For Cydney Wong, studying glaucoma is about more than finding new ways to treat a leading cause of irreversible blindness. It’s also about spreading awareness in communities where glaucoma is more common and, often, more severe.
“I am really passionate about science communication in communities that have historically — and rightly so — distrusted health professionals and biomedical researchers. Glaucoma disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic/Latinx people in the U.S., and Black Americans tend to develop glaucoma earlier and lose vision faster compared to white Americans,” Wong said. “Because of this, it’s really important to spread more awareness about glaucoma in Black and Hispanic communities and encourage those who are able to get their eyes checked regularly.”
Wong will strengthen her communication muscles to help in that mission over the next year as one of 12 new Science ATL Communication Fellows for 2021. The professional development program teaches Atlanta-area graduate students skills to close the communication gap between scientists and the public.
“Communication is such an essential part of doing research. Exciting experimental results have little impact if you can’t properly communicate your findings to others, so I hope that this fellowship will help me to better communicate my research to other scientists as well as the general public,” said Wong, who’s entering her second year of Ph.D. studies in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.
Wong works with C. Ross Ethier on primary open angle glaucoma, a disease caused by higher-than-normal pressure in the eye that damages the optic nerve. She’s focused on finding ways to increase flow in the eye’s trabecular meshwork, tissues that normally drain fluid from the eye to maintain proper pressure but that stiffen in glaucoma.
Science ATL Communication Fellows spend a year learning about and practicing narrative storytelling, how to tailor information to specific audiences, and strategies for demonstrations and public programs related to their field of study. The fellows this year are studying biosciences, chemistry, aerospace engineering, psychology and more at Emory and Georgia Tech as well as Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia State University.