Reflecting on Career/Life Balance

11. June 2012

Jannick Rolland

For many of us, work provides a way to contribute to society, and it is often a significant component of our lives. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with the demands of a career in today’s highly competitive landscape. Working in academia, for example, requires one to have the skills of running a small business. Besides teaching and serving our universities and professional societies, we must seek funding and support our graduate students.

At the same time, many of us are also charged with the demands of raising a family or caring for elderly loved ones. As our lifestyles become more complex, all of us—whether men or women—must develop strategies to balance our career with our personal lives. As a single parent of two for part of my journey, I have had to forge my own path.

For me, the most challenging aspect of being a working parent is the travel required to be successful on the job. These days, the option to seek help from a family member is not always there. I chose early on to explore a different model for pursuing my career in science and raising happy and successful children. I wanted my children to develop as happy, creative, independent and successful human beings regardless of their less-than-optimal circumstances at that point in time. 

Sacrificing my professional work to cook dinner and tuck them into bed every night was not realistic, and it was not the best way for me to meet my goals for them or me. I gave up on being “the perfect parent” and instead developed alternative ways of supporting my children—by raising them in an environment in which they could engage with a large pool of adults whom I trusted.

I believe that a family is happiest when each member of it is engaged in the activities that fulfill them the most. Both parents and children are most likely to thrive in an environment that is not only nurturing but stimulating.    

Giving children the chance to interact with people from diverse cultures is of tremendous value. As a scientist, I work with young professionals who are often single or who have limited social lives, particularly if they are working in a country far from their original home. These young professionals are typically more than happy to engage outside the work environment.

My children built relationships with many of my colleagues and students, who became part of our family. I think that is why my older son chose to visit a mosque with a Muslim graduate student at age 14 and why he decided to spend the summer in Seoul, South Korea, at 19 after having developed a strong friendship with one of my Korean students.

Another way I balanced my life and career was by making sure that I deeply connected with family in spite of our time-challenged lives away from my native home of France. In our case, this meant spending some summers abroad, with the goal of helping the children become bilingual. I thought that, by learning French, they could develop their family ties, better understand diversity, and learn to adapt to change. In addition to summers abroad, I took a full-year sabbatical in France when they turned 9 and 11. I conducted science while also connecting with family. 

While it was surely challenging for the children to spend a year away from home, it turned out to be a wonderful experience for them, and they are both thanking me for it today. They developed enduring friendships, and they are both fluent in French. 

Balance isn’t about counting the hours spent at home vs. work; it is about the value we create when we are faced with challenges. What will leave a positive long-term imprint on our children’s minds and their attitudes towards life? 

These days, balance comes a bit easier. In 2009, I remarried my dream partner, and I try to live every day to the fullest. Engineering and science are my passions, but I also like sharing dinners and conversing with friends from all walks of life. And I dearly love laughing with my children. This is my new balance.  

Jannick Rolland (rolland.jannick@gmail.com) is the Brian J. Thompson professor of optical engineering at the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A.

 

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Three Roadblocks to a Successful Science Career

1. June 2012

Aida Baida Gil

In my experience as a scientist and a career coach, I’ve come to understand three roadblocks that could have a huge impact on your scientific career, the decisions you make, and your overall satisfaction. Here I describe them with some suggestions for overcoming them.

Letting others define success for you

Many believe that, in order to be a successful scientist, you must be well known, publish hundreds of papers in high-impact journals, and put aside your personal life. There are two problems with this definition. First, as Sheryl Sandberg mentioned in her magnificent TED talk, you might be tempted to “leave before you leave” – meaning that you won’t consider moving forward in your career because you don’t expect to make it, or you think you’ll have to sacrifice a lot. And number two, the pressure is so high that you don’t even consider other options. And so, you just move with the crowd, following the path you think you’re “supposed” to take.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that definition of scientific success, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Only you can decide what you want and how you define success, whether it entails winning a Nobel prize or balancing your work with other aspects of your life. There is no right or wrong decision. What’s important is that you feel satisfied with your choices.

You also don’t have to make all your career decisions right now. You can tackle them when the moment comes. None of us really knows what the future holds, do we? So there is no point in deciding during graduate school that you don’t want to pursue a scientific career because you plan to have children 10 years from now. Cross that bridge when you get there. Meanwhile, do what you really want right now.

Deeming yourself an impostor

In an article in a psychology journal, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes define the imposter syndrome as an inability to accept your own success. It’s the feeling that tells you that you are not as good as everyone thinks you are, that all your lab mates are smarter and that you ended up where you are by chance—not because you are intelligent, smart and capable. These feelings are very frequent in brilliant people, and they can jeopardize your career. Your lack of confidence might lead you to reject opportunities because you don’t feel like you measure up.

