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Get to Know Your Leadership: Anna Peacock

featured peacock

By Naznin Akter

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Anna Peacock, Ph.D.

Professor and Head of the Nonlinear Semiconductor Photonics group, Optoelectronics Research Centre, University of Southampton

VP Professional & Technical Development (PTD) of IEEE Photonics Society

Our volunteer leaders are the driving force behind the IEEE Photonics Society’s mission. This column will celebrate leaders who have made positive impacts on the photonics community around the world.

In this issue, Anna Peacock, the IEEE Photonics Society’s Vice President of Professional & Technical Development (PTD), is featured. Learn more about her new role steering the PTD Council and what motivates her as a leader.

What is Your Current Professional Job? 

I am currently a Professor of Photonics within the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), University of Southampton. I lead a research group in Nonlinear Semiconductor Photonics, where we investigate both novel material optical fibres and integrated photonic platforms. I am also part of the ORC’s senior management team where I am responsible for our school’s education programmes.

Why “Photonics”? What was Your “Photonics Moment?” 

As an undergraduate student, my core subjects were quantum and nuclear physics – in fact, I did not take any optic courses at this level. However, the Physics Department within the University of Auckland was quite small, and research opportunities were limited by availability of suitable lecturers. My photonics moment came via a conversation on a bench outside our physics labs where a young and enthusiastic photonics lecturer convinced me that it was not too late to change research fields. The lecturer was Professor John M. Dudley, who has since gone on to be the driving force behind the UNESCO International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (2015), and now the on-going International Day of Light. It seems that I was just the first of many who would be persuaded by this passion for the optical sciences.

What About Our Society’s Mission and Work that Motivates You?

I am passionate about diversity and inclusion, and I would love to be able to make an impact to improve participation of minority groups across the IEEE Photonics Society’s activities. There are lots of different opportunities that are suitable for a wide range of interests and participation levels within our society, and we are working on ways to improve visibility and accessibility. I share the Society’s vision that great science and innovation requires bringing together talents and perspectives of people with different personal, cultural, and disciplinary backgrounds.

Why Do You Think Members Should be Involved as Society Volunteers? What are the Benefits?

I think it is important to remember that there are mutual benefits to these roles – for the society, membership, and volunteers. Although volunteering can represent a considerable commitment on our time, it is incredibly important to sustaining and improving the services that we have all come to rely on, conferences, journals, awards, student chapters etc. Moreover, as volunteers we tend to get more exposure to our community, which can help to expand our networks and increase our opportunities, ultimately enhancing our professional and technical development. Another positive aspect of being part of the IEEE Photonics Society’s leadership team during the pandemic is that it has been a useful way to keep up connections across the wider community when global travel has ceased to be an option. I would strongly encourage people to consider taking up a volunteer role at some point in their career—it is just about finding the right role at the right time.

Going Into a Leadership Position for the First Time?

Find a good mentor—someone who is already involved in volunteering or has a good track record for this. It is helpful if you can receive guidance/advice on what is important and what is less so, that way you can maximize the impact of your involvement. It is also a good idea to talk to people before taking up your position in the first place, so you can gauge what the expectations are (time commitment, travel etc.) and have the capacity to make a meaningful contribution. And, most importantly, make sure that you pick something that you are passionate about!

What is One Characteristic That you Believe Every Leader Should Possess? 

I believe the ability to listen and reflect on a range of different views is a very important part of being a leader. I often hear people claim they are good listeners, but this is only meaningful if they are also prepared to change their opinion or accept a new pathway. It also frustrates me when people refuse to roll back from a poor decision. As leaders, we do not always get things right, so it is important to accept this and take ownership and action to correct things when needed.

Tell Us Something Fun About Yourself! 

My hobbies include running and baking – they help to maintain a great balance!

This column is prepared by Naznin Akter, PMP® ( Any questions or suggestions for the improvement of this column are highly appreciated.