Making the Right Impression at a Job Fair

26. April 2012

by Frank Kuo

This post is adapted from the CLEO BLOG by Frank Kuo.

Job fairs at technical conferences can be a great way to network and to learn about career opportunities—particularly for those who are interested in pursuing a career in industry. If you are headed to the CLEO:12 conference this year, you can try the online job fair to get a head start. Because some of the employers will not be involved in the online component, walking through the exhibit hall to network will be your next move.

Presenting yourself in the right way to employers at a conference is not always straightforward. For the past few years, I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to look at these job-hunting games from both sides—as a graduate student trying to impress future employers and as an employee actively working in the tradeshow. Here are some tips that I hope will help:

Familiarize yourself with the companies beforehand. Do your homework and learn the histories of your target companies, including their competitors and niche technologies. This is the “appetizer” topic for you to talk about with the people who work on the exhibition hall in your first encounter. If you intrigue them with the right motive, you’ll make an impression that lasts. Besides, by studying the companies, you will find that the photonics industry is an intricate web and that companies are related to each other in a very intimate way.

Set the right goal. Your goal is not to give your resume away. Instead, it should be to build connections and strengthen the existent ones within companies. You can achieve that objective by making a good impression with company representatives, staying in touch with them, and updating them with your research progress. You never know when there will be a vacancy. And believe me, when there is, the first thing hiring managers do is ask their colleagues if they know anyone who is qualified. You want to be the one who comes to mind.

Target those with tech backgrounds. Most of the time, the first person you bump into will be a sales representative, although there’s a chance you will meet technical sales support people, product managers, directors of divisions in the company, CTOs and marketing personnel. If you are a Ph.D. student, try to talk to people who have strong technical backgrounds such that they appreciate your effort. If you are a master’s candidate with a minor or major in marketing, you may find yourself more comfortable talking to product managers.

Of course you cannot tell a person’s job title by face. What happens if you pick the wrong person to talk with? Don’t’ worry; just ask politely for a technical person after a pleasant, warmed up conversation. People who work the floors are nice, and their duty is to help. They will not say no to you.

Never just hand someone your resume and walk away. Wrap your purpose in a delicate way! For example, start the conversation with your interest in the new lasers that the company just released. Ask technical details to show your knowledge. Then, slowly express your expertise in the field, and ask if there are any openings. If there are, try to learn more; if there aren’t, stay motivated and talk about the instruments in further depth.

Avoid rush hours. At almost all conferences, there is a time when no technical sessions are happening. I call it the rush hour. It is true that there will be more representatives working the floor at that time, but there will also be ten times more visitors. So do the math.

Get contact information. Trust me, when you start job hunting, you will need it. Asking for business cards should be a habit if you want a career in industry. You should also stay in touch with the people you meet. Ask them if they are visiting your area, if they plan to release new products and so on. One day, they might be your colleagues.

Job hunting can be overwhelming, but I want to share one of my mottos to encourage you: “When you started your graduate study, you already started your career.” Jobs are just another method we use to achieve our lifelong careers. You might feel desperate during this process, but this is just a short part of your life. Having an idea of your career path is the rudder of your professional life. It keeps you from being lost in the ocean of the diverse jobs. Best of luck!

Frank Kuo ( is a spectroscopist and optical engineer at Mettler-Toledo International Inc.

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How to Start an OSA Student Chapter

18. April 2012

by Ben Franta

An OSA student chapter can provide a great avenue for developing your leadership skills and cultivating professional connections, both within and outside your university. 

If you don’t have a chapter at your college or university, this post explains how you can establish one. The idea of forming a student organization from scratch can be daunting, but don’t worry. With the right approach, it can be a great experience and a lot of fun. While founding our own student chapter at Harvard, we learned how important it is to have a clear plan of action from the outset:

Gather a group of cofounders. Even if you feel you can do everything yourself, don’t! Gather a small group of students who are dedicated to the success of the project. Not only do many hands make light work, but building a leadership team early will make your chapter more resilient down the road.

Find one or more faculty advisors. Although your organization will be run by and for students, it pays dividends to find at least one faculty member who is willing to be associated with it in an official way. A faculty endorsement sends a message that your chapter represents a serious effort that is worthy of support. Furthermore, your faculty advisor can make use of official channels of communication within your university on behalf of your group.

Plan a series of events and create a budget. You need a schedule of activities to obtain funding, but it can be difficult to plan events without knowing how much funding you’ll have. Don’t get stuck here! Sit down with your group of cofounders and identify potential funding sources. These might include your school or university, your department, student activities funds or other professional societies. Estimate the amount you can reasonably request from each source, and use that budget to plan a series of events (with dates) for the coming term. Be ambitious but realistic. Remember that the best events for a young chapter are those that have wide appeal and build student membership. 

Register your chapter and open a funds account. Now it’s time to make your chapter official.  Register your group with OSA as well as with your school or department. Ask someone within your institution to help you create an account for your chapter funds, whether it’s through the university itself or an external bank. They should also help you to conform to any rules or regulations pertaining to student organizations at your university.

