Ruth Empson

Ruth Empson - 2016-17 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Principal Investigator, University of Otago, New Zealand

Ruth Empson

Country of Birth: United Kingdom
Country of Residence: New Zealand
Educational Background: PhD, Imperial College London; MA, Natural Sciences, University of Oxford


I can never remember NOT being interested in science! I have always been fascinated by the natural world. As a young woman I was lucky to have inspirational  biology, chemistry, and physics teachers who recognized that passion. My family wanted me to go into medicine, but I was fortunate that they respected my decision to follow my interests in science. It was very helpful to have that kind of support.

As a Principal Investigator and University Academic, I juggle my time between research, teaching, and administration. Of course, administration is most definitely not my passion; rather, leading and teaching my team of young scientists, writing the project grants that fund our activities, and even doing experiments are the reasons I get up in the morning!

A scientific life is full of challenges; rising and meeting those challenges is what helps us progress and makes us stronger. Experiments fail and we have to understand why and move the work in a better or different direction. This can take courage and a great deal of persistence.

Learning how to present yourself and your work in a very positive manner is something that has taken me a long time to learn. Like many scientists (not all) I am rather introspective (we think about things - that’s why we are scientists!), and like others, I arrogantly thought the science would speak for itself.

Be creative, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Have faith in your own ideas, and make mistakes, but be prepared to fail. Learning to accept failure is a major part of self-development.

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