Heidi Ottevaere - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Professor in Photonics and Programme Director, Master of Science in Photonics Engineering
Department of Applied Physics and Photonics, Brussels Photonics (B-PHOT),
Vrije Universiteit, Brussels
SPIE Senior Member
Born in Brussels
As a child I never played with dolls, but loved to play with Legos and Playmobil. My elementary-school teachers sparked my interest in math and science with various simple but really cool experiments. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to become a scientist.
I am currently chairing the Applied Physics and Photonics Department of the Faculty of Engineering at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) that is responsible for the photonics education curriculum. I am also responsible for the instrumentation and metrology platform at our VUB Photonics Campus and the research unit “biophotonics” of the Brussels Photonics Team B-PHOT. I coordinate and work on multiple research and industrial projects focusing on the design, fabrication, and characterization of different types of photonic components and systems in the field of biophotonics, interferometry, holography, and imaging.
The biggest challenge I have faced is learning when a concept or project is flawed for reasons that are not technical. As a young researcher, I thought the success and failure of an endeavor was completely driven by the technical validity. Later on, I understood that this is not always the case. These experiences teach you that you should never give up: failures only make you stronger and more successful.
Studying engineering as a woman never seemed special to me. Later I had to learn that some people saw me as a woman who was part of a quota. I wish I had had a better understanding of this perception when I started.
Being successful in any career requires hard work, but most of all it requires that you enjoy what you are doing. In my opinion, having successful female scientists as role models is the best way to attract young women into science and engineering. My advice towards young girls and women is: believe in yourself and your own capabilities! Be aware of your own unique set of skills and keep on looking for your niche. STEM is the ultimate playground!