Jessica Ramella-Roman - 2022 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Department of Biomedical Engineering and Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine,
Florida International University, USA
Born in Italy
I grew up in Italy and when I was in my late teens the first computers became available to the general public. It was the beginning of a technological revolution and an incredibly exciting time. I had a Commodore 64 and I remember having a great time creating very rudimentary video games. My love for technology and engineering started then. I have always loved reading and writing and for the longest time I considered a career in the humanities, but ultimately, I found the pursuit of scientific knowledge and problem solving at the core of this field to be addictive and worth spending my life doing.
I am the director of a research group and a professor in the biomedical engineering department at FIU. My time is split between research, teaching, service to the university, such as serving in committees, and outreach activities. As a research group, we have different projects and interests all focusing on photonics. We are studying the way polarized light interacts with biological media as a way to establish new diagnostic modalities. For example, we use contrast that polarized light offers to collagen to determine the risk of a preterm labor in women. We are also interested in the use of light for the design of more inclusive wearables for underserved populations, and we are particularly focusing on the obese population whose access to medical care is often limited.
I grew up in a very patriarchal society where I found little support for my budding interest in science. Being one of the few women in my class felt very isolating and brought up a feeling of being an outsider and that I did not belong in that community. It has taken me many years to feel completely at home within the research community of STEM and I give much credit to my graduate advisors and some of my colleagues, now friends, for welcoming and supporting me.
I wish somebody had told me that setbacks are common and that everybody must deal with them in one way or another. Dealing with rejection may, at times, feel overwhelming and it is all too frequent in the academic environment. Be it a new position, a promotion, or a research proposal rejection, know that you are not alone, and that grit and persistence are indispensable to succeed.
I would recommend young girls considering a career in STEM to find a community of people with common interests. Even if it is a small group of like-minded individuals, sharing a passion and ideas with others is extremely enriching and motivating, not to mention that it’s never too early to start networking!