Midyear Update from the CEO

24 June 2020

I hope everyone is in good health and doing well.

We've made it half-way through 2020, and to say it has been strange would be an understatement. Some like to talk about a new normal, but I would be deeply disappointed for 2020 to ever be considered normal in any sense, and I hope it turns out to be an anomaly as we work towards a better tomorrow.

Despite the disruptions, SPIE continues in our mission to partner with researchers, educators, and industry to advance light-based research and technologies for the betterment of the human condition. I have been amazed and inspired by the resilience of our community and the SPIE staff as we do this work. After a successful start to the year, including the largest Photonics West ever, we have pivoted to digital forums in place of three in-person events. We are actively putting together the program for our fourth, and largest digital forum to date, SPIE Optics + Photonics.

I feel sympathy for the young researchers who were scheduled to give their first conference presentation this year. I still remember my first presentation, coincidentally at an SPIE event, and how much it introduced me to the broader scientific community and opened a world of opportunity. The thrill of going to a conference and presenting in front of your peers is truly a special and empowering experience.

Looking back on those in-person events early in the year, I fondly remember the friendliness and enthusiasm of presenters, exhibitors, attendees, and volunteers. Coming together as a community to show progress, ask questions, and make connections is as essential to science and technology as the science itself. Until we can safely come together again in person, we will continue to serve our role in bringing people together but will do so in the digital world.

Shifting to digital forums wasn’t easy. Bellingham, WA – where SPIE headquarters is located – was very close to the US’s first COVID-19 cases, so SPIE staff had earlier experience with video meetings interrupted by pets and wifi glitches, juggling remote work with kids home from school closures, all on top of normal daily demands. Life got really complicated. We knew our community was dealing with the same challenges; that you are not just researchers and engineers, but also parents who may now be caring for children at home, and employees whose jobs and lives have become much more complex. Taking part in a meeting for a few days would be challenging.

We chose to remove the time-zone requirements, minimize technology requirements, and hopefully help with job and family demands, by creating an on-demand format to let you work within your schedule. Our attendance is international, and that avoided talks in the middle of the night as well. Learning to function during a global pandemic is complex on its own, and we feel strongly about making sure we are not asking too much of our volunteers and participants.

But we do recognize the importance of shared experiences. The Optics + Photonics plenaries will be live with audience participation, and we are creating offerings to recreate, as best we can, the networking that is vital to collaboration, innovation, and simple humanity.

We have also chosen to provide these digital forums at no-charge for both attendees and authors. Our purpose is to serve the international optics and photonics community, and we see this as an opportunity to step up and serve. We're proud to be able to do this during this trying time.

It gives me great pride to lead a non-profit organization that invests in its community. Acknowledging the pressures our university community is experiencing and the importance of access to research, we have also rolled back our subscription pricing for our Digital Library by 10 percent for 2021. In 2019, SPIE provided more than $5.6 million in community support, and despite the economic strains of 2020, we will continue to provide this support and will be above that amount by the end of the year as we fund four new endowments. These endowments represent our commitment to the future of the optics and photonics community. They will support undergraduates, post-docs, and professors for years to come, ensuring a successful pipeline of future researchers, engineers, and innovators to solve the global problems of tomorrow.

In the United States, we have recently seen increased acknowledgment of racial inequalities, and I am proud that SPIE has already been working to create a more diverse and equitable optics and photonics community. Diversity of people and ideas is crucial to the scientific and engineering enterprise. We can’t change the world, but SPIE will work to eliminate racism, harassment, and other forms of behavior within our community that do not align with our stated values.

Looking forward to the second half of 2020, we hope global situations will improve, and our ability to meet again will materialize. If it doesn't, we will continue to create offerings that aim to meet your needs with minimal barriers for participation. We know this year has been trying for most, and we miss creating world-class events and spending time with you all.

Every day I am in awe of the dedication of the SPIE staff to serve our community and the thoughtfulness they bring to the task. I am confident in their ability to continue our tradition of excellent customer service and professionalism to you, the members and constituents of SPIE.

I hope to see some of those smiling faces I remember from the spring at an upcoming event, either online or in-person. Until then, I hope the remainder of the year brings you all progress in your personal and professional endeavors, but most of all, health and happiness.

Kent Rochford

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