Women in Optics Calendar

Career advice in the 2017 SPIE Women in Optics monthly planner.

01 January 2017

logo for SPIE Women in OpticsThe desire to understand how things work, inspiration from early space missions, and encouragement from mentors are among the many reasons women featured in the 2017 SPIE Women in Optics monthly planner have devoted their lives to careers in science and technology. This spiral-bound calendar includes pictures, stories, and advice from 28 female professionals making a difference in the world of optics and photonics.

The women shared what inspired them to work in science and engineering, their primary responsibilities at their current job, the biggest obstacles or challenges they have faced in their careers, advice they wish they had received, and what advice they would give to young women considering a career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).

Finding good mentors, surrounding yourself with encouraging people, getting out of your comfort zone, and following your dreams were the most prevalent pieces of advice shared by these accomplished individuals.


“In second grade, I fell in love with astronomy during a day trip to NASA’s Houston Space Center,” says SPIE member Sona Hosseini, research and instrument scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab at the California Institute of Technology (USA). “They told me I needed a PhD to work there. I thought that my mom and I could purchase a PhD and I’d be back the next day!

“It took me 26 years before I got back to NASA — with my PhD — but this time I was an employee,” Hosseini says. Hosseini says her family played a key role in supporting her and helping her find the best mentors who could guide her curiosity for the universe.

SPIE member Adi Diner, an engineering project manager at Spectra-Physics (USA), leads teams of engineers from different disciplines to turn ideas into products such as lasers used in physics, chemistry, and biology research labs. “I wish I learned earlier that even after many years in the industry, you do not need to know everything,” Diner says. “Asking other team members and brainstorming as a team has proven to be an amazing way for all of us to learn and find innovative solutions.”

Tracy Fung, who leads the sensor integration team at Illumina (USA), says both her parents encouraged her to pursue engineering, but her childhood inspirations were Marie Curie and Sally Ride. “At university, it was the female professors I had at both University of Washington and at Stanford that kept me inspired,” she adds.


SPIE member Mercedeh Khajavikhan, an assistant professor at CREOL, the College of Optics & Photonics at University of Central Florida (USA), believes science “is a way to understand the world on a deeper level.” She has always wanted to pursue a career in science but says she wishes someone had told her early on “that math was really worth learning.”

A major part of research is finding a problem to solve, she says. And “good math skills are crucial to come up with new big ideas and to express them in the proper format. It’s also important to read the history of physics. You see how and where ideas are generated.”

SPIE member Loling Song, who grew up in China during turbulent political times, when sociopolitical conformity was needed to survive, says her parents created a microenvironment for her where they encouraged self-expression and independent study of math, chess, electronics, world literature, and classical music.

“My parents instilled in me that one can take pride in choosing a path less travelled. I never regretted being in a field where women are outnumbered by men,” she says.

Today, Song has transitioned from an academic scientist to the founder and CEO of ChiSquare Bioimaging (China), the ultimate success. Her company’s current focus is around single-photon counting technology and fiber optics for fluorescence lifetime detection in the deep-brain structures of rodents for the study of human diseases.

“Stay true to yourself,” she advises those interested in a STEM career. “To me, it is exciting and rewarding to be adventurous and go beyond my comfort zone to explore new territories,” she says. “Life is short, but it is possible to have very different life experiences in one lifetime.”


Having family in the fields of STEM had an influence on several of the women featured in the new SPIE Women in Optics planner. When SPIE student member Astghik Chalyan was in high school in Armenia, she visited her older sister at Yerevan State University. From then on, she knew she would pursue a career in STEM. Every time she visited the physics department, she was inspired by the portraits of pioneering scientists such as Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Maxwell, and others who changed the world.

Chalyan, who is a PhD student at Russian-Armenian University, advises those interested in STEM to “have a goal and to be brave seeking its realization. Define what you really want and be honest with yourself about your dreams.”

Irene Sterian, executive director of ReMAP (Canada), was also influenced by her family to explore a career in STEM. Her father was an electrical engineer, and her mother was a chemist.

Sterian has always loved mathematics, the ubiquitous nature of science, and the universal language of innovation. “As a lifelong learner, I’m never bored in this profession, and I’m energized to make a significant impact in everything I do,” she says.

The planner is distributed at no charge to SPIE members, career counselors, science teachers, community clubs, and others. To receive a copy, email customerservice@spie.org

SPIE members featured in 2017 planner

Thirteen of the 28 women featured in the 2017 SPIE Women in Optics planner are SPIE members.

They include SPIE Senior Members Audrey Bowden of Stanford University (USA); Celine d’Orgeville from Australian National University (Australia); Irene Georgakoudi, associate professor at Tufts University (USA); and Chrysanthe Preza, an associate professor at University of Memphis (USA).

Other SPIE members included are:

  • Astghik Chalyan, Russian-Armenian University (Armenia)
  • Adi Diner, Spectra-Physics (USA)
  • Virginia Ford, Thirty Meter Telescope Project (USA)
  • Shila Ghosh, BP Poddar Institute of Management & Technology (India)
  • Sona Hosseini, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (USA)
  • Mercedeh Khajavikhan, University of Central Florida (USA)
  • Karen Newman, Laurin Publishing/Photonics Media (USA)
  • Nada O’Brien, Viavi Solutions (USA)
  • Loling Song, ChiSquare Bioimaging (China)

–Bjorn Thorpe is a public relations intern at SPIE

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