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G. Charmaine Gilbreath

Head, Freespace Photonics Communications
Office Naval Research Laboratory
Associate Technology Director, National Signatures Program
Defense Intelligence Agency

Country of origin: USA

What I do.
At the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), I am the Head of the Freespace Photonics Communications Office. In that role, I serve as the principal investigator in retro-modulator-based freespace optical communications. At the National Signatures Program (NSP), I participate in defining the thematic thrusts each year in our Call for Papers, and then administer the evaluation and execution of stipends to awardees in the research-and-development signatures community.

What I find exciting.
Conducting research in an area where you and your group are one of just a few others in the world studying a given problem is a remarkable rush! There is no feeling like it. Also, if you are lucky enough to be in a position to transition your inventions and innovations to users whose lives can be made better by your work, that is enormously satisfying.

What I wish someone had told me.
Take as much math as possible! Also, don't be afraid of less than stellar grades from time to time. These problems in science and engineering are hard. Some problems in graduate school were someone's master's thesis once. Also, you can "have it all," i.e., family and career; however, maybe not all at once. (By the way, wearing nail polish does not make you any less an engineer.)