hammond, started in 2014.

Montreal

Dr Jalbert was born, raised and attended optometry school in Montreal. A native French speaker, she started learning English in high school when aged 11. She was keen to improve her English skills so she could watch the latest episodes of Little House on the Prairie on television without waiting for them to be translated into French.

‘My father was an optometrist and had his office at the front of our house. Because of that I grew up knowing all about frames and contact lenses. I loved school including science and had many passions and toyed with becoming a physicist, a doctor or a musician but ended up at optometry school, maybe because I could not make up my mind and I knew it would please my father so much,’ she said.

Dr Jalbert graduated at 21 and for the next few years worked with her father and as a locum in Quebec.

‘Those were the important formative years for me, particularly when I worked outside the major cities and would see much pathology and get to work with great, experienced optometrists who would share their knowledge and experience,’ she said.

‘I also had great young academic mentors who encouraged me at optometry school and afterwards to explore options outside Quebec. Not many French Canadian optometrists would venture outside the province in those days so it was a big move to consider doing something in another country.’

Dr Jalbert moved to academia and research when private practice was no longer a big enough challenge. She met her future husband while backpacking around Australia and settled in Sydney where she worked at the Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit (later the Brien Holden Vision Institute) for more than 10 years, headed by Professor Brien Holden.

Hooked on research, teaching

‘I was looking for something new, more interesting, and once I started working at the CCLRU there was no turning back. I was hooked on clinical research. This was the start of the love affair with research,’ she said.

‘I had great mentors there, Professor Holden, Deborah Sweeney and others who taught me so much about research, industry and leadership.’

She completed her PhD there and became director of clinical research before returning briefly to work for the NHMRC equivalent in Canada, then returning to Australia to try her hand at academia.

Teaching was a steep learning curve and she is grateful for mentors such as Professor Fiona Stapleton and Associate Professor Barbara Junghans who showed her the way.

‘Teaching is great: every class is different and the students are always curious and inquisitive so there is no chance I’ll ever get bored. Because I teach therapeutics, there are constant new advances and I’m always on the lookout for new discoveries and treatments and the job will never be boring.’

In her new role as an associate editor for CXO, Dr Jalbert has so far handled about 15 papers on speciality contact lenses, public health and ocular surface disease.

‘I try to log on to the system every day or every second day to make sure that I don’t hold up the review process. I know as an author how it feels to have to wait weeks and months to hear back on a decision from the editorial board so I am keen to do what I can to make the process quick and smooth,’ she said.

‘As an associate editor, I mostly assign and review papers in the areas of ocular surface disease and dry eye, contact lenses and public health optometry.

‘I attended my first editorial board meeting this year and it was fascinating to see all the technology and changes that have occurred in publishing over the past 10 years. The pace of change is breathtaking at times but CXO and the editorial board are doing extremely well to position the journal well for the future.

‘Another reason I agreed to be an associate editor was to help my career progression. As academics, we are judged on our reputation and standing in the field and this invitation to serve will be perceived as recognition of my expertise in the field of optometry,’ Dr Jalbert said.

‘I also want to encourage young academics to consider serving as an editor in future. It’s fun.’

Read Clinical and Experimental Optometry on the Wiley Online Library.

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