Shaimaa Azzam

Shaimaa Azzam - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Postdoctoral Fellow
California NanoSystems Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, USA

SPIE Early Career Professional Member

Shaimaa Azzam

Born in Egypt
Resides in the US
Educational Background: BS, MS, and PhD in Electrical Engineering

Math has always been my favorite subject, especially since high school, and my teachers encouraged me to consider engineering. I always found ways to enjoy working on challenging problems, and studying electrical engineering was the right discipline for me.

I work as a postdoc in optics and photonics. My primary role is to design new and exciting devices and experiments where we can use light to study new phenomena or realize new applications. I am currently working on integrating two-dimensional materials with nanophotonic devices to engineer better and more efficient single-photon sources. I also get to work with graduate and undergraduate students involved in similar research and to participate in, and sometimes initiate, collaborations with other research groups to combine expertise and techniques to do even more exciting science.

The biggest challenge I faced, and still sometimes do, is managing my time. There is so much to be done, and with every career move, my responsibilities increase. With experience and practice, I have learned to get organized, set priorities, say no sometimes, and ask for help.

I wish I were advised when I first started my academic journey on the value of setting priorities and distinguishing between urgency and importance. In an academic career, we tend to follow a long list of deadlines, which can marginalize essential tasks that don’t seem very urgent. An example of that is self-care and stress management.

Another piece of advice I wish I had received early on is to search for role models who I can relate to. It is sometimes easy to feel like you don’t belong due to the lack of successful figures with similar experiences, backgrounds, and/or identities who have achieved the same goals you aspire to reach. For example, I genuinely believe that female mentors and role models play a crucial role in guiding and retaining junior female scientists in STEM.

For young girls and women considering a career in STEM, I would say don’t be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. In times that you find yourself discouraged or self-doubting, allow yourself to feel the way you do but don’t let that prevent you from trying and doing it anyway. Mistakes and occasional setbacks don’t define you; the way you recover and handle them does. A STEM career might seem challenging, but it will also show you how capable, strong, and smart you are.

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