Make funding proposals. Propose your coming schedule of events and budget to each potential source of funding.  Clearly lay out how much you’re requesting, when the funds will be used, and what they will be used for. Work with each source to address its questions and accommodate its requests. Remember: building long-term working relationships with funding sources is more important than simply obtaining as much funding as possible right away.

Finalize your events schedule and ramp up advertising. Once you know your level of funding, modify your plan of activities and finalize your schedule. At this point, it’s essential to reach out to students and faculty to raise awareness of your chapter and its coming activities. Fire on all cylinders: email, websites, posters, word of mouth, and anything else you can think of. Your goal is to gain momentum.

Ensure sustainability. Congratulations—you’ve got your OSA student chapter up and running! But how do you ensure it lasts long after you’ve gone? If you build a deep and flexible leadership team, generate enthusiasm and involvement from student members, and work to grow your chapter into a vibrant community of friends and collaborators, your chapter will take on a life of its own.

Hopefully this article helps to demystify the process of starting your own OSA student chapter. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Good luck and have fun!

Ben Franta ( is a graduate student studying applied physics at Harvard University and the president of Harvard’s OSA student chapter.

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Career Reflections: Advice from Alex Fong

12. April 2012

OPN asked some of its physicist advisors and contributing editors to share the stories of their own career paths and to give their advice to current optics students and young professionals. Here we highlight our Q&A with Alex Fong, senior vice president of life sciences and instrumentation at Gooch and Housego LLC in Orlando, Fla. Alex manages OPN’s Optics Innovation column, which highlights technology transfer and optics industry trends.

He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in experimental physics from York University in Toronto and an MBA from the University of Florida. He is also a chartered engineer. Prior to joining Gooch and Housego (formerly Optronic Laboratories Inc.), Alex held senior business and technical management positions at ITT Industries, Newport Corporation and Honeywell International. He is the current president of the Florida Photonics Cluster and the founder of Cirrus Photonics.

OPN: What is the most important skill that someone can develop in graduate school?

Alex: I have my M.Sc. and an M.B.A. The most important skill I learned in graduate school was how to use resources effectively and to work with other people to approach and answer a scientific question or problem. Being able to source information, communicate and coordinate an effort will pay tremendous dividends regardless of what you end up doing in your career.

OPN: What path did you take to get to your current position?

Alex: I started out trying to decide if I ought to be doctor or a lawyer. Then I asked myself what type of work I found both interesting and, most important, a worthwhile pursuit. The litmus test I used in for myself was the question: If I were on a deserted island, what sort of training would be most useful?

I was already fascinated by physics, so I majored in that. I just kept using the same criteria along the way. I looked at education as a toolkit. At one point I decided I needed to understand the mechanics and nomenclature of the business world, so I went to business school.

One thing I’d counsel people to avoid is following the crowd. Trends come and go, but your career lasts a long time. I remember awhile back, the television show CSI was a big deal, and all of the sudden everyone wanted to be a forensic technician.  

OPN: Is there anything that you wish you had done differently in your own education or career?

Alex: I still think I might have made a good doctor.

OPN: What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting their career in science?

Alex: Keep everything in perspective and be practical and pragmatic. You may well save the world and become a Nobel laureate—but taking that into your decision-making process will stress you out needlessly. I had originally intended to be a particle physicist, but I wandered into a laser lab one day and that changed everything. Take everything you can from an opportunity or experience. Enjoy the ride.  

Alex Fong is senior vice president of life sciences and instrumentation at Gooch and Housego LLC in Orlando, Fla., U.S.A. He an author and lecturer on precision light measurement, life sciences imaging, remote sensing, applied optics and lasers. He is also an active member of the American Physical Society, The Optical Society, SPIE—The International Society for Optical Engineering, the International Commission on Illumination, the Council for Optical Radiation Measurement and the Institute of Physics.

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Peer Review 101: Building your Reputation as a Journal Reviewer

8. April 2012

by Carlos López-Mariscal and Julio Gutierrez-Vega

As a young scientist, when you publish your first papers in prestigious peer-reviewed journals, you announce your presence to the scientific community. In this way, you are in the process of becoming a recognized expert of your field. Eventually, you will also receive requests from journal editors to review manuscripts submitted by other scientists. These invitations are both a privilege and a responsibility.

Taking part in the review process is critical to developing a scientific career. It helps you build relationships with journal editors; it improves your critical thinking abilities; it gives you a better understanding of the state of the art in your field; and it enhances your writing skills so you can better present your scientific ideas. In addition, good reviewing is recognized and rewarded by colleagues and scientific societies.

As you start reviewing others’ work, the fundamental principle to keep in mind is the notion of reciprocity. Follow this golden rule: You should review a manuscript in the same way that you would want your manuscript to be reviewed. Here are some other best practices to keep in mind:

Respond promptly to requests. This is quite important—whether or not you accept the invitation to review. One of the worst things you could do is ignore a request for review, along with accepting it and then not honoring the request. If you are unable or unwilling to accept, it only takes a couple of minutes to notify the editor of your decision. The editor will appreciate it if you can suggest other potential reviewers.

