Branching Out and Making Connections

By Andrea Armani, University of Southern California

One of the main reasons that I pursued an academic position is my passion for mentoring and encouraging students in engineering and science. Unfortunately, the further that I progress in my career, the less time I have to spend time with students outside of my research group. Conferences can be very rushed, making it challenging to really connect with new colleagues. While Department seminars provide a solution for new faculty members, finding a similar alternative venue to meet students and post-docs is still a challenge.
The OSA Traveling Lecturer program is tackling this problem by connecting leading researchers with OSA student chapters. Unlike a conventional department seminar that is organized by faculty, the Traveling Lecturer seminar is organized by the OSA Student chapter. OSA supports the travel costs of the lecturer and the schedule is determined by the student chapter. As a result, the focus of my traveling lecturer seminar and trip is significantly different from a conventional department seminar; notably, it is student-centric.

During my recent trip as a Traveling Lecturer to Columbia University, I did meet with a couple faculty members. However, those meetings were the exception, not the rule. I had all of my meals with students, went on student-led lab tours, and met with groups of students throughout the day. Specifically, my day started with pastries with the OSA student chapter leadership and ended with a round table discussion in the student lounge. Throughout the day, during lab tours and over coffee, I was surrounded by enthusiastic, engaging PhD students studying a wide range of topics. While we talked about everyone’s research, our discussions also touched on other topics including how to get a post-doc position and be competitive in the academic job market, work/life balance, and industry vs. academia.
One interesting side effect of this program is the extremely high level of student engagement during the research seminar. While many department seminars are mandatory and the student attendance is high, there is a difference between attendance and engagement. Because the Traveling Lecturer is selected by the students, they are interested in the research and choose to attend.  As a result, the students are much more engaged in the lecture and frequently, the majority of the questions come from them.
Given this structure, the OSA Traveling Lecturer program is truly unique in its organization and impact on the future of scientists and engineers. I had a wonderful time at Columbia University, and I am looking forward to my next OSA Traveling Lecturer seminar this spring.


Posted: 6 December 2016 by Andrea Armani, University of Southern California | with 0 comments

The views expressed by guest contributors to the Discover OSA Blog are not those endorsed by The Optical Society.


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