Afshan Begum

Afshan Begum - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

NIMS Junior Researcher
National Institute for Materials Science, Japan;
Graduate Student
University of Tsukuba, Japan

SPIE Student Member

Afshan Begum

Born in India
Resides in Japan
Educational Background: BE in Electronics and Communications, MTech in Optoelectronics

Logically arriving at solutions in maths fascinated me. Also Richard Feynman's lecture on nanotechnology, "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom," inspired me to take up science. I started out in electronic and communication engineering, eventually realizing my true interest in nanostructures. The appreciation from my school teachers for my skills in optics remains key to shaping my future in photonics.

As a doctoral student, I am learning to conduct research independently. As a senior student, I mentor my juniors and aid them with advice and experiments. I carry out the work for my PhD thesis at the National Institute for Materials Science as a junior researcher, starting with rigorous literature review to find the fastest achievable research methods. I conduct my work with the help of other outstanding researchers. I present my work annually with these peers, with open questioning from professors from different fields, ensuring that complex concepts are accessible to a general audience.

One of the challenges I faced trying to pursue higher education, which hampered entrance interviews and winning scholarships, was a fear of teaching and going on stage despite preparation. I cultivated skills in anchoring, and scrutinized live stand-up comedy, learning how to think on my feet and overcome mistakes. In due course, I grabbed an opportunity to organize and introduce a full-day technical event in the annual cultural exchange Japan-Habba by IJCCI. I invited five companies for talks and job-interview sessions. Twice the number of people visited, and the event became a permanent program. It was a boost in self-confidence and now I enjoy being on stage and sharing my research.

Irrespective of the career you pursue, develop a habit of recording new things you do or learn every day, in your own handwriting. These are your actual achievements! After a year, you will see your growth, and nothing is more rewarding than to compare yourself to a year ago. Eventually, this forms a backbone to make achievable and ambitious plans for the coming years.

Find things that energize you and try to do them often. I try to plan experiments fabricating nanostructures in the Clean Room. Seeing the structures I can make is exhilarating, as well as being able to glimpse how far we progressed with science.

I found that through building a network in STEM, I can rely on and mentor juniors. This goes a long way when I need insights, either for a new research method or new position.

Don’t get discouraged if you find someone interrupting or undermining you: prepare well and look for a way around. Plan well, do not hesitate to ask questions or to approach opportunities actively.

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