Heejeong Jeong on Finding Your Niche

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Heejeong Jeong

In this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Heejeong Jeong. Heejeong is currently an associate professor of physics at the University of Malaya, Malaysia. After working as a postdoc at Dartmouth College, USA, Heejeong moved to Samsung Electronics’ Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, South Korea, where she carried out research and development of the next-generation optoelectronic devices. In 2016, Heejeong joined the department of physics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as a research assistant professor investigating a sub-natural narrowband biphoton generation in a hot atomic system and solid-state ensembles. Heejeong’s research interests are fundamental light-matter interaction and quantum optics for application of quantum optical devices.

What first interested you in pursuing science?

In my high-school years, I loved to look at the sky and stars on my way back home at night. I was curious about how the universe evolved from the big bang. I also kept thinking about whether we can travel in time or not.

What aspect of your current work do you find the most interesting or exciting?

We always need to overcome a big hurdle to apply our knowledge to solve a real issue, like compact/integrated photonics, materials and ease-of-fabrication processing for quantum optical devices utilizing atomic, molecular and optical physics. In such problem solving, there is always a fundamental question to answer; that is the type of research topic that I am quite interested in as a physicist, which is sometimes solved in a counterintuitive way.

Have you encountered a period where you have been discouraged in your pursuit of science? If so, how did you persevere?

Yes. In the beginning of my career as a physicist, I became more of a specialist and dived deep into the topic of optical precursors using cold potassium atoms. It is worth investigating as a fundamental issue. At some point, however, I found myself deep into the details of this topic, which other people do not care much about! I turned my eyes to the real world and joined Samsung, to broaden my sights. Then I came back to academia.

What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?

Thanks to my colleagues in a broad research field, I can always collaborate with them actively. When I recall how my network has been built, it has been formed from schools, company, conferences, other networks or publications, and it is based on mutual trust, professional specialty and sincerity.

What tips for successful networking do you have for early-career professionals?

Keeping one’s own specialty in his or her research field as well as a balanced attitude and sincere contribution to others are the essential ingredients to networking.

What is one piece of advice that you wish you were given as a student/early in your career?

Make a specific target of your early career, and plan the roadmap toward your goal directly. To build your specialty in your field, hang on tight to your area of research, and do not go too far away from it, although it may be a discouraging period.

What have you learned by being a mentor to others, and what have you learned from mentors who helped shepherd your career?

I’ve noticed more tough situations in the job market as the years pass and when I talk to young scientists. I always tell them to build their own methodology continuously through their career and wait for their time to come. From my mentors, I have been encouraged to keep my research career moving forward regardless of my huge detour from industry to academia.

What are habits each day that help you to be successful?

During my exercise every morning, I reset my mind from any other concerns in the past or future, and schedule only the day ahead. Words from the Bible every morning always help me to stay steady.

If your ten-years-younger self was looking at your career now, what would they be most surprised by?

The place where I teach physics and perform research! I never imagined it before, but it is quite exciting to challenge myself with an all new environment in this dynamic country.

If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?

I may write some books by studying human life itself. As an activity, I travel all around the world, especially to places related to ancient civilizations or historical sites, to get the information in both the temporal and spatial spans.

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