Senior Member Insights: Maria Chernysheva

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Maria Chernysheva

In this installment of Senior Member Insights, OPN talks with Maria Chernysheva, head of the Ultrafast Fiber Lasers junior research group at the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology, Jena, Germany, since 2019. Chernysheva’s research background is in laser physics, exploring and engineering novel ultrafast fiber laser configurations and amplification systems. Her current vision is to move toward ultrafast mid-IR generation for potential applications for vibration spectroscopy diagnostics.

Chernysheva obtained a Ph.D. in laser physics from the Fiber Optics Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2014. She moved to the United Kingdom shortly thereafter, where she worked at Aston University as a research fellow. Chernysheva has won two highly competitive and prestigious fellowships in three years: the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (EU Horizon 2020) and the Engineering for Development Research Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering and Global Challenges Research Fund.

In 2022, Chernysheva was named an Optica Senior Member, and also was a recipient of a Women in Ultrafast Science Global Award from the journal Ultrafast Science. She serves as a member of the editorial board for Optics Letters and Applied Physics B and as a subcommittee chair in fiber photonics for the CLEO Conference. Her track record includes 38 journal and conference peer-reviewed publications and 10 invited and keynote talks.

What first interested you in pursuing science?

My first interest in science was sparked during my higher education studies. I was pursuing an engineering degree in fiber communication. In the final year, I was offered an opportunity for a summer internship at the Fiber Optics Research Center in Moscow, Russia, to try another area—fiber laser development and investigation. The field got my biggest interest, so I decided to go there for my thesis project and have dedicated, so far, around ten years of my life [to the field]. I do not see this interest fading even a bit.

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

I do like networking. That is the moment when the scientific discussion can go beyond standard results discussion to generate new ideas, which are generally unexpected and not trivial. It is exciting to see how new research projects can be born out of one coffee-break discussion.

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

“ Contrary to what early-career professionals might think, the majority of people attending conferences or exhibitions are open to networking—even big professors or CEOs. ”

—Maria Chernysheva

This question nicely follows up from my previous answer. Networking is one of the most critical aspects. It helps get new jobs, new project partners or establishes collaboration. Contrary to what early-career professionals might think, the majority of people attending conferences or exhibitions are open to networking—even big professors or CEOs. So, I would highly encourage you to approach them for networking. But you need to be aware of the industrial field or research work in which they are involved and prepare an interesting question to start the conversation.

How important are leadership roles in career development, and how do you hone your leadership skills?

When I started my group, I knew little about leadership roles. While in my previous individual research fellowships I had only myself to manage, I had to acknowledge that it is not only me now. Luckily, I’ve attended a mentorship program and an extensive leadership course, which helped me to establish task distribution, delegation and internal mentorship within the group, and navigate the overall research agenda.

What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made, and why?

The biggest career decision was changing host institutions and moving to another country. So far, they have worked out as the best decisions, allowing career growth, getting involved in interesting projects and learning new research environments.

What skills do you think are most important for someone interested in a career like yours?

It is hard to comment on technical skills. I believe that interest in the research field and dedication for young career researchers will definitely yield the acquisition of the required technical skills. Among the important skills, though, are the ability to communicate research results, creativity in problem solving and the ability to ask questions challenging the established theory or your own research results.

What advice do you have for young scientists who are discouraged about their current work or career path?

There is always an opportunity to change at least slightly the field, team and research environment. As I said before, the excitement about work helps get new technical skills. There is a huge pool of courses, for example, on leadership in academia or switching from academia to industry and vice versa. Such courses allow looking at one’s career path from a different angle and finding new, encouraging aspects.

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

Looking back, for example, on my Ph.D. studies, I see that I was completely unaware of the research career opportunities outside my country or even outside the institution. I started exploring all these only in my final year.

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

“ My former supervisor ... became a role model for me. ”

—Maria Chernysheva

Thinking about this question, I could not think about anything but my former supervisor, who became a role model for me. His approach was to promote the research careers of his team members, to help young professionals become independent, established researchers. Not only did this help … a wide range of research projects and their successful accomplishment, but also … the expansion of the department fields of expertise and growth of the network when team members became individual PIs. I do my best now to follow this example in my group with Ph.D. students.

At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?

Currently, I’m leading a junior research group that will be evaluated in one year. So, I’m looking forward to developing the group further and growing from “junior” to a sustainable research group. Also, I’m looking forward to a successful Ph.D. defense for my students and for them to build their careers. For myself, I’ve started the habilitation process, which I hope to successfully accomplish and become a member of a university.

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