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Meet Hannah Grant, Young Professionals Professional Development Representative

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Hannah Grant was recently appointed to the IEEE Photonics Society’s Young Professionals Advisory Committee (YPAC) as its Professional Development Representative for 2024-2026. In her role, Hannah represents the voice of members up to 15 years post their first degree as they transition in their careers, pursue independent learning outside the classroom, and seek to improve their skill gaps for the job hunt. Below is a short Q&A with Hannah so that you can get to know her background and goals as a volunteer leader!

What is your current professional job?

I currently serve as the Director of Automotive Lasers at Freedom Photonics, LLC (a Luminar company). In this capacity, I oversee a dedicated team of engineers focused on advancing semiconductor laser technology for automotive lidar systems. Over the past five years following graduate school, I have assumed three distinct roles at Freedom Photonics: initially as a Photonic Device Scientist, then as the DFB Tech Lead, and now in my present position. Prior to joining Freedom Photonics, my academic journey led me to UC San Diego, where I earned my Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. My doctoral research concentrated on the advances and complexities of Silicon Photonics in data center applications.

What role do you hold within the Young Professionals Advisory Committee (YPAC)? What excites you about the responsibilities and/or strategic oversight of your position?

As the Professional Development Representative, I am thrilled to assume this role. During my graduate studies, I co-founded Women in ECE at UC San Diego. One of our notable events was hosting seminars featuring local professionals who were 3-5 years post-graduation. It was enlightening to hear firsthand accounts of how each individual navigated the years following graduate school. Having now been a professional for five years myself, I recognize that the expectations for skills extend far beyond what is taught in academia. Moreover, I’ve come to understand that these expectations can vary significantly on a global scale. This role affords me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in addressing the gaps in skills acquired through practical experience and advocating for resources to support this crucial transition in a professional’s first 15 years of their career.

What do you want to accomplish as a YPAC representative?

As the IEEE YPAC Professional Development Representative, my goal is to identify crucial skill gaps, i.e., the disparity between the skills an employer expects and the actual skills taught in the classroom. Much of my efforts will be collaborating with the Industry Engagement Committee to survey employers in photonics. While IEEE Photonics has a robust academic presence, a large majority of young professionals also seek opportunities within industry, so I want to identify and address common skills gaps early career face when pursuing an industrial career. Also, known as “essential skills”, i.e., the skills that people need for learning, work and life. Subsequently, I plan to tackle this all through webinars, online resources, Q&A sessions featuring skilled professionals, and/or in-person events. 

Why photonics? What was your “photonics moment” or personal journey story?

I was initially captivated by Photonics due to my passion for photography and an inherent sense that I wanted to become an engineer. During my high school AP Physics class, we visited the University of Arizona, where we received a tour of the College of Optics. Following the tour, I turned to my Physics teacher and said, “You can be an engineer of cameras.” That moment sealed my commitment to Optics and Photonics. This journey eventually led me to pursue my Ph.D. at UC San Diego and, in turn, join my present employer, Freedom Photonics.

What about the IEEE Photonics Society’s mission and work really motivates you?

The IEEE Photonics Society’s mission resonates with me deeply due to their commitment to advancing the field of photonics and fostering a community of professionals dedicated to innovation and excellence. The Society’s emphasis on promoting research, education, and technological advancements in photonics aligns with my own passion for pushing the boundaries of science and technology. By actively engaging with industry partners and academia, the IEEE Photonics Society plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of photonics, ultimately driving positive impact across various sectors such as telecommunications, healthcare, and automotive. This shared vision of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in photonics, coupled with a strong sense of community and collaboration, truly motivates me to contribute to the society’s mission and work.

What’s one thing you wish someone had told you when you were an undergraduate student?

Prioritizing your delivery is paramount, surpassing the urge to undertake everything at once. This notion is crucial, especially considering how overwhelming it can feel when burdened with an excessive workload in pursuit of success. It’s essential to consistently meet key objectives rather than overextending oneself and failing to achieve any goals.

Presenting a poster in graduate school at UC San Diego (2015)

Where or what do you turn to for continuous learning or skills development in your current career stage?

Balancing skill development with long work hours can be demanding. To navigate this challenge, I strive to engage in a variety of activities that promote personal growth and keep my mind active. This has proven particularly crucial as my career has evolved, demanding enhanced “essential skills”. I prioritize listening to audiobooks on communication, interpersonal relationships, and strategic thinking to continually refine these abilities. Additionally, to maintain technical proficiency, I dedicate time to staying abreast of current literature and regularly tackle textbook problems on pertinent topics.

What steps do you think could be taken to better support early career professionals as they transition post-graduation into the industry workforce, research, and/or academic settings?

Navigating the transition from student life – to – early career professional encompasses a wide spectrum, from graduate students to those entering entry-level positions. This diverse group brings with it a range of needs and aspirations. While opportunities for professional development are always valuable, I believe that mentorship programs and networking events geared toward connecting with mid-career professionals hold particular significance.

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Photonics West 2024 where I gave a talk on High Power DFBs for Automotive Lidar

Facilitating connections among professionals in photonics, spanning different stages of their careers, can offer tailored support and guidance for individualized development paths. By fostering these connections, young professionals can gain insights, advice, and opportunities for growth from those who have navigated similar paths ahead of them. This collaborative environment not only enriches their professional journey but also strengthens the broader photonics community.

Tell us something fun about yourself!

I enjoy both crocheting and cooking, hobbies that require planning and technique while also allowing for creativity. Additionally, I lead an active lifestyle, engaging in activities such as biking, rock climbing, and powerlifting. Traveling with my husband is another passion of mine. Recently, we explored South Korea, immersing ourselves in the vibrant culture of Seoul and the natural beauty of Jeju Island. Our trip involved indulging in delicious cuisine and experiencing the breathtaking hikes that South Korea has to offer.