Welcome to a new school year! Fall in the Northern Hemisphere is my favorite season, and here in Bellingham we're getting the last few days of sun before the winter rains come in earnest. Fall also reminds me that, like summer, nothing lasts forever, not even graduate school!
For those of you who are facing a job hunt, be it for a post-doc, faculty spot, government lab, or a job in industry, this year, I have some good news to report. The people I have talked to at conferences this year have a cautious optimism that the optics market is seeing an up-turn. In the US, government funding for laboratories (NIST, NSF, NOAA, NASA, DOE, etc.) that deal with optics-based research has passed a major legislative hurdle. Once past the appropriations stage, the America COMPETES bill will put those agencies on a 5-7 year budget doubling path. Europe is also seeing a better climate for funding, with Erasmus programs throughout the continent and an optics platform in the EU Framework. This should translate into jobs for graduates over the next few years.
Of course, even with good economic indications, job hunters still find success primarily through their personal networks. One of the first networks that might help you find a job is your SPIE Student Chapter. Colleagues you meet through the chapter migrate out into the optics world, and you never know where a connection might prove critical.
Chapters need to constantly recruit members, to replace graduates (now alumni). The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to have a recruitment drive to replenish their numbers. Students still feel like they have some uncommitted free time, and hopefully the organizers do too. Many universities have a student activities fair at the beginning of the semester so new students can learn about clubs. Having an information table at the fair or an event that coincides with a fair can be a major step to having students learn about your chapter.
You may find that many students do not understand what the purpose of a professional society is, especially if they are younger. Several people have even told me that their language lacks the words to accurately describe what a chapter is. Do your best! There are many materials in the student section of the SPIE website that can help. While not everyone will take full advantage of the benefits of the chapter, those that do get involved will form the core of this continuing network of students and future colleagues.
Graduation and jobs may seem a long way off at this point, but it is (hopefully!) inevitable. SPIE is working to help its student members make successful transitions. You may have noticed the new look for SPIE.org, and the ability to enter a graduation date into your personal profile. Please take a moment to update this piece of information! As we expand our programs for new graduates, having a graduation date in our system will make you eligible for new benefits for Early Career Professionals. Similar to our students program, we will be adding events and topics to our conferences that provide skills and build networks for new graduates.
Finally, I would also like to send a personal thank you to all the students who made Optics + Photonics a fun and successful conference this year. Jason and I got a lot of new ideas, and most importantly, got to share your enthusiasm for optics, education, and your chapters. I would especially like to thank the veteran chapter leaders that made an extra effort to return to San Diego with their own funding to contribute to the conference. Thanks! Look for more student events and events for Student Chapters at Photonics West and Photonics Europe. We'll see you in San Diego again next year.
Good luck for the coming year!
- Dirk Fabian