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Student Completes PhD in Vision Science

PhD Student in Vision Science Leaves Mark at UMSL-College of Optometry


Dr. Christopher Putnam

Our vision for our future is only as bright as our dedication to achieving our goals and experiences.  On the fourth floor Marillac hall is an office; it’s not a faculty office, but a graduate office, a room for the last three years that has been occupied day and night and even on the weekends by one man, Dr. Christopher Putnam.  Dr. Putnam is not only an optometrist, but also a major with the United States Air Force.

Major Christopher Putnam, OD, FAAO began his journey at UMSL-College of Optometry in August 2011 as a member of the PhD Vision Science program under the direction of Research Professor, Dr. Carl Bassi.  His journey to UMSL has taken him all across the country and now he is beginning the end of his PhD in Vision Science and he will be the last student at UMSL to take part in this program. The road to UMSL began in September 1996 at South Dakota University where he began working on his bachelor's degree in biology. In August 2001 the start of his optometric journey began at Pacific University College of Optometry, where he obtained his O.D. degree in May of 2005.
While a student at Pacific University, Dr. Putnam accepted a Health Professions Scholarship Program award and complete Air Force Commissioned Offer Training Course at Maxwell AFB in 2005.  Throughout the next several years he spent time in military assignments in Texas and Illinois where he was the staff optometrist at Wilford Hall Medical Center and a primary care optometry resident with the University Of Houston College Of Optometry followed by a staff appointment at Scott AFB Medical Group. 

In addition to his military and academic studies he was clinical adjunct faculty at the University of Houston, Indiana University, Pennsylvania College of Optometry and most recently the University of Missouri-St. Louis between 2005 and 2011.

In August of 2011 he hung up his clinical jacket and entered the PhD program in Vision Science here at the College of Optometry. The next few years he would spend between home and school.  He would assist Dr. Bassi with his courses as a teaching assistant and most importantly would begin working on his research in the field of vision science.  

A patient teacher
One of the greatest attributes of a quality education is a person who can teach with passion and dedication to future professionals, Dr. Carl Bassi, Associate Professor in the College of Optometry shares his thoughts on Dr. Putnam's teaching style.

"Dr Putnam has proven himself many times to be a patient teacher.  His dedication to teaching was already noted with volunteering to TA.  I also have heard countless times over his three years in the program that students have approached him for help with optics questions (and questions in other courses).  He always makes the time for students.  Dr Putnam has also been an outstanding mentor for a number of students who have rotated through the lab in helping them in all areas of their work." 

In April 2010 he published his first piece of research in the Review of Optometry, entitled, "Vitreomacular Traction Syndrome:  See How They Grow."  During his time at UMSL he has researched and co-authored two additional pieces of research,  "Central Serous Chorioretinopathy Produces Macular Pigment Profile Changes" which appeared in the July 2013 journal of Optometry and Vision Science.   Most recently, he and current third year, Pauline Bland conducted and published a case report on “Macular Pigment Optical Density Spatial Distribution Measured in Subject with OCA”which will appear in the Journal of Optometry which can be found online Putnam and Bland Case Report 

A number of honors

Dr Putnam already has two published papers and another one in press.  "He has presented a total of nine posters/talks at national meetings.  He has been awarded two travel grants from the Academy of Optometry (it is unusual for a graduate student to be awarded this grant twice) and two travel/special recognition awards from the Heart of America Society for his presentations" Bassi said. These top abstract awards were accomplished in conjunction with 3rd year student Alex Permann ('15).

Not only is he a published doctor in the field of optometry, but he's received a number of military decorations and awards including being named a Commissioned Officer Training Distinguished Graduate, Company Grade Global Health Officer of the Year in 2007 and Medical Dental Group Company Grade Officer of the Year in 2008 and 2010. In 2010, he was named Air Force Company Grade Optometrist of the year  and was presented with the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.  

Self-motivated and willing to take on new challenges
In June 2014 Dr. Putnam will defend his dissertation and be conferred with earning a PhD in Vision Science from the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry.  Dr. Bassi reflects on the road to Dr. Putnam's completion of his dissertation, "Chris has demonstrated a lot of self-motivation for his dissertation project that examines the relationship between macular pigment levels and visual function."

The dissertation he has been working on has required many steps and a lot of hard work and dedication. "His project required the final set up and calibration of a new device designed to measure macular pigment, setting up psychophysical displays and data collection procedures through software programming (Psykinematix), design and implementation of a new glare device, recruitment and testing of all of his subjects (that resulted in tens of thousands of trials), data analyses, and interpretation of his results.  As his dissertation is nearing its final stages it is clear to me that his project(s) will significantly add to the knowledge base in vision science for the role of macular pigment in human vision" Bassi said.  

A fond farewell
Dr. Bassi sums up Putnam's time and contribution here at UMSL , "It is a bittersweet time right now, I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with Dr Putnam over the past three years.  I am going to miss his daily presence of enthusiasm, good humor, intelligence, patience, and work ethic."  As he prepares to close this chapter of his professional life a new one awaits him.  Dr Putnam’s next few years are clearly laid out in some respect by the military, first an assignment in South Korea followed by a likely assignment in the Air Force Research Laboratory. " I think Dr Putnam will bring his unique skill set into those areas and will thrive and bring out the best of those around him.  I look forward to our continued collaborations in the future" said Bassi. 

Our dreams and aspirations are always reachable when we have the mindset and dedication to achieve them.  As Dr. Putnam prepares for his next chapter the impact he has made here at UMSL and across the country will remain highlighted as the lights in the graduate office go dark, the vision remains bright for future generations.

By: Nick Palisch
Contributor:  Dr. Carl Bassi 


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