If you have this problem, work on your confidence and take comfort in the fact that almost everyone feels this way at one point or another. Fortunately, in most cases, it passes as you gain more experience.

Feeling like a failure

Lastly, I’d like to talk about an obstacle that is very frequent in scientists who decide to leave academia: feeling like a failure. This often happens even if your new job is related to science in some way. That makes the decision very painful, and in some cases it can even prevent people from making a move. Why?

• You feel that leaving academia is not what you’re “supposed to do” after investing so many years in it.
• You don’t think you can do anything else.
• You fear you may regret the decision.
• Changing careers equals failing in your mind. “Everyone” knows that if you leave academic science, you must not be good at it, right? NO!

I’ve been through all those stages, and if you are in this situation, you’ll probably go through them too. It’s normal and it will pass. Keep in mind:

• A career is not a life sentence. You can change your mind and experience different things.
• Changing careers does not mean you’re not good enough; it shows that you are braver than the rest and good at more than one thing!
• You are not your job. It’s easy to identify yourself with your job, and then feel as if you have lost your identity if you change jobs. But you are much more than a job title.

Finally, remember that feeling like a failure is something we all go through, and it can actually be a sign of something positive. I recently read a blog post by the marketing expert Marie Forleo that summarizes it perfectly. She said:

“Feeling like a failure is a natural part of becoming a success. It’s actually a good thing and means you’re taking action and putting yourself out there. Which is WAY more than most critics and naysayers have the balls to do.”

Being aware of these three roadblocks is the first step toward moving past them. What do you think? Have you experienced any of them yet?

This post is adapted from content that first appeared on the Agora blog with the kind permission of the author.

Aida Baida Gil is a certified coach and former geneticist. She helps scientists and professional women around the world to decide the next step in their careers and to make career changes. You can contact her at www.experimentyourlife.com.

 

Academic Careers, Career Path, Job Search, Women in Science , , , , , ,

The Benefits of an Industry Internship: OPN Talks with Jung Park

24. May 2012

This week, OPN talks with Jung Park, an OSA recent graduate member. Jung found an industry internship with Intel Corporation while completing his Ph.D. in 2010 at the University of California, San Diego, U.S.A.  He discusses how he got the internship and why he believes Ph.D. students can benefit from stepping outside of academia, whether or not they decide to stay there.

 OPN: What made you decide to pursue an internship in industry?

Jung: During my graduate studies, I was mostly encouraged to pursue a career in academia. While I had some interest in doing so, I wasn’t certain that I was ready to commit to the long and arduous path to a tenured position at a university. When the time came to decide what to do next, I kept myself open to a variety of options, including jobs in industry as well as positions in government research labs and academia. I started researching to find out what types of positions I could pursue after I graduated.

OPN: How did you get your internship?

Jung: While attending the Frontiers in Optics conference, I met someone who worked for Intel Corporation in photonics research and development and discovered that the company was offering an internship. I interviewed for the position and was fortunate enough to receive an offer.  Although I came upon the internship somewhat by chance, I recognized it as a unique opportunity and jumped at it without hesitation.

OPN: How did you benefit from your internship?

Jung: I benefitted in a number of ways. Technically, the work was quite interesting and challenging, but it was very different than what I had done in an academic setting. While in graduate school, I had the freedom to satisfy my intellectual curiosity by conducting my own experiments. As an intern, however, I was working with a larger team of people that had a broad range of technical backgrounds and areas of expertise. We had to deliver on much more clearly defined goals. In a fairly short time, I became exposed to a variety of research areas.

Ultimately, being part of such a team gave me a new perspective and helped me to identify my place in the field. Although I found my graduate project interesting, I did not feel like I was working on something real until I applied what I had learned to my work in industry. Over the course of my graduate research, I became less interested in “pushing” ideas produced from research in the hope that they would be adopted for commercial or practical applications. Instead, I became more intrigued by the idea of “pulling” innovative solutions from demonstrated principles to solve real world problems.
While in academia, I worked to discover new principles and sought to produce high-impact publications. After working in industry, I realize that what I find most rewarding is not publications, citations and recognition, but rather developing the potential of a burgeoning technology.

OPN: What advice would you give to graduate students considering an industry internship?

Jung: I would highly encourage any graduate student to consider an internship in industry. It is important to learn about a variety of areas and to see things from different viewpoints. Even those whose ultimate goal is to pursue an academic career can benefit from this experience. In practical terms, industry experience provides a competitive advantage and makes one’s resume stand out, since many Ph.D. students have only done academic research. It also provides invaluable networking opportunities, which I encourage all students to take advantage of as much as possible. You never know when an opportunity might come up. I have no doubt that my industry internship led to my current position, in addition to the many invaluable lessons that I learned.

