Fei Xia - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
The Kastler–Brossel Laboratory (ENS, Sorbonne University, PSL, CNRS)
SPIE Early Career Professional Member
Born in China
My initial inspiration to pursue STEM was from my father. I became very interested in math under his influence and attended several math competitions. Growing up in a city known as the Optics Valley of China, I had heard a lot of exciting news on advances in optoelectronics. So I naturally chose a major in photonics in my undergraduate study to fulfill my curiosity. My background makes my research interest two-fold: I am interested in theoretical aspects and applications of optics and imaging. During my PhD, I worked on tool development for deep brain imaging. I also spent quite some time thinking about their potential applications in medicine and biology. During my postdoc, I will be more focused on combining computational tools with the hardware to further open doors to more exciting capabilities of imaging.
My primary responsibilities are to help mentor students and to conduct research in combining computational tools with optical imaging to overcome current limits in imaging. I have always been amazed at how imaging helps uncover unknown phenomena and have never been bored. I also enjoy the interdisciplinary aspect of my research. I see how my work can impact real-world applications and advance science in various fields, which brings me great satisfaction.
The biggest challenges I have faced are learning how to handle stress properly during research, and how to build a professional environment with male colleagues in a male-dominant field. When I am stressed out I have learned to give myself a break. Sometimes mental stress requires physical rest. Having a hobby outside work also helps. Creating a professional environment meant learning how to communicate more effectively. I read a lot about management skills and a growth mindset.
Follow your intuition and curiosity when you do science. I found I enjoyed my research the most when my curiosity drove me. And enjoy the freedom of doing science. It’s also helpful to have a growth mindset and be open-minded, which helps you think out of the box and gradually change your stereotype of yourself, your work, your colleagues, etc. Be grateful for the people you feel comfortable working with and learn to work with different people professionally. There is always something to learn from others. Finally, I hope everyone enjoys science and working in STEM.
And to young women interested in STEM I say, always have faith in yourself. I genuinely think a strong self-belief and following your heart will eventually take you to wherever you want to go.