Nooshin M. Estakhri

Nooshin M. Estakhri - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Postdoc Researcher
Virginia Tech, USA 
SPIE Student Member

Nooshin M. Estakhri

Born in Iran
Resides in the US
Educational Background: BSc, MSc in Electrical Engineering, University of Tehran; PhD Candidate in Electrical Engineering and Optics and Photonics, University of Michigan

I became deeply passionate about science through many stimulating discussions that I had with my sister growing up. We used to spend hours trying to solve tough math and physics problems together. The discussions were sometimes heated but the results were always rewarding. In middle school, when I was 11 years old, I learned about experimental physics and optics where we got a chance to do experiments with lenses, mirrors, and prisms, and I was fascinated by it. All these early experiences had so much influence on me and inspired me to invest my life in exploring the mysteries of these scientific realms and choose a career in optics.

Currently I am a PhD candidate where I conduct research on classical and quantum light scattering from disordered configurations as well as designer artificial geometries. In these studies, I use either experimental techniques which involve implementation of optical setups, data acquisition, data analysis, and post-processing, or theoretical schemes which involve mathematical modeling, coding, data analysis, and post-processing, or both methods. These efforts compose the extent of my thesis. Throughout my PhD, I have worked as a graduate instructor for a couple of graduate-level courses and undergraduate laboratories. Moreover, I have the responsibility of mentoring a number of undergraduate and high-school students in our optics experimental facilities.

Like other young girls and women, the biggest obstacle that I have faced in my career was the lack of a professional support network. I have been fortunate to have had excellent mentors throughout my career. But with respect to access to valuable mentorship and a professional network, there exists a definite distinction between female and male scholars and scientists. I see this as an undeniable hurdle to overcome for women in most steps of their professional journey. To beat this bias, I persistently try to reach out more and expand my network one step at a time.

As I was starting out, I wish someone had advised me that failing is part of gaining experience and success. And that it is more common in cutting-edge research than you might expect at the outset.

My advice to young women who are considering a career in STEM is to be adventurous, to be bold, and to always cherish their curiosity. STEM careers have their own challenges. Be mindful of their presence and make sure to seek help when you are in need of it.

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