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Senior Member Insights: Junqing Zhao

Junqing Zhao[Enlarge image]

Junqing Zhao

In this installment of Senior Member Insights, OPN talks with Junqing Zhao, Key Laboratory of Advanced Optical Precision Manufacturing Technology of Guangdong Higher Education Institutes Shenzhen Technology University, Shenzhen, China. He received a Doctor of Engineering degree from Shenzhen University, China, in 2014 for research on pulsed fiber lasers.

His research has covered the device, system and application aspects of fiber lasers, fiber amplifiers and nonlinear optics, successively with the Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Laser Engineering, Shenzhen University; the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), University of Southampton, UK; and the Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Advanced Laser Materials and Devices, Jiangsu Normal University, China.

Zhao has published more than 70 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings and has given over 10 oral talks, including five invited talks. He translated a chapter of an English book into Chinese in 2020 and wrote a chapter of a book in 2022. He is a Life Member of Optica and a Senior Member of IEEE. He received the OGC 2022 Young Scientist Award in 2022.

What first interested you in pursuing science?

The most impactful thing that interested me in pursuing science happened roughly 11 years ago. During that period, I had been trying for a long time to make an erbium-doped fiber (EDF) laser, which was a brand-new thing to me. My initial thought was that, before completing a cavity, I should first get high enough power of amplified spontaneous emission (ASE) from the EDF by launching some pump power. However, no matter how hard I tried, the output power was quite low.

After checking all the possible tricks and repeating the process countless times, I became exhausted and felt hopeless indeed. One day, I really didn’t know what to do about such a “damn nuisance,” so I just carelessly connected all the fiber pieces and components together, completing a fiber laser cavity. Then, you can guess what happened: laser radiation emitted with considerably higher power than the ASE! It was really a huge surprise to me. After that, I became enthusiastic in pursuing science. Even today, I still believe that something new might be waiting for me if only I dare to try.  

“Even today, I still believe that something new might be waiting for me if only I dare to try. ”
Junqing Zhao

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

I think I might be surprised about my unexpected academic experiences. Ten years ago, I really didn’t know where I could go in academia and even doubted if I was making the right choice.

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

The first thing is that early-career researchers should be able to communicate effectively with their peers. This can be done through attending conferences, webinars, campfires, etc. Unexpected cooperation opportunities might be discovered through these activities, although most of them just look like ordinary socializing.       

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

That would be my decision to pursue an advanced degree after finishing my undergraduate degree. I don’t think I could have a better career if I had just found a job and started working right away. This is because I haven’t found anything other than academic research that can arouse my long-lasting interest.     

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

It’s hard to say what skills are most critical. I think two factors might be important. The first is that they should have a strong interest in discovering new things, rather than only repetitive tasks. The second is that they should be not afraid to make mistakes and always be keen on finding solutions or trying something different.

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

One major turning point was when I successfully received two research grants in 2017―from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province. Not only did these enable a good start to my research career, but they also played critical roles in the promotion of my professional title.  

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

Early in my career, I wish someone had told me that I should spend more time in full-time research positions at some of the world's leading research institutions before finding a university job. If that had been true, I might have achieved something more impactful.

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

“My then mentor told me that I should always experiment in the laboratory rather than sitting in the office.”
Junqing Zhao

Mentoring students with different talents made me realize that I should not always look at them the same way. I should make some prerequisites and schedules that they can accomplish after a period of effort.

From my mentors, I have learned a lot indeed. I can still remember some moments that played important roles throughout my academic career. I can tell you two of them. As a Ph.D. student, my then mentor told me that I should always experiment in the laboratory rather than sitting in the office. I think that this is a key practice if one wants to achieve fruitful results as an experiment-based scientist. The second point he stressed is the importance of academic honesty, and that we should never forge data.  

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

What I most look forward to is receiving more funding and having more free time to realize my ideas and run the lab more efficiently.

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

My favorite thing is to get close to nature. There, I can breathe the fresh air and feel relaxed in the beauty all around, totally free from burdensome tasks.

Publish Date: 30 January 2024

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