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Michelle Povinelli

WiSE Gabilan Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
Country of birth: USA

Educational background: PhD Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA; MPhil Physics, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; BA Physics, University of Chicago, USA

Michelle PovinelliWho or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
I have always loved talking about new concepts and arguing about ideas. And I love that in science and engineering, you get to put your ideas to the test, via simulations or experiments. What I really enjoy about the optics and photonics fields is that you can connect basic science ideas and concepts to
practical applications.

Primary responsibilities of your current job
I am an assistant professor at a major research university. I run a research group with postdoctoral researchers, PhD students, and undergraduate researchers. We focus on micro- and nanophotonics, the study of light interaction with nanostructured materials. We use theory, computation, and experiments to study the physics of light interactions, design novel devices, and study their application in optical communications, solar energy, and biology.

I recruit members to my group, supervise their research projects, set the scientific directions and goals, raise money to keep our activities funded, and help share our results through scientific publications and presentations. I am also involved in outreach activities to the general public. I teach classes related to optics, photonics, and semiconductor device physics to undergraduate and graduate students. Another component of the job is service to the university and scientific community: for example, I serve as a topical editor for the journal Optics Express.

Advice you wish you had received when you were first starting out
The challenge of scientific research is that no one is going to define the task for you. You must constantly reinvent your own agenda. What questions are you interested in asking, and how are you going to answer them? To make progress in research, you have to ask yourself every day: What have I done so far? Why am I doing it? Where am I stuck, and what can I do next to make progress?