Top Women Scientists Offer Career Advice

Optics and photonics professionals have career advice for you in the 2011 SPIE Women in Optics monthly planner.
30 December 2010

Successful women in the field of optics and photonics are confident and passionate about what they do, know how to build and maintain professional relationships, and aren’t afraid to take risks. They seek out mentors, learn to delegate, and aren’t discouraged by negative criticism.

And that’s precisely the career advice offered by 23 women from across the globe who are profiled in the 2011 SPIE Women in Optics monthly planner.

On the cover of the 2011 SPIE Women in Optics calendar is Tebello Nyokong, center, with her students at Rhodes University in South Africa.

Pick up the new Women in Optics monthly planner at SPIE Photonics West or request a copy by e-mail:
thumbnail image of calendar

SPIE produces the desk calendar every year and offers free copies to SPIE members, career counselors, science teachers, and community organizations as a way to encourage girls to choose optics as a career and to promote personal and professional growth for early career professionals.

The women featured in the 2011 calendar discuss what a typical work day is like for a university professor, engineer, CEO, and lab scientist, and they offer “words of wisdom” for those contemplating a career in science.

“I enjoy the opportunity to change the world—hopefully to be a better place,” says Erica Fuchs, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University (USA) who is featured in the calendar. Fuchs’ research focuses on the roles governments play in technology development and innovation. She recently completed a study on development of photonics, microelectronics, and other technologies supporting Moore’s Law at the Microsystems Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Angelique Irvin, president and CEO of Clear Align (USA), which designs, prototypes, and manufactures imaging, sensing, and fiber-optic systems for the defense and aerospace industry, is also passionate about the important role that optics and photonics plays in solving society’s problems.

“The part of my job that I enjoy the most is the overarching mission that Clear Align works toward: to save lives,” Irvin says. “Our products are used to protect the war fighter and our citizens at home.

“When my day gets stressful, I simply remind myself of the difference our work makes.”

CEOs and professors

Irvin is one of two CEOs featured in the Women in Optics 2011 calendar.

SPIE member Ursula KellerAlthough SPIE member Ursula Keller doesn’t have the CEO title, Keller says in the calendar that her work as a physics professor at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) is comparable to running a small company.

“Our ‘products’ are the research results, educated students, and education materials and notes,” Keller says. “I need to acquire sufficient resources to keep this enterprise going. The more successful our products are, the more successful I am.

“Therefore, my typical job is to do the long- and short-term strategic planning for my research projects, my funding acquisition, and my teaching schedule. I have regular meetings with my group members regarding their research projects and our strategic planning. I am responsible for the final correction/modification of our external communication (which are mostly papers, and conference presentations) and often write part of it.

"In addition, I keep the necessary contacts, establish and maintain a network of colleagues and political contacts, as well as an outreach program to the public, to keep our company successful.”

Keller says she "pretty much" has her dream job. She suggests traveling and networking for those entering their careers.

"Go out there and broaden your horizon and go to the best places you can get to," she says. "Also look out for possible mentors. Be actively involved in contacting and collecting the advice from more experienced people that impress you along your career."

Career tips and warnings

The advice these optics and photonics professionals offer to encourage a career in optics comprise a handy list of Dos and Don’ts.

Keller, Irvin, and others who enjoy successful careers stress the importance of finding a good mentor, and both Fuchs and Yoko Miyamoto, an assistant professor at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, advise young women to “Follow your heart.”

“Be prepared to be flexible, because the world is changing fast,” Miyamoto adds.

“Get used to walking into a meeting as the only woman in the room, and be in charge,” says SPIE Fellow Meimei Tidrow, chief scientist for focal plane arrays at the U.S. Army Night Vision Lab in Virginia. “Don’t underestimate yourself and never give up,” she says.

Tebello Nyokong, director of the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre for Sensors at Rhodes University in South Africa, counsels: “Do not let negative reviews of your papers discourage you. Use them to learn and keep improving your research.”

SPIE Fellow Bernice Rogowitz, a research scientist at University of Texas at Austin (USA) and founder of a consulting company, discusses her typical work day, involvement in SPIE conferences, and the importance of learning from other researchers. Working collaboratively with scientists from other disciplines fuels creativity, she says in the calendar.

“If you meet someone you learn from or enjoy thinking with, keep in touch with them,” Rogowitz says. “This is a gift that keeps giving.”

2011 Calendar features SPIE members

Four SPIE Fellows and four other SPIE members are featured in the SPIE Women in Optics 2011 calendar.

  • SPIE Fellow Ruyan Guo, professor at University of Texas at San Antonio (USA)
  • Fenna Hanes, senior director at the New England Board of Higher Education (USA) and 2009 recipient of the SPIE Educator Award
  • Ursula Keller, professor at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich)
  • Nola Li, a yield engineer at Intel (USA) and a member of the SPIE Education Committee
  • SPIE Fellow Ileana Rau, associate professor at University POLITEHNICA of Bucharest, Romania
  • SPIE Fellow Bernice Rogowitz, founder of Visual Perspectives Consulting and research scientist at University of Texas at Austin
  • Felicia Tam, scientist at Oxonica Materials in California who serves on the SPIE Symposia Committee
  • SPIE Fellow Meimei Tidrow, chief scientist/FPA at U.S. Army Night Vision Lab


SPIE Fellow Bernice RogowitzSPIE Fellow Bernice Rogowitz is the founder of Visual Perspectives Consulting, a research scientist at University of Texas Austin, and founder of the IS&T/SPIE Human Vision and Electronic Imaging conference (to be held at IS&T/SPIE Electronic Imaging, 23-27 January at the San Francisco Airport Hilton).

Her research in human and machine vision and in image processing has included important contributions to many aspects of spatial vision, spatial-temporal interactions, shape perception, color vision, and image perception.

She is currently working for the UT Center for Advanced Computing on a National Science Foundation grant called iPlant.

“My contribution is at the interface between plant biology and computer science, providing discovery tools and methods that will enable new scientific insights,” she says. “I’m participating in two working groups, one on visualization and visual analysis for genome to phenome (G2P) data analysis and one on visualizing a 500,000- species tree of life.”

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