For this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Inmaculada Pascual. Inmaculada is currently a professor of optics at University of Alicante, Spain, where she served from 2005 to 2013 as director of the Department of Optics, Pharmacology and Anatomy. Her research focuses on holography, mainly on holographic recording material, holographic optical elements and optical data processing and storage, and visual optics, mostly in intraocular lenses.
What first interested you in pursuing science?
I have always been interested in the sciences; it seems very exciting to me. Many times, I have asked, How or why do things work? When I was in high school, I had a physics teacher who explained physics concepts aided by experiments. His classes and my interest for solving problems motivated me to pursue studies in science in general and physics in particular.
Have you encountered a period where you have been discouraged in your pursuit of science? If so, how did you persevere?
When I was in the middle of my physics career, I felt “in the mists,” as some topics were not what I expected. At that time, however, I read an outreach article about holography in which Spanish researchers from the University of Alicante made the first hologram. I dreamed of being part of that research team. Fortunately, when I finished my degree, one of my teachers at the University of Granada, Spain, now a professor of optics, put me in contact with the holographic research team of the University of Alicante, and from then until now my work has focused on holography.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you were given as a student/early in your career?
“You can reach all you want or all you dream.”
I had never thought that I'd be an optics researcher and here I am! The only important thing is to put it as a target—even if you are a woman and if you want to not only develop a research career but to also have children. You can always reach your dreams and make it compatible with a personal life!
What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
Well, professional conferences and networking events are always very useful for staying up to date, and webinars are helpful for understanding a new trend, but sometimes it is not possible to attend a specific conference or event. Nevertheless, I try to be continuously active by looking for the latest papers in different journals of my research field; this is always an effortless way to keep updated.
Of the conferences you’ve attended, has there been a stand-out topic/session/interaction that really stuck with you or changed your perspective?
One of the first conferences that I attended when I was a Ph.D. student comes to my mind. I attended the talks and met several researchers in my topic. It had me feeling like a part of this scientific community and motivated me to work for reaching the best results in the future.
The last event that I attended was the first celebration of the International Day of Light in Paris on 16 May 2018. I was very impressed by the diversity of fields and applications involving light, optics and photonics. At the same time, I was astonished with light-based technologies and their multidisciplinary approaches. This type of event gives an idea about the importance of light in society in general and how it can change our lives.
What tips for successful networking do you have for early-career professionals?
Have a high self-esteem and never be afraid to be wrong! One important thing is to be in contact with other professionals, students and society in general and to take a moment to hear them.
What tips do you have for effective collaboration in your field?
Have a close relationship with coworkers and colleagues, to create a friendly atmosphere that allows them to express their ideas and feelings without fear of being wrong.
What have you learned by being a mentor to others, and what have you learned from mentors who helped shepherd your career?
Mentors are grateful when the mentored person receives the advice and uses it to pursue their own talent. Everybody has a talent, a great skill, and often the mentor sees it before the mentee, I think. Mostly, these kind of things, skills or talents, are more evident from an outside perspective. When I began my professional career, I had the chance to pay attention to my mentor and this attitude gave me the possibility to guide my efforts to more realistic goals and dreams.
How do you define success in your career?
Success in my career is to reach a little aim, through several steps every day, month or year. When I turn back, the sum of those steps or targets has given me a big goal!
How important are leadership roles in career development and how do you hone your leadership skills?
A leadership role in career development is important because every day you must make your mind up at work and of course in your personal life. I like to make decisions because this means that I run my own career and my life toward what I consider to be the correct way. Leadership skills are not only to trend your own life to a specific direction, but also to be worried about the people around you in your professional life.
What advice do you have for young scientists who are about to interview for their first job?
Not to be afraid to show yourself as you are in an interview. The interviewer has experience in catching your hidden talents, but do not forget to learn about the company before the interview to show him or her that you have a great interest, and of course, do your best!
At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?
Having an extensive research team, starting up the new spaces for research laboratories, and having the funding to hire the necessary researchers for the development and proper functioning of them.
If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?
I would like to design houses, to make over spaces and optimize them. Another possibility is to have a big garden with plenty of flowers and exotic plants.