Sile Nic Chormaic

Sile Nic Chormaic - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Professor, Light-Matter Interactions for Quantum Technologies
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University

SPIE Member

Sile Nic Chormaic

Born in Ireland
Resides in Japan
Educational Background: BSc, MSc, Docteur en Physique

When I was in secondary school, I was fascinated by languages and traveling. I viewed maths as another language, with similar rules but without the exceptions that can make languages challenging. I was passionate about studying maths in university and some of the options given to us such as deciphering the symbolism in ancient sites around Ireland. But once I had access to university-level physics, I realized it offered far more career options for me with travel. As an undergraduate, I was given the chance to spend a summer in University College London working in a physics lab and this is what finally defined my direction in atomic physics.

Now I lead a research group of about 20 researchers (students, postdocs, staff scientists, technicians) and my main responsibilities lie in their education and training to conduct impactful research ethically. I give classes, organize lab sessions, coordinate research projects, source funding, and advertise our research through seminars and conference presentations. A lot of my time is spent editing student reports, research papers, and project reviews. I also mentor PhD students around the world, review research proposals for many international funding agencies, and promote OIST as a great place for PhD studies.

I would say that trying to choose a career direction that would ensure that I always had a steady income was probably the biggest challenge, especially after I finished my doctoral studies. I knew since I was a teenager that I wanted to leave Ireland, so I needed to find a way to do this with security. I was funded all through my university education by external or university grants and this made it all possible. I’ve always sought change, and this can also be challenging. On the day of my PhD exam, I was offered a research position in a fantastic lab in Austria that I couldn’t say no to. There’s so much to explore in the world (both inside and outside the lab) that we need to be adventurous in making decisions.

I think the most important thing is to ask for help if you need it, particularly financial. There are sources of funds out there that many don’t know about that can make the possibility of having a great education all that easier. Most universities can provide some support where really needed.

So go for it—the independence you get from being a scientist is wonderful. You get to explore so many things. My driving force was my love of languages (including maths) and my desire to travel the world. Being a scientist enabled this more than any other job I can imagine, even working for an airline.

View more 2022 profiles