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Nan Marie Jokerst

Nan Marie Jokerst

Dr. Nan Marie Jokerst
(in front, 2nd from right)
J.A. Jones Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Duke University, USA

Who or what inspired your career choice? My earliest inspiration was a mixture of the sublime and the practical. Like many children my age, I lay on the driveway on warm summer nights looking up at the stars in the sky aand longed to know more. On the practical side, in the first grade, my Uncle George, who is a photogrammetrist, offered me $5 if I could solve an algebra problem! Both fueled my all consuming curiosity.
Later inspirations included one of the first HP programmable scientific calculators (a gift from Uncle George), and a series of teachers who were enthusiastic and encouraging. I was enticed into Physics at Creighton by their outstanding professors and by students in the Physics Club, who ran a variety of public service activities and appeared to have a lot of fun.
My career and impact potential increased by orders of magnitude when I was chosen as a summer intern at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Labs in New York during my Junior and Senior years as an undergraduate. My first glimpse of world-class research was so exciting that I applied to some of the best graduate schools in the United States. My thesis advisor in graduate school, Elsa Garmire, continues to be an inspiration, and I appreciate her guidance to this day.
Finally, in my career, I still lay on the driveway and look up at the stars at night (albeit with my kids crawling all over me now), and want to know more.

What is exciting about your work? The most exciting aspect of my work is the thrill of creation with a group of people. Working on a team with other faculty, researchers, and students (both graduate and undergraduate) is an incredible community experience. When these groups achieve success on a project, we experience a powerful sense of capability and creativity that is rarely matched in other aspects of life. We dream of something, we design it, we figure out how to make it, we test it, we fix it (because it rarely works the first time), and then it works!

Knowing what you know now, what educational route would you recommend for aspiring optical scientist? To realize your dreams, which may change with time, leave open every door that you can for your future. Study math and science, as well as business, literature, writing, and communication, because they will all come in handy during your career. Always ask your teachers how you might find the information in their classes useful. Tell them what your aspirations are, and seek out their guidance and support. You will succeed with persistence, hard work, and asking lots of questions.