Nadia G. Boetti
In this installment of Senior Member Insights, OPN talks with Nadia G. Boetti, a senior researcher at LINKS Foundation in Italy (formerly Istituto Superiore Mario Boella). Boetti received an MSc degree with honor in Physics from the University of Torino (Italy) and a Ph.D. in Electronic Devices at Politecnico di Torino, where she also spent some years as a postdoctoral research fellow. She also has ten years of experience as an R&D Engineer at Avago Technologies Italy.
Currently, her research activities deal mainly with specialty optical fibers and realization of optical-fiber-based devices; bioresorbable multifunctional optical fibers for biomedical applications; and optical fiber sensors for aerospace applications, infrastructure and geothermal monitoring.
What first interested you in pursuing science?
Math has always been my favorite subject in school, so I remember that my first wish was to become a math teacher. But later, during my high school years, I started to get more interested in applied sciences, as mathematics mainly became a tool to understand other scientific subjects like physics, chemistry or biology.
At the end of high school, thanks to a great professor who made me passionate about this subject, I decided to study physics. This subject helps you understand the world around you, from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest galaxies.
What aspect of your current work do you find the most interesting or exciting?
What I like most about my job is that it is a complex of many different activities, and therefore you never get bored! From conducting experiments in the lab to paper writing; from the training of students to participating in meetings and conferences around the world where you can present your work results, meet interesting people and engage in scientific discussions.
What tips for successful networking do you have for early-career professionals?
Networking is an essential aspect of our work. Science and innovation need collaboration between researchers—very often also of different disciplines, due to the inherent complexity of the studies. Networking allows you to be part of a scientific community, helps generate new ideas and [helps you] stay up to date with the latest trends in your research field.
As advice for early-career researchers, I would invite them to participate as much as possible in seminars, workshops or conferences where they can meet a lot of new people that work in the same field or related topics. Poster sessions are often one of the best moments where you can approach other researchers, start chatting and thus turn yourself from a stranger to an acquaintance. Most conferences organize dedicated sessions or social events for early-career participants, where it is far easier to approach other scholars and make new connections.
Joining a professional association is another effective way to get in touch with other scientists from academia or companies working in your field.
What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
Reading scientific and technical publications allows you to reach cutting-edge research, as well as attending webinars or using other digital resources.
However, what I find most beneficial for engaging me in my work is to attend meetings, workshops or conferences—especially the smaller ones—where I can interact with people, take part in scientific discussion, make new connections, all in an environment removed from the daily work routine. I also like to visit other research centers and companies and invite colleagues to my institute.
Unfortunately, all these inspiring activities have been heavily affected by the last year and a half of the pandemic.
What skills do you think are most important for someone interested in a career like yours?
One of the most important skills is a willingness to learn; this helps you increase your expertise and always be up to date with scientific innovations.
Communications skills are also essential. You need to be able to communicate the results of your research by writing papers or giving talks at conferences, but also to explain your research to a general audience.
Additionally, projects are often conducted in teams. Thus the ability to communicate with your teammates, frequently of different organizations and backgrounds, is crucial.
What advice do you have for young scientists who are discouraged about their current work or career path?
I think there is no such thing as a perfect and straightforward career path; you need to be prepared for difficulties and setbacks during your working life.
The point is always to ask yourself if your current job is what you love to do. If the answer is yes, you need commitment and perseverance. It may also be necessary to reconsider your current workplace, take a look at new opportunities, especially through your personal network, and therefore find a new position that better aligns with your overall career goals.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you were given as a student/early in your career?
Don't be afraid that you are not good enough to have a career in science or be worried about failing, but focus on working hard to achieve your goals and learn as much as possible.
What has been the most motivating factor throughout your career?
The possibility to always learn new things, challenge yourself in new ways and work in an international environment.
What habits do you frequently rely on that help you to succeed?
Organization and planning are mandatory to meet deadlines and complete important tasks, especially while having a family with teenagers who require a part of my time and energy. Furthermore, good and effective collaboration with all colleagues in the team is always a key point to succeed in the job.
If your ten-years-younger self was looking at your career now, what would she be most surprised by?
Ten years ago, I was starting my career all over again after a big detour. I had just moved from industry to academia, I was starting a Ph.D., and I had two small kids to take care of. Looking at my career now, I would be surprised that I managed, thanks to the constant guidance and support from my mentors, to get a job in photonics research and build an international research network.