Jung Park (jung.s.park@intel.com) received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California, San Diego in 2010. He is currently a member of the Photonics Technology Lab at Intel Corporation, where he works to integrate silicon photonics devices for optical interconnects in computing applications.

 

Academic Careers, Career Path, Engineering, Graduate School, International Careers, Internships, Nontraditional Science Careers, Profiles , , , , , , , , , , ,

Uncovering Hidden Biases in Optics

17. May 2012

Elsa Garmire

In my experience, hidden biases—the stereotypes that we are not even aware that we harbor—can be more damaging to women and minority scientists than overt prejudice. How do you fight what you cannot see, even within yourself? Here are some tips for uncovering and addressing hidden biases within yourself and others. My advice is mostly targeted at individuals who are underrepresented in the sciences, but hopefully everyone can learn something from it.

Become aware of hidden biases. Everyone harbors them; there’s no reason to beat yourself up over it. Whenever we encounter a situation that doesn’t conform to our expectations, it is natural to be surprised and perhaps even suspicious, until we can integrate it into our frame of reference. 

I’ve noticed hidden bias within myself when I write letters of recommendation. Unless I fight it, I unwittingly describe my female students differently than males.  I tend to write more about how “nice” the female student is and less about how “competent” she is.  To counter this, I carefully review all letters I write, making sure to provide a fair and comprehensive picture.

To start identifying your own hidden biases, ask yourself: In what ways do I react to those who look different?  Are my responses helpful or hindering?  When I am asked to nominate someone for an award or volunteer position, do I ever look beyond the obvious choices?

Talk to others in your situation. Once you have decided to enter a profession in which you will be in the minority, you’ll find that you’re now part of a new culture altogether—one that combines your profession and your minority status.  This is where professional societies that target minorities come into play—for example, the National Society of Black Physicists, the Society of Women Engineers and Minorities and Women in OSA (MWOSA). Becoming involved with other minorities through groups like MWOSA is important, particularly as you encounter these biases and struggle to understand them.

Make yourself stand out. Often we minorities find ourselves feeling neglected at conferences and events. When I was at the University of Southern California, I was invited to a black-tie dinner organized by our president.  Only members of the National Academy and their spouses were invited.  The president approached us, shook my husband’s hand and asked him what department he was in.  Being the gentleman he is, Bob gestured to me and said, “This is your member of the National Academy.”  Rather than turning to me, the president kept talking to my husband, saying, “Well, what do you do?”  He never did talk to me! 

As frustrating as that situation was, it’s important to remember that I was not powerless. I could have introduced myself to the President rather than waiting for him to act.  Over the years I’ve learned to identify myself as worthy of respect within a group by bringing up a subtle technical point and asking what others think of it.  I’m always careful in a talk to provide a bit of in-depth analysis to prove that I know what I’m talking about. 

Network, network, network.  Get involved in OSA professional activities.  Volunteer for committee work.  Your input is valuable because you offer a new point of view.  Your reticence is a loss to the profession.  Attend social functions and make it a point to meet new people.  I sought out authors of papers I respected, thereby building up a cadre of friends who knew me and my capabilities. 

While women and minorities have made vast inroads in many professions, there are still areas, such as in optics, where they are not catching up as quickly. I ask that all of us remain vigilant about overcoming our hidden stereotypes and biases. 

Elsa Garmire (elsa.garmire@dartmouth.edu) is the Sydney E. Junkins 1887 Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College in Dartmouth, N.H., U.S.A. She was OSA’s president in 1993.

For more information about Elsa, visit her website.

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The Publishing Path: A Conversation with Costanza Zucca

11. May 2012

This week, OPN talks with Costanza Zucca, editorial manager with the Frontiers journals, a series of open-access publications driven by researchers for researchers. Costanza obtained a Ph.D. in plasma physics from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, in 2009. Her work on thermonuclear fusion research focused on the design of operational scenarios with high-output power for the first prototype of a fusion reactor.

After taking a sabbatical in South America, Costanza decided to pursue a different career path. She quit research and joined the Frontiers group at the end of 2009 as the main coordinator of the marketing and communication office. She became editorial manager at the end of 2010, overseeing all activities related to the current "Frontiers in" journals as well as the launch of new journals.

OPN: How did you know that publishing was your calling?

Costanza: While I sort of stumbled into it by accident, looking back it's clear that I’ve always had a genuine interest in communicating about science. Even during my student years, when I was working on a thermonuclear fusion experiment, I often volunteered to show visitors around our facilities. I enjoyed thinking of new “kitchen physics” examples that could help render complex concepts into something tangible. One of my favorites was figuring out the number of microwave ovens that was required to match the power generated by our electron-cyclotron resonance heating (over 3,000!). Now that I am working at the interface between academia and industry at an international level, there are higher stakes, but it’s still about communicating science.

OPN: How did you use your skills and expertise to start working in this field?

