SPIE Women in Optics Calendar

The new SPIE Women in Optics planner covers 18 months.
01 January 2012
Karen Thomas

WOMEN IN OPTICS, SPIE logoSPIE Women in Optics promotes personal and professional growth for women through community building networking opportunities and encourages young women to choose optics as a career. Since 2005, SPIE has produced a Women in Optics monthly planner to showcase the work of women in the field of optics and photonics.

The spiral-bound desk calendar features stories and pictures of optics and photonics professionals making a difference in the world through their work. It is a valuable resource for young women interested in entering the field of optics.

The women featured in these planners share what they do in an effort to encourage and mentor others. By discussing their lives and occupations, they introduce the range of opportunities available in the optics and photonics field and help inspire prospective researchers and scientists.

"We encounter optics in most of our daily activities," says 2011 SPIE President Katarina Svanberg who appeared in the first Women in Optics planner. "Our task as active scientists, engineers, and photonics professionals is to use our skills, imagination, and intuition to make sure that light can make a difference. This is particularly important for the developing world, where opportunities are limited.

"There is nothing more critical in our world to pursue than research enabling scientists in poor countries to alleviate some of the problems in these regions. Together we can be the 'Masters of Light' for the benefit of our global environment, our industries, our communities — for all people!"

SPIE Women in Optics 2012-13 calendar
  On the cover of the 2012 SPIE Women in Optics planner, SPIE member Meredith Lee operates a biosensor test station with motion-control provided by Newport.
"I wish someone had told me"

The women featured in the 2012 calendar discuss what a typical work day is like, what inspired them to a career in science, some the obstacles they encountered, and what words of wisdom they wish they'd had been told early on.

Esther Conwell, a research professor at the University of Rochester (USA) was once denied a job as an engineer because of her gender. In 2002, Discover Magazine named Conwell one of the 50 all-time most important women in science. She was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2010.

"Early in my career," she says, "my biggest obstacle was being a woman, which made it difficult to get a good job in physics. Fortunately, the situation for jobs in science is much better for women these days."

One thing that hasn't changed for many women is the need to balance family with career. The biggest career challenge for Catherine Towers, senior research at the University of Leeds, (UK) has been, "trying to balance family life with research."

Cécile Dupouy, chargée de recherche, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (New Caledonia) finds that colleagues often don't understand why she has fewer publications than they do: because she is caring for her children. "Because of that," she says, "it is more difficult to access the grade of director of research. But I am very happy to have three kids." She also wishes someone had told her, "Be patient."

U.S. government engineer Cynthia Hanson feels it's imperative to plan and stick to a schedule and make sure children's daycare, school, and doctors are all close by. "It's also important to have a good partner," says Hanson. "One day those children will be gone and you want to be happy with the two of you again!"

Many of these science professionals found inspiration from high school science teachers who encouraged them, mentors at university, or parents who supported their dreams.

"My grandmother, born in 1930s China, did not have the opportunity to go to school," says Yang Huiying, assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (Singapore). "She had the foresight and tenacity to encourage me and told me, 'Education is the only thing that can change a woman's life.' That is what I want to say to all young girls."

Nimmi Ramanujam, professor at Duke University (USA), suggests seeking advice from mentors and colleagues in your field who can help along the way, because, "there is no handbook per se for this career path."

Inspiration can also come from cultural sources. Alison Flatau, professor and associate dean of research at Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland (USA), was influenced by early sci-fi TV shows that featured competent females in technical roles. "At least the younger daughter in Lost in Space and Lt. Uhura in Star Trek come to mind," says Flatau.

Humor and magic

The women featured in this year's planner, which covers 18 months, have faced obstacles in their career, but have kept moving forward to obtain their goals. What they all seem to have in common are patience, a sense of humor, and always seeing the magic in what they do.

Despite the pressures of their careers, many have learned that it's possible to have it all, as in family and career, but not always at once. And, that wearing nail polish doesn't make one any less an engineer.

SPIE 2011 President Katarina Svanberg in a previous planner
SPIE Past President Katarina Svanberg, seen here with African colleagues in Kakar, Senegal, appeared in the first WiO Planner.
To receive a copy of the 2012-2013 planner, email Pascale@spie.org

"Don't be afraid of making changes," says SPIE member Yana Williams of GE Global Research Center (USA). "Learn to laugh at yourself and your mistakes."

Mary-Ann Mycek, associate professor of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan, (USA) and Vivian Wing-Wah Yam, chemistry professor at the University of Hong Kong (China) both speak about having always been amazed by the wonders of nature and science and being interested in learning new things.

"I think the magic trick is to never forget that even the simplest ideas or most trivial questions could lead to the brightest inventions." says SPIE member Sara Van Overmeire, researcher for BEST Sorting (Belgium). "It is research. Nobody knows what we will end up with!"

To receive a free copy of the 2012-2013 SPIE Women in Optics planner, email Pascale@spie.org


2012 -2013 Calendar features 11 SPIE members


Of the 26 women featured in the SPIE Women in Optics 2012 calendar, 11 SPIE members share their experience and advice.

Eva CampoSenior member Eva Campo, assistant education director, Laboratory for the Research on the Structure of Matter, University of Pennsylvania, USA




Alzbeta ChorvatovaAlzbeta Chorvatova, independent researcher, responsible for Depart ment of Biophotonics, International Laser Centre, Bratislava, Slovakia




Ruth HoubertzRuth Houbertz, head of Competence Unit, Optics & Electronic, Fraunhofer ISC, Wuerzburg, Germany





Helena Helena JelínkováJelinkova, professor of Nuclear Sciences and Physical Engineering, Czech Technical University, Prague, Czech Republic




Meredith LeeStudent member Meredith Lee, Electrical Engineering PhD candidate, Stanford University, USA





Mary Ann MycekMary-Ann Mycek, associate professor of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA





Michelle PovinelliMichelle Povinelli, WiSE Gabilan Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA




Catherine TowersCatherine Towers, senior research fellow, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds, United Kingdom





Sara Van OvermeireSara Van Overmeire, researcher, BEST Sorting, Leuven, Belgium





Shu-i WangSenior member Shu-i Wang, senior optical engineer, CMC Electronics, an Esterline Company, Sugar Grove, Illinois, USA





Yana WilliamsYana Williams, lead optical engineer, GE Global Research Center, Niskayuna, NY, USA






Women in Optics Presentation at SPIE Photonics West

Leslie FishlockLeslie Fishlock, CEO and founder of Geek Girl, will speak on "Empowering Women in Tech: Mentor, Give Back, Pay It Forward," at SPIE Photonics West 2012.

Her company's mission is to educate and empower women (and men) on computer technology. Her vision for education, evangelism, entrepreneurialism, and empowering women is apparent when you meet her.

She prides herself on being "the resource," and will share everything she knows about entrepreneurialism, starting a business, and technology with anyone who asks.

Her most recent success has been to launch the first Geek Girl Educational Training Center (GGETC) in Hyannis, MA. GGETC offers workshops, personal consultation, drop-in classes, and all forms of group learning, onsite, offsite, and online.

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

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