Christina Willis

Christina Willis   - 2015 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Vision Engineering Solutions, LLC., USA
Country of Birth: USA

Educational Background: BA, Physics, Wellesley College; MSc and PhD, Optics, The College of Optics at the University of Central Florida

Christina WillisOne of the greatest challenges I have faced thus far in my career was finishing my doctorate. Many times my project was faced with delays, often due circumstances outside of my control, and at times it was hard to maintain and optimistic outlook. But I got through it, finished my project, and graduated, in part because I simply refused to give up. I learned a lot about not letting my (sometimes failed) expectations on how an experiment "should" go get the better of me, because there's a lot of amazing science that happens when something happens that you don't expect!

I have become a big believer in the phrase "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". There are times in my life during which I wish I had been more willing to be a squeaky wheel, more willing to ask for help or direction. Being a woman in a male-dominated field, I have sometimes imposed pressure on myself not to "look dumb", which can be counterproductive especially if it means holding back questions. I wish someone had encouraged me to be that squeaky wheel sooner!

STEM is exciting because it's all about problem solving, finding a new and creative way to do something better, or creating a new understanding of how the world around us works. Do it! It's not easy, sometimes I look at a problem I have to solve, and it feels like I'm standing at the foot of a mountain that I have no idea how to climb. But, little by little, I can pick the problem apart, and when I do make it to the top of the mountain (and I almost always do, sometimes it just takes a while), it feels great! It makes my work very rewarding.

Most scientists I know love their work, and are very hard workers. These same scientists often struggle with finding time to relax and take care of themselves. I think it's important to look at relaxation as a lucrative investment, one which ultimately makes you happier and more productive. Taking time away from work, to exercise, cook a good meal, or just sit, can make your mind sharper and more agile.