Inga Saknite

Inga Saknite - 2020 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Vanderbilt Dermatology Translational Research Clinic
Vanderbilt University Medical Center, USA

SPIE Early Career Professional Member

Inga Saknite

Country of Birth: Latvia
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: PhD in Physics, University of Latvia


When I was five years old, I drew a bright, yellow, smiling sun to show what I wanted to be when I grew up. I could not draw a person yet, but I wanted to draw my mom, an MD at a regional hospital, and someone who shines her light to help people. Now looking back, the five-year-old me probably knew even then that one day my passion would be applying light to work on clinical challenges to help people. I was also fortunate to have inspiring teachers. Under my math teacher’s mentorship, our project won the local, regional, and national science project competitions, representing Latvia at the European competition—my world opened up to opportunities I would have otherwise never even dreamed of.

Now at Vanderbilt, I conduct research dedicated to developing noninvasive imaging biomarkers for a serious, potentially deadly immune-mediated disease which often develops in patients who have undergone a stem cell transplant as the only cure for their blood cancer. We hope that these biomarkers will help us detect increased immune cell activity early, before clinical signs of the disease, thus allowing physicians to make more informed treatment decisions.

Up until high school, I was utterly terrified of speaking in front of a class. During that meaningful high school math class, I decided that to win the science project competitions, I had to look all my fellow Latvian students in the eye while I presented. It might have been one of the hardest and scariest things I ever did, but it worked. Now I give talks at international conferences in a non-native language, and, yes, I am still terrified. But as you learn to accept and face your fear, eventually it does not seem that scary anymore.

All my career-life-changing moments have happened thanks to a mentor. My mother, my teacher, my university professor, my friend, my advisor, someone who inspires me, someone who pushes me beyond what I think I can achieve. In this very competitive, often stressful and non-routine environment that is academia, we all need and deserve a great mentor, especially in the very early stages of our careers. Learn to find and recognize great mentors. If you are inspired by someone and want to become like them, write them a letter and ask for guidance, even if they live across the ocean. Surround yourself, even if only virtually, by people who inspire you and who care. A great mentor will always genuinely want you to be successful.

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