Fatima Gunning - 2021 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Senior Staff Researcher and Head of Graduate Studies
Photonic Systems Group, Tyndall National Institute
University College Cork, Ireland
Born in Brazil
I have always had a curiosity about the world around me, such as rainbows, or oil patterns on the road. But my brother is also my inspiration and a role model. He taught me how to use a soldering iron to fix my Walkman, how to make little rockets out of matches, and how to use a programmable calculator in BASIC. Now I apply that curiosity as I lead research in optical communications and sensing, supervise students and staff, and collaborate with academia and industry.
At earlier stages of my career, all that mattered to me was science. As my ambition grew, I realized that too often I was under someone else’s shadow. Hence my performance or ideas were rarely acknowledged as my own, which precluded accessing important networks that are critical for career progression in academia such as liaising with potential collaborators or gaining funding.
So I started slowly, increasing visibility in my own institution by engaging with different committees. I worked with different departments to host final-year projects, and so kick-started my own activities. I also followed my passion for science education and public engagement, and diversity and inclusion, which then opened up a range of opportunities and new networks locally and internationally. And finally, I also realized that social media, if wisely administered, can really help with visibility and engagement.
We didn’t have social media then, but now I encourage all students and early career researchers to have a professional social-media presence separate from their private affairs. Follow your passion, voice your opinions, and work on your initiatives.
And to young women I would say, be strong and persistent, engage with mentors (connect with those who you have common values, even if via social media!) and follow your passion. There will always be barriers, and a good mentor would always support you in breaking these barriers. STEM is fun and exciting. STEM research has shaped the world we live in today.