Yi Sun - 2021 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Distinguished Member of Technical Staff
OFS Fitel LLC, USA
Born in China
The beauty and mystery of nature inspired me to study science when I was a little girl. I found heros in the stories of Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and Bell Labs. My parents’ attitude was always supportive. The dream of being a scientist drove me to complete my advanced education in astronomy and physics. My PhD required a lot of hands-on lab work and I found I enjoyed putting things together in new ways to make things better. This gave me enough technical experience to switch into an engineering career. Upon graduation, I got an offer from a newly formed transmission fiber design group in Bell Labs, my childhood dream workplace.
At OFS my responsibilities include designing new optical fibers, evaluating their performance in system applications, and giving technical advice to support new standards. I am involved in developing fiber and technology for next generation long-haul optical transmission systems, and advanced multimode optical fiber for high performance computing and data center applications.
My biggest challenge was getting an education in my early years. The border city in northwest China where I was raised had poor educational resources and due to health issues, I could only attend school part-time. My odds of academic success were small. But during my absence, I studied both the textbooks for students and for teachers. I figured out how teachers would teach and what students should learn. I studied faster than the school curriculum. Eventually I graduated with highest honors and was admitted to one of the best universities in China. Years later, whenever I face an obstacle or challenge, this memory gives me confidence to focus on my work and move on.
Advanced education is very specialized, however, daily life is not. If I could talk to the young me, I might advise her, instead of having three majors in STEM, choose a minor in humanities to broaden my knowledge base outside STEM.
It is important to find out what fascinates you early in your career. Join a team with the best players in the field and focus on it. Internships or working on projects collaborating with an industry lab are useful to land your first industry job.
Good communication and presentation skills are necessary in an industrial environment. Pick up a book on business management. Regardless of your career goals, it helps to understand the role you play, recognize your colleagues’ personalities, and achieve harmonious working relationships.
There needs to be improvement encouraging women engineers to find their voice. As a matter of fact, you aren’t always awarded what you deserve automatically; a lot of time you have to negotiate to win what you deserve. It might help to pick up a book on negotiation skills also!