Kung-Hsuan Lin on Navigating a Research Career in Academia

By Rebecca Robinson

    Kung-Hsuan Lin
In this installment of Senior Member Insights*, we talk with Kung-Hsuan Lin, associate research scientist at Institute of Physics, Academia Sinica (IoPAS), Taiwan, and an adjunct deputy chief editor of the Taiwan popular-sciences magazine Science Monthlyand the newspaper SciTech Reports.  Before joining IoPAS, he held positions in the physics department of National Taiwan Normal University, the chemistry department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the laser applications department of the Industrial Technology Research Institute, and the Center for Condensed Matter Sciences at National Taiwan University (NTU).

Since 2011, Kung-Hsuan has been the leader of the Laser Spectroscopy Lab in IoPAS and has managed the Advanced Optical Microscopes in Bioimaging core facilities in IoPAS from 2014 through 2017. His research interests primarily concern femtosecond-laser spectroscopy/microscopy for materials science and femtosecond-laser-related applications.

If your younger self was looking at your career now, what would he be most surprised by?
I would tell my younger self that it is surprising how difficult it is to get a faculty position in research universities and institutes, even after authoring numerous peer-reviewed papers, including first-authored papers in prestigious journals. Capability can be important, but is not the only thing for a job. Most departments and institutes are looking for candidates with expertise that fits the needs of the institute and expertise in the especially “hot topics” around that time.

Has there been a particularly difficult decision in your career thus far? How did you handle the decision?
In 2011, I got an offer from a university in Taiwan as an assistant professor. I had to make the particularly difficult decision to not accept the position after I realized it required lecturing at least three courses in a semester. I then stayed as a postdoc until I moved to my current position in IoPAS, which is not a tenure-track position.

I am not sure if that was a “right” decision; it is a meaningless question to me since I can never know how it would have developed if I had taken the offer. I did learn to query about the teaching load of a position during the interview process!

What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
Nowadays, web resources are so abundant and almost all journals are available online, so physical boundaries are no longer a barrier to reaching the cutting-edge research. I am so lucky that I have always had access to many journals through the subscriptions of my institutes. There have also been an increasing number of open-access papers. It just depends on if I would like to spend my time keeping an eye on a specific field. However, I still benefit a lot from attending meetings, workshops, conferences, seminars, etc., where I can always learn something by interacting with the speakers to catch the points rather than spending too much time reading papers alone.

What is one piece of advice that you wish you were given as a student/early in your career?
Be open-minded to things you have never tried.

What have you learned by being a mentor to others, and what have you learned from mentors who helped shepherd your career?
I would say that my Ph.D. advisor, Chi-Kuang Sun at NTU, is the mentor who has affected me the most in my career up to now. My presentation skills were still poor when I was an undergraduate student. During the Ph.D. training, I realized that oral and paper presentation reveals how I conduct a project or think about an issue. It is also relevant to the skills of motivation, logic, communication, critical thinking, etc.

I actually learned this “fishing skill” from integrating my experiences of regular discussions and arguments while I worked with Chi-Kuang Sun. Under the training of science and engineering, I learned the “fishing skill” can be used for not only doing scientific research but also other projects.

I also learned a lot from my postdoc supervisor, Keith Nelson at MIT, who loves to ask questions and share his viewpoints during someone’s talk. He invoked the memories of my childhood, when it was expected to be curious about many things, but at some point while growing up, for many reasons, we do not ask a lot of questions anymore. I was encouraged to start to ask “stupid” questions of the speaker at lectures because no question is a stupid question. Based on this attitude, I have been continuously expanding my knowledge domain, which is helpful for cross-disciplinary collaboration.

As a mentor, I constantly remind myself to not forget how I have been shepherded and try my best to have sympathy. When I am asked “stupid” questions, it is a good chance to rethink again and to learn more insight about the fundamental things. This is also a good training for communication skills.

How do you define success in your career?
To love what I am doing without being affected by the evaluation of others. I would say this is very difficult, but I like the words from Steve Jobs: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”

What habits do you frequently rely on that help you to succeed?
I like to learn by watching people who share their experiences online, such as through TED Talks. Not just for science, but for all kinds of topics from people with diversified backgrounds.

At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?
I appreciate my institute offering me a position that is qualified to lead projects funded by Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), Taiwan, but I am looking forward to moving to a new position, which is widely recognized as a real independent research position and will allow me to contribute more to the domestic and global society.

If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?
I used to play piano and the Chinese bamboo flute. When I was a high school student, I even considered applying to universities of art for music, and dreamed of being a professional performer. I also dreamed of doing something to combine electrical engineering and music for my career when I was an undergraduate student. Right now, I have put those dreams into some place within my heart, but enjoying music is still a part of my life.

* Previously posted on OSA Careers


Posted: 16 January 2018 by Rebecca Robinson | with 0 comments

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