Costanza: It’s been a natural fit. Frontiers was started by a group of active scientists, and I instantly felt aligned with the company’s philosophy of shaping the future of scientific communication. In a way, working for a start-up is similar to research work, in that you have to be very creative in thinking of new initiatives, then pick the most promising ideas and experiment with them. Those skills were well rooted in me, since I came from a research background.

OPN: What are the most difficult and rewarding aspects of your job?

Costanza: The most rewarding part by far is having had an active role in the tremendous progression of Frontiers in just four years of existence. It definitely makes me want to be part of the team continuing to move this forward, although it’s been hard to get to this point: unlike us, many scientists did not initially feel the need for an innovative publisher such as Frontiers. But I consider myself very lucky to have joined at such an early stage.

OPN: What is your perspective on open-access journals and their place in scientific publishing?

Costanza: I am more and more convinced that an online open-access distribution model, with an emphasis on social media, is very much where scientific publishing is headed. There are still many avenues to explore regarding the related business models, so there is space for everyone to come up with new paradigm-shifting initiatives. We are witnessing a revolution in scientific publishing.

 

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Want to Sell Yourself and Your Science? Keep It Positive

4. May 2012

Marc Kuchner

Steve Jobs, late cofounder of Apple Computers, had a reputation as a passionate business leader and modern folk hero. In 1999, one of Jobs’s friends said, “He is single-minded, almost manic, in his pursuit of excellence.” That’s certainly a character trait we scientists can admire.

Jobs was also revered for being a first-rate salesman. While salesmanship may not be the first quality scientists aspire to, successful scientists know that they need to sell themselves in order to get jobs and win grants, especially in these tough economic times.

Part of what made Jobs so great at selling his ideas was his optimism and enthusiasm. Jobs peppered his presentations with words like “extraordinary,” “amazing,” “stunning,” “revolutionary,” and “incredible.” When he gave the opening presentation at the computer expo Macworld ’08, he began his talk with open arms, a broad grin, and the words “We’ve got some great stuff for you. There’s clearly something in the air today.” That kind of enthusiasm helped Apple sell 20,000 iPods every day.

The importance of optimism

Maybe we can’t all match Job’s flair for presentations, but his choice of words—“best,” “great,” “awesome”—provide a clue about the right attitude to have when it comes to selling our science.

Enthusiasm is not something they teach in science class. Far from it. Graduate school is all about being tough and skeptical. But as you may remember from kindergarten, everybody likes people who are positive and enthusiastic; a smile on your face addresses people’s primitive needs for friendship and belonging. A good salesperson considers optimism to be part of his or her job.

To quote Adlai Stevenson, “Pessimism in a diplomat is the equivalent of cowardice in a soldier.” Or to quote Anne Kinney, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, “If you have a method or idea and you believe it works, you have to be optimistic about it.”

The (negative) power of pessimism

To some degree, we can actually quantify just how important enthusiasm is. For some reason, negative expressions leave a more lasting impression on our psyche than positive ones. Specifically, negative messages are five to seven times more powerful than positive ones. Studies show that when a married couple has more than five positive interactions for every negative one, the relationship is considered healthy. But if the couple starts having fewer than five positive interactions for every negative one, divorce is probably imminent.

If you’ve ever sat on a review panel or hiring committee, you have probably noticed that if someone says something strongly negative about an applicant, it leaves a lingering stain that can’t be erased unless several people override it. For this reason it’s important to have at least five to seven members on any decision-making panel. With fewer people on the panel, a single person’s bad feelings can swamp the process, turning it into a black-balling session instead of a thoughtful discussion.

Beating the odds

The disproportionately powerful effect of negativity in review panels is a consequence of human nature that we scientists need to be aware of. For example, if you’re writing a proposal or applying for a faculty position, you might have to impress a committee with slightly fewer members than it ought to have. That means your task might be more about eliminating negatives than dazzling people.

If you find yourself using negative words often—“no,” “useless,” “doubt,” “shouldn’t,” “skeptical,”—people might start associating that kind of unpleasant feeling with you. And it might take five to seven positive interactions to make that bad feeling go away.

Steve Jobs taught us so many things, including the craft of salesmanship, a crucial tool for scientists during these hard times. On behalf of nerds everywhere—we thank you. 

This post was adapted from content originally published on the Scientific American blog.

Marc J. Kuchner (marc@marketingforscientists.com) is an astrophysicist at NASA, a country songwriter, and the author of the book Marketing for Scientists: How To Shine In Tough Times. His website can be found at http://www.marketingforscientists.com/.

 

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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 (paramountist@gmail.com) 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 (bafranta@fas.harvard.edu) is a graduate student studying applied physics at Harvard University and the president of Harvard’s OSA student chapter.

Career Path, Communication Skills, Graduate School, OSA Student Chapters , , ,

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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