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Improve and carry on, use the fear: advice from women in STEM

SPIE Women in Optics 18-month
planner for 2016-2017.
Interest in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) can lead to a wide variety of careers. A few examples:
  • exploring photonic nanostructures that can improve the efficiency of solar energy generation
  • observing micro-organisms in the Arctic ice to learn more about lifeforms of all sorts
  • developing optical systems for noninvasive diagnosis of tumors inside the body
  • assessing the radiation hazard to be incurred by humans travelling to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
The paths to all careers include some challenges. For anyone looking at a career in STEM, the latest edition of a free annual publication offering insights on those paths has just been released.

The 12th edition of the Women in Optics Planner published by SPIE contains more insights from more than 30 women discussing their interests and occupations and offering advice. Among their stories:

Viera-Gonzalez
Perla Marlene Viera-Gonzalez, a PhD student at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, specializes in optical design applied to solar illumination systems.

Her biggest career obstacle is “swimming upstream and (meeting) resistance to change. I sometimes encounter people who prefer to always do things the same way. The solution? I never give up. Believe in yourself. Try new ideas, and if you fail, learn from that. Improve and carry on.”

Viera-Gonzalez shares her inspiration and passion with her community, organizing STEM conferences for students, workshops for kids, basic education for teachers, science fairs, and other events, with support from SPIE and her university.

Mikkelsen
Maiken Mikkelsen, now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of physics at Duke University, grew up in Denmark and  found physics to be her favorite subject in school.

Now she leads a research group exploring the behavior of novel nanoscale structures and materials by studying their interaction with laser light, which may lay the foundation for future quantum- or nano-based technologies. Her advice? “Follow your heart and do what you love!”

Lukishova
Svetlana Lukishova earned degrees through her PhD at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and is now a senior scientist at the University of Rochester leading a group in quantum nanophotonics.

As an undergrad, she followed the advice of a professor to select the strongest research group with an outstanding leader and ended up carrying out her master’s and PhD research under  Nobel Laureate Alexander Prokhorov.

As a working professional, she says, her biggest obstacle is that she is “too modest. In a competitive environment, it is necessary to defend your rights.” She advises young girls “to set the highest goals in your life and your scientific and engineering career; work hard, but with inspiration; and don’t forget that you are women.”

James Asirvatham
"Dream first, try next, and do your best," Juanita Saroj James Asirvatham, research associate at Lancaster University, advises young women who wish to pursue a career in optics and photonics.  

As a research associate at Lancaster University, Asirvatham explores novel photonic nanostructures to improve the efficiency and economy of solar energy production. "STEM is for creative thinkers," she says. "Choosing a career in STEM will provide lifelong professional development.”

Greenwood
Born in Germany and educated in Scotland, Bernadette Greenwood, the director of clinical services at Desert Medical Imaging, advises young women in STEM fields to overcome barriers to success by applying logic, sensibility, and patience to any situation.

"Sometimes it's impossible not to feel discouraged, but stay strong and believe in yourself. Use fear as fuel for action," she says.

Greenwood oversees an MRI-based prostate cancer clinical trial, delivering laser interstitial thermal therapy to prostate cancer using thermal mapping with MRI.

Wang
For Hui (Catherine) Wang, deputy director of the Department of International Cooperation at the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics, and Physics, the biggest challenge is not having a scientific background. She holds a master’s degree in English literature. Wang works at continually increasing her knowledge through reading books and journals, having discussions with colleagues, and attending academic conferences.

Do not to be afraid of difficulties and mistakes, Wang advises. "Facing these can make you stronger."

All the stories are available online; copies of the planner are free for the asking via the same link.

Thanks to all for the inspiration!

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