Vision Science and Physiological Optics

Studying vision science and physiological optics can prepare you for a career in optometry, which involves identifying, diagnosing and improving vision problems. Learn about the career outlook, salary info and academic requirements.

Are Vision Science and Physiological Optics for Me?

Career Summary

Vision science, or physiological optics, is the study of the visual system. You'll learn about how sight works and how the eye and brain communicate. Careers in vision science and physiological optics are available in research, academia and optometry. Bachelor's degree programs are available in vision science, but master's and doctoral degree programs in vision science and physiological optics are more common.

Job Duties and Necessary Skills

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), qualifications for individuals in this field include a head for business, tactfulness, manual dexterity, self-discipline and attention to detail ( If you pursue a career as an optometrist, you'll test clients' color and depth perception, diagnose vision problems and provide treatments to improve eye sight or reduce the risk of eye disease. You could also conduct research or teach vision science, physiological optics or optometry at the university level.

Employment Outlook and Salary Statistics

The BLS projected that between 2012 and 2022, the employment of optometrists would increase by 24%, which would create approximately 8,100 jobs by the end of that decade. In that same time period, the BLS projected that employment would increase by 19% for university professors. Although information for university professors instructing vision science is not available, the median annual salary for college professors without listed specialization information was $64,290 as of May 2012. Optometrists made a median annual salary of $97,820 as of May 2012. Ophthalmic medical technicians earned $34,240.

How Can I Work in Vision Science and Physiological Optics?

Undergraduate Education

A possible starting point for a career in vision science is earning a bachelor's degree in vision science or pre-optometry. Some optometry schools offer combined degree programs, so you can complete your pre-optometry credits in three years and immediately follow that with the doctoral degree program in optometry. With a bachelor's degree in vision science, you can pursue a graduate level degree or a career as an optometric assistant or an ophthalmic technician, which only requires a high school diploma.

Graduate Programs

With a master's or a doctoral degree in vision science or physiological optics, you can go into research or pursue a career in academia. Through your degree program, you'll conduct research, write a master's thesis or a doctoral dissertation, participate in labs and sit through lectures. Your coursework may include visual biophysics and motor systems, ocular anatomy and physiology, microbiology of the eye and eye circulation. Other courses cover the basics of correcting vision problems, color problems, sensitivity to light and the development of eye diseases. You'll also learn how the brain connects to the vision system.

Licensing Requirements

To become an optometrist, you must earn a doctoral degree in optometry, which requires four years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. Your optometry courses may address vision science, optics, pathology and anatomy of the eye, lasers for vision correction and eye diseases, such as glaucoma. You'll also engage in independent research and conduct labs. Following graduation, you must take a licensing exam to earn a state-specific license from the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.

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