Complete the review on time. This point is crucial to guarantee the timeline of the journal. It is unfair to authors (and editors) to be delayed by tardy reviewers. If you need extra time, contact the editor as soon as you can. Most are flexible and will agree to give you additional time in exchange for a good review.

Do not review a manuscript whose topic is unfamiliar to you. Stick to topics that you know well in order for your reviews to be the most credible and useful.

Enumerate your comments and suggestions. Again, think about how you would want someone to review your own paper. Organize your thoughts in a way that will be easy for someone to absorb and follow up on.

Read the journal’s review criteria. Make sure you spend time on the journal and/or publisher’s website so you understand what is expected of both authors and reviewers. This will help to ensure that your review is aligned with the publisher’s expectations.

Be specific. Indicate as precisely as you can what the problems are and how they may be overcome.

Focus on the science.Avoid effortless reviews that comment only on minor grammatical errors, typos or language problems. However, if a manuscript is written in language so poor that it is difficult to understand, point this out to the editor.

Follow up. If you are reviewing a revised manuscript, make sure the authors actually made the appropriate changes in the manuscript as recommended in the first review.

Be discreet and complete. Always maintain confidentiality and notify editors of any potential conflict of interest or suspicions of plagiarism that you may have.

If you are interested in reviewing, let your academic advisor know. He or she probably gets requests regularly and will be grateful for your initiative. You can also contact the topical editors of the journals you have published in—or introduce yourself to them at a conference. Researchers are often invited to review manuscripts as a direct result of their own published work.

Good reviewers are not as easy to come across as you might think, so don’t be shy. Take the initiative and get involved.

Carlos López-Mariscal and Julio Gutierrez-Vega are both experienced reviewers and members of the Optics & Photonics News Editorial Advisory Committee. Gutierrez-Vega is also an associate editor for OSA’s peer-reviewed open-access journal Optics Express.  

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Challenging Myths and Traditions in Scientific Communication

5. April 2012

By Jean-luc Doumont

Jean-luc Doumont, a regular contributor to OPN’s career column and blog, has generously allowed us to adapt this content from his new booklet on effective communication, Traditions, templates and group leaders. You can download this free 16-pp. resource directly from Jean-luc’s website.

I have been running sessions on effective scientific communications for 20 years, and they are largely about challenging traditions. Ideally, traditions converge to best practices. But doing things “the usual way” without questioning whether it is the most effective method is hardly a guarantee of success. Critical thinking is as useful for communication as it is for research.

Here, I take a look at some ineffective traditions and myths in conference talks and scientific writing.

Opening a talk with the speaker’s name and presentation title. At the start, attendees want to decide whether it is worth staying. The speaker must thus first of all create interest and establish credibility. A self-centered opening is unlikely to achieve either, and the name and title of the talk are usually on screen.

Going over the preview of the talk at the very start. Attendees are not ready to assimilate such a preview until they know what the talk is all about. They first need to know the research need, how the speaker went about it, and his or her main message. The preview should outline the body (just before it), not the whole talk.

Thanking attendees for their attention. Thanking attendees suggests they paid attention as a favor. If you wish to show respect, make the talk interesting for them. Get their attention, motivate them and adapt to them. Make them want to thank you.

Writing a highly specialized abstract for a paper. Usually, the abstract is read by everyone, including the least expert readers, whereas the paper itself is read by more expert readers, who want details. While short, abstracts should not be overly technical. They should focus on the motivation and outcome.

Putting up with bad talks because conferences are supposedly more about networking. Networking can admittedly be a significant benefit of conferences. Still, talks should incite networking, not hinder it by reflecting poorly on the speakers or obscuring their topics. As for other things in life, if talks are worth doing, they are worth doing well.

Using “scientific language.” A tenacious yet often subconscious myth suggests that scientific prose requires a specific, unique writing style: “scientific language.” Group leaders are even known to criticize papers that “do not sound scientific enough,” as if credibility depended on obfuscation. If colleagues are grateful when you explain your research straightforwardly to them, why would you need to write differently, except to polish an imperfect use of the language?

Insisting on the passive voice (or the active one). Should research be reported in the passive voice? Certainly not when it makes for heavier sentences or omits an agent that matters, as in it is believed. Who believes this? The authors? The community at large? Readers will want to know. Should you write every sentence in the active voice? Of course not. The passive has legitimate uses as well, in particular to place the topic in subject position. Absolutes are convenient, but they are seldom tenable.

Do not let traditions stand in your way: Research is not about fostering mediocrity. Question habits. Identify ends before discussing means. In my experience, the scientific community accepts what is different if it is manifestly more effective.

Jean-luc Doumont ( holds a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford University. He now devotes his time and energy to training researchers and others in effective communication. He is a traveling lecturer for OSA.

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