President's Letter

Work and 'real life' in optics and photonics

01 October 2014
H. Philip Stahl

As your 2014 president, I have endeavored to meet with as many stakeholders as possible. To do this, I have attended or visited over 12 conferences and exhibits, 24 universities and student chapters, and 12 companies and laboratories so far this year. I have listened and learned.

Repeatedly, I was asked two difficult-to-answer questions. Students want to know about ‘work-life balance’ and the professors and engineers want to know why they should be members.

The people at each organization I visit are eager to tell me about their involvement in SPIE, how many conferences they help organize, how many members they have, etc. Nonetheless, sometimes I encounter individuals who are highly active in organizing and running SPIE events, even teaching short courses, but who are not members.

This is our challenge. SPIE is not the staff in Bellingham and Cardiff. SPIE is its members. Without members, there is no SPIE.


So, why should someone be a member of SPIE? Members give their time and talent because they believe in the purpose and core values of SPIE: stewardship as well as serving community, knowledge, and the profession. Everything SPIE does is because of our core values.

SPIE serves by creating, growing, and connecting communities. These communities are organized around technical disciplines or geographic areas. Additionally, our Fellows, Senior Members, and Awards programs recognize the important contributions of members of each community.

SPIE serves by acquiring, vetting, and distributing information, from basic research as well as applied engineering that turns science and technology into applications and products.

SPIE serves the needs of our profession by supporting optics and photonics education, conducting public outreach, and engaging in policy advocacy. Finally, SPIE understands that we have a stewardship responsibility to govern the Society with transparency and fiscal responsibility.

So, if you believe in the purpose and core values of SPIE, then you should be an active member.


The work-life balance question is much more difficult for me to answer. First, I admit it; I am a workaholic. Because I have never been the best among my peers, what I have achieved has come by pushing myself hard to expand my boundaries.

Second, any advice on work-life is fraught with risk because the ‘right answer’ differs for each of us. From my 35-year professional career and marriage, I have learned that to be truly successful, one must work equally hard at work and life – maybe just not both at the same time.

Also, you must have a ‘life.’ There must be something that is more important than you or your work to give meaning to your being. It is OK to work hard if there is the potential for a clear personal or financial benefit. At the same time, you must be careful to avoid being exploited.

When I was in graduate school, I had to eliminate the distractions and extracurricular activities I had accumulated from my youth to concentrate all my efforts on earning my PhD. And, early in my career, I was known to work 60-hour weeks or more; in retrospect, that was a mistake. Unfortunately, I have many friends and colleagues whose employers still expect 60-hour weeks.

I think this is unwise for both the employee and employer. I know of no one whose ability to productively solve problems is enhanced by consistently working more than eight hours a day.

Conversely, I know of no one whose creativity is not enhanced by spending time away from the problem while engaged in a hobby, serving their community, or spending time with their family. Regardless of whether you are an employee or employer, a team member or team lead, the keys to enhancing productivity are personal job satisfaction, physical and emotional health, hobbies or interests, and a commitment to serve one’s family and community.

I am proud of my professional accomplishments and honored to have been your 2014 SPIE President. However, nothing in my life is more important than being a son to my parents; a husband to Karen; a father to Michael, Mark, and Sarah; and a grandfather to Anna and Greg.

H. Philip Stahl
2014 SPIE President

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