President's Letter

Attending SPIE events can advance your optics career.

01 July 2014
H. Philip Stahl

Attending SPIE events is beneficial to individuals and their employers at all stages of a career, and conferences are great places to find a role model – or become one.

Whether your career stage is student, high-level manager or educator, or somewhere in between, SPIE events provide supplemental learning, professional development opportunities, and networking that can result in career advancement.

SPIE events have benefited me — and my employers — at every stage of my career.

My first SPIE event was the SPIE annual meeting in San Diego, CA (USA). SPIE had awarded travel grants to a number of us students from the University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center.

I fell in love with SPIE. I felt at home. It was a community of engineers and entrepreneurs who respected and even liked each other. I have not missed that San Diego meeting since. Most of my professional mentors and collaborators and many of my personal friends are people I met through SPIE.

When I was a graduate student, presentations by leaders in our community augmented my education and improved my research. Pick any SPIE conference, and you will encounter the top people across the international community, the full spectrum from basic researchers to industry R&D dynamos and clinicians wanting to be in on the leading edge of new treatment and diagnostic modalities. Also, presenting my results made me a better researcher.


When I took my first job, SPIE conferences and exhibitions were how we advertised our capabilities, solicited new business, and conducted competition research.

As I moved from an assistant professor, back to industry and then to government, presenting and publishing proceedings papers continued to mature my career. Listening to and reading proceedings made me a better employee. However, this is only half of the story. Helping organize conferences and reviewing submitted papers is an excellent way to stay current.

Then there are the networking opportunities and hallway conversations. As a student and engineer, I learned much from such exchanges. Even today, they are a constant source of new opportunities.

Some of my favorite SPIE symposia memories are of attending the awards banquet in San Diego. I enjoyed seeing which of my professors would be promoted to Fellow or presented an award. At the poolside receptions, I noticed every Fellow ribbon and wondered what important contributions that person had made to our community. I aspired to a career that might be Fellow-worthy.


As president of SPIE, I have the pleasure to present awards and to recognize Senior Members and Fellows. Recently, I conferred four Fellow pins at SPIE Photonics Europe and eight at SPIE DSS.

But my message is not that our award winners, Fellows, and Senior Members are just individuals of distinction; they are also role models for students and junior engineers to emulate.

At a recent SPIE Student Chapter Leadership Workshop, I joined a discussion on IQ, technical knowledge, and emotional intelligence.

The facilitators explained that while all of us have a basic intellectual capacity, which differs from technical knowledge, what really determines our professional success is emotional capacity (defined as the ability to listen to and understand the needs of others).

In other words, science and engineering are “team sports” and success comes to those who can work well with others. Fortunately, emotional capacity, like knowledge, can be learned and continuously improved.

I believe three other factors are equally critical to success. First is the ability to communicate and second is the ambition to communicate. What you know has no value if you lack the skill and ambition to communicate it to others.

Third is to know yourself and understand how to apply your unique combination of abilities, strengths, interests, and ambitions. Unfortunately, most of us, and especially students, lack the experience and wisdom to see the full range of possibilities to which we might apply our talents. It is for this reason that mentors are so important to success.

Just as I have benefited from mentors, someone right now could benefit from your mentorship. And it does not matter where you are in your professional career. You are a role model to someone.

Hope to see you at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego this August.

H. Philip Stahl
2014 SPIE President

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