Senior Member Insights: Akhilesh Kumar Pathak

Akhilesh Kumar Pathak photo

Akhilesh Kumar Pathak

In this installment of Senior Member Insights, OPN talks with Akhilesh Kumar Pathak, a postdoctoral fellow at the International School of Engineering (ISE), Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. Pathak received his M.Sc. in physics with a specialization in nonlinear optics from the University of Allahabad, India, in 2012 and his Ph.D. in fiber optics and photonics from the Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines), Dhanbad, India, in 2019. He was awarded an Erasmus Mundus Leaders Fellowship to conduct part of his research at CITY, University of London, UK, in 2017.

Pathak’s research interests include both experimental and numerical investigations of optical-fiber sensors. He has expertise using the full-vectorial finite-element method (FV-FEM) and synthesis of controlled growth of nanoparticles, hydrogel and specialized optically active polymers for various sensing applications. In addition to being an Optica Senior Member, Pathak is a life Fellow member of the Indian Laser Association (ILA), a senior member of IEEE, works as an editorial-board member for the Journal of Sensors (Hindawi) and Frontiers in Physics (in optics and photonics). Pathak has reviewed for more than 150  journals, including Nature, IEEE, Optica, and various journals of Elsevier, MDPI, Springer, IEEE and SPIE.

What first interested you in pursuing science?

I think several reasons attracted me to science. Specifically, working with optics and learning total internal reflection during secondary school really amazed me, so I always wanted to learn more about it when I encountered fiber optics. Since then, I have been involved with physics, carried out my further study and completed my Ph.D. in fiber optics and photonics.

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

My main area of research work focuses on the development of optical sensing devices for various applications. The most interesting part of my work is the integration of major branches of sciences (physics and chemistry) and engineering to provide a user-friendly interface, making it interdisciplinary research.

My research is mainly concerned with theoretical and experimental validation of light–matter interaction in which physics (to understand the propagation of light), engineering (designing new sensing technology) and chemistry (synthesis of optically active material) form an interface between complex systems of all these branches—and provide low-cost and compact sensing devices for detection of various targets including chemical and biological sensing.

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

For successful networking, I personally recommend attending conferences and lectures related to their field. The best way is to approach senior researchers and experts, have a decent conversation with them and briefly introduce yourself and your work. [I also advise them to] invite senior researchers to their posters/talks and discuss their work to get good feedback from experts. Always use your full name during your talk, as names always matter to recall during a future conversation.

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

The best career decision I made was pursuing my Ph.D., through which I’ve learned a way of life instead of just acquiring the degree. During my Ph.D. I’ve learned several skills, including working in a team, giving talks, time management, etc.

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

If someone wants a career like mine, they should get a Ph.D. in fiber optics and photonics and expand their research horizons not only in one direction but try to learn all the new technologies, software, coding, experimental approach, etc. At the same time, they must target reading at least two articles per day to keep them updated with the latest and ongoing research worldwide.

Describe a major turning point in your career. Was there a specific action/accomplishment that got you there?

The major turning point of my career was winning the EM Leaders fellowship in 2017 to conduct part of my Ph.D. research work at the City University of London, UK. During this exchange program, I developed expertise in the full-vectorial finite-element method and COMSOL Multiphysics software to understand mode evaluation and its applications in optics and integrated optical sensing devices. In a very short period, I’ve developed various high-sensitivity optical biosensors and published several articles in highly reputable journals [of a number of publishers], including those of IEEE, Optica (formerly OSA), MDPI, etc.

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

“Building the network” is advice I missed during my early career. I assume that no one can do all the tasks by themselves. Building a network always helps in getting a solution to several complex problems and simultaneously saves time.

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

As a mentor, I learned leadership skills, gained knowledge related to various problems and listened to really new and inspiring ideas. In my career, my mentors have done powerful things for me. I’ve been fortunate to have a number of experienced and knowledgeable mentors throughout my career who have helped me to reach the point where I am. The most important thing I’ve learned is that there is no shortcut [for hard work].

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

At this point in my career, I have several plans in my mind—more specifically, a writing project to acquire research grants to develop my own laboratory; and participating in some big consortium to work on some international issues, including hydrogen leakage detection, water pollution monitoring, fuel adulteration, etc.

Outside of work, what is your favorite thing to do in your free time, and why?

In my free time, I usually watch movies and sleep. I spend most of my time in front of a laptop, which is definitely not the healthiest thing. That’s why whenever I get time, I use it to rest to give my back and my eyes the rest that they really deserve. I also used to do lots of shopping, go for walks, spend time with family and play with my two-year-old nephew.


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