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Inclusion in STEM Careers

As we celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March, I asked some of my fellow Optica Ambassadors to share their thoughts and advice on how to foster a more inclusive and supportive optics and photonics community.

But what does it mean to be inclusive? How can you practice being more inclusive?

"I think of 'inclusion' as a verb—a continuous action to create a welcoming space where individuals can feel safe and valued. Inclusion can be practiced in many ways. For example, as a meeting leader, inclusion can be the act of allowing people to be fully present, to be heard by giving them time to contribute, and by acknowledging their role and purpose.

You can learn a lot about inclusion in books, blogs and podcasts. You can only learn what inclusion means to your circles by asking them. Be prepared to listen, unlearn, and adapt your ways of thinking and doing to create a space that brings out the best of everyone." Matthew Posner, 2023 Optica Ambassador

Inclusivity often starts locally, in the workplace. However, the scientific community is worldwide, and effectively leveraging this global network can help students and early-career researchers find their niche and develop a support system.

"Remember the importance of the scientific community. Make contacts with colleagues, exchange experiences and ideas. Working together on projects not only expands your capabilities, but also helps build a strong scientific community. Make sure you are in an environment where you can exchange ideas, share your own experiences and get support from colleagues.

Collaboration and the exchange of ideas is a key element of a successful scientific journey. Your ideas and research can change the world, and you should actively participate in shaping the scientific agenda." —Kseniia Minakova, 2023 Optica Ambassador

During an International Day of Women and Girls in STEM panel, 2022 Optica Ambassador Faezeh Gholami emphasized the importance of networking in career development. When asked what advice she would give to students and early-career researchers, she responded:

"I have one word—network, network, network." —Faezeh Gholami, 2022 Optica Ambassador

Because most scientific communities are so tight-knit, it is inevitable that you will meet some or most of your future colleagues as you receive training. Connecting with them can provide not only potential job opportunities but also mentorship and camaraderie. Most professionals in the field are happy to share their stories, and often these stories offer insight into different career paths and trajectories. 

It is also important to support and promote STEM education, as it not only encourages inclusion but can also normalize the fact that there is no “correct” path to success in STEM. For some, supporting STEM education can mean educating children and young adults on their topic of research. For example, 2017 Optica Ambassador Danka Sampson recently published her first children's book, “Jesse Explores Vision and Vision Impairment,” to introduce young readers to the topic of vision and why some people cannot see well.

"Share your experience and knowledge with a wide audience, especially with the younger generation. Your expertise and enthusiasm can inspire new research and discoveries for future generations of scientists.

In STEM, especially in physics, it is important to develop not only theoretical knowledge, but also practical skills. I invite you not to be afraid to experiment and implement hands-on approaches in your work. Practical experiments not only enrich your understanding of science, but also make it more accessible and understandable to others." —Kseniia Minakova, 2023 Optica Ambassador

Another aspect of being a STEM professional is recognizing that, despite where we are in our careers or how we got there, we have all faced challenges on our path.

"The most important thing in science is faith in one's own capabilities and a relentless pursuit of knowledge. Despite all the challenges you may face along the way, remember that your contribution to the development of science is extremely important. Above all, be brave and stubborn in achieving your goals.

Remain tireless in your pursuit of learning and improvement. The world of science is constantly evolving, and your contribution to this process is an important link in the chain of scientific achievements. Let your path in the world of science be filled with discoveries, achievements and unforgettable moments. Be passionate about your science and inspire others by your example." —Kseniia Minakova, 2023 Optica Ambassador

Believing in yourself and building a network that believes in you is often the first step to becoming a professional in your field. It is also important to pursue your passions. Your previous experiences may come in handy when you least expect it, and it never hurts to try new things.

"Believe in yourself—you are the captain of your own ship!" —Linhui (Lynn) Yu, 2021 Optica Amassador

We often limit ourselves of having “practical” or “realistic” dreams, but a dream can be as big and grand as you want it to be. The bigger your dream, the greater the opportunity for you to consider the unknown and to do great things. That said, it is also crucial to be cognizant of your own limits and to put your own health and wellbeing at the forefront. Recognizing the many different responsibilities you have and the fact that others may be going through challenges in other parts of their lives can help you be kinder to yourself and others.

"Like what you do, take care of yourself, and ask questions!" —Alessandra Carmichael-Martins, 2022 Optica Ambassador

"Always have the courage to grow and do great things. Be kind to yourself and others."  —Danka Sampson, 2017 Optica Ambassador

"Dream big, challenge yourself, but also be fair to yourself." —Tatevik Chalyan, 2021 Optica Ambassado

Sometimes, the biggest challenge that we face is to recognize the need for and then actively make a change. Whether it is a change in our career path or changing how we interact with our colleagues, this process can be difficult. But sometimes the best thing to do is to take a leap of faith and to try.

"When an opportunity presents itself, go for it!" —Katarzyna Komolibus, 2024 Optica Ambassador

This International Women’s Day, I challenge you to take five minutes to reflect on your experiences so far and your current work environment. Then, over the course of the next year, work to make at least one change that inspires inclusivity and try one thing that you have been wanting to do but have been too nervous to try.  

Geographic distribution of quoted Optica Ambassadors

A map showing the current and former locations of the Optica Ambassadors who provided their advice.

Publish Date: 08 March 2024

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