"Tech Like a Girl"

23. May 2017
On 22 April of this year—Earth Daymarches were held around the world in the name of science. But at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), USA, members of the campus' OSA/SPIE student chapter found a different way to advocate for STEM.

Workshopping STEM

CCCC organized an all-girls' STEM workshop, titled, "Tech Like a Girl." The occasion focused on spectroscopy using photonics, and allowed the participants to explore light and all that it can do. Gary Beasley, CCCC's lead instructor for laser and photonics technology and one of the workshop organizers, hopes that the Earth Day fête raised awareness about the CCCC laser program and helped the students open "their eyes to some of the vast career opportunities awaiting them in STEM."

The girls participating spent the day learning about photonics and spectroscopy with the help of the workshop's leader, Yvette Mattley. A principal applications scientist at Ocean Optics in Dunedin, Fla., USA, Mattley used that company's educational kit to teach students (and their parents) how spectroscopy is used to study matter. Additionally, Mattley shared her journey in becoming a female scientist, and how much pleasure she derives from her career. Nickolas Jorgenson, the CCCC OSA/SPIE student chapter president, believes that the workshop benefited CCCC students in addition to parents and participants."The chapter members also learned a lot about spectroscopy and career opportunities from Dr. Mattley."

Larger effort

The workshop, including the spectroscopy kits that the participants used in the active-learning exercise, were funded through LASER-TEC, a program funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in which CCCC participates. LASER-TEC is the Southeast Regional Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education, based in Fort Pierce, Fla., USA, and was established by NSF in 2013 to develop a sustainable pipeline of qualified laser and fiber optics technicians to meet industry demand across the southeastern United States.                                                                                                      

The workshop also included a panel discussion titled "Interviewing Essentials—STEM Focus." The panel consisted of six participants, including second-year laser students actively involved in the job-interview process, and local photonics professionals. The goal, Beasley says, was to help first-year laser students understand techniques that can help them better prepare for interviews.

The event grew out of a larger initiative run by Constance Boahn, the chair of CCCC's engineering department. In 2016, Boahn launched strategic programming aiming to get more female students interested in a STEM career. The 22 April STEM workshop was the first in a series of similar events Boahn plans to run.

Is Industry Right for You?

9. May 2017

Some scientists originally looking to an academic career figure out early on that academia is just not right for them, and look at other career optionsparticularly careers in industry. And, according to a recent report from the American Institute of Physics (AIP), choosing a career outside of academia can be richly rewarding.

The AIP report, published in 2015 and titled Common Careers of Physicists in the Private Sector, claims that in just one decade after graduating from doctorate programs, many physicists "have found financially solid and meaningful employment in the private sector." Government contractors, in particular, enjoyed the flexibility of their roles and "appreciated the variety of projects they were able to pursue." Those working in finance (often called "quants" as Debbie Berebichez explained in a previous blog post) claim particularly high salaries.

These findings are good news for the "significant portion of postdoc researchers" eyeing non-academic careers. In a 2016 study, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, and Cornell University, USA, interviewed nearly 6,000 doctoral students across a broad range of academic fields. Of those interviewed, 33 percent held a greater interest in careers outside of academia. Of this group, many were interested in careers with government, firms or startups, or other non-research careers. Those already in the private sector said they "identified their jobs as intellectually stimulating, challenging and rewarding." According to the study, this was due to the constant influx of colleagues who are smart, interesting and from a wider range of backgrounds beyond the sciences.

If worried about the long-term implications of an industry career, fear not. A 2016 Science article notes that industry experience provides a unique value and can be used as a platform to enter an academic career down the line. According to the article, by taking administrative roles or exploring careers in industry-university relations, one can blend professional experiences. Location can be a boon, too; the Science article notes that "in certain regions around the world, industry experience is not only highly coveted but is a requirement for academic jobs."

For OSA members looking to explore industry happenings, trends and more, be sure to visit www.osa.org/industry.