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Meet Sanjana Bhatia, Young Professionals Newsroom Columnist

Sanjana Q&A
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Sanjana Bhatia was recently appointed to the IEEE Photonics Society’s Young Professionals Advisory Committee (YPAC) as its Newsroom Columnist for 2024-2026. 

In her role, Sanjana will liaise between the YPAC and Newsroom to ensure that the voices and opinions of members up to 15 years post their first degree are well represented. She will share updates, regional advancements, featured stories, and overviews on the invaluable work led by young professionals and early career in the photonics community.

Below is a short Q&A with Sanjana so that you can get to know her background and goals as a volunteer leader!

What is your current professional job?

Currently, I hold the position of senior research fellow at the Department of Physics, Panjab University, Chandigarh, where I am in the final stage of completing my PhD. My research focuses on analytical and computational modeling of nonlinear optical systems. In addition to my research work, this role has provided me with extensive opportunities for teaching undergraduate students, serving as a laboratory assistant for both undergraduate and graduate students, and coordinating the book bank program.

Presenting my research at 2023 IEEE Photonics Society Summer Topicals Meeting.

What role do you hold within the Young Professionals Advisory Committee (YPAC)? 

Within the IEEE Photonics Society, I hold the position of Newsroom Columnist for the Young Professional Advisory Committee (YPAC), where I would be highlighting the activities of the YPAC through featured stories, opinion editorials, blog posts, Q&As, and more.  

What excites you about the responsibilities and/or strategic oversight of your position?

As the IEEE Photonics Society Newsroom Columnist for the Young Professional Advisory Committee, what thrills me most is the opportunity to amplify the voices and perspectives of young professionals in the photonics field. Being a science communication enthusiast, I have always wanted to create content for people from both technical and non-technical backgrounds alike, so that more and more individuals become excited about the alluring world of photonics. IPS brings together individuals who are at the forefront of cutting-edge research and innovation, and I am extremely excited to foster collaboration, spark discussions, and inspire the next generation of photonics leaders through impactful storytelling and engaging content.

What do you want to accomplish as a YPAC representative?

I have two primary objectives in sight. Firstly, my focus is on addressing the challenges encountered by students and young professionals, particularly those from developing and underdeveloped countries. These challenges encompass issues such as accessing resources, securing effective mentorship, and staying abreast of the latest skills. Despite the availability of opportunities, it’s easy to overlook them without proper attention. Therefore, my mission is to narrow the gap between identifying opportunities and seizing them, ensuring that everyone has equitable access to the support needed for career success.

Secondly, I am committed to advocating for sustainable living practices. I understand that initiating change starts with individual actions, and as young professionals who will become future policy makers and leaders, we hold a significant role in driving this change. With the pressing challenges posed by climate change in today’s world, it is crucial that we take proactive steps towards sustainability. Through initiatives aimed at raising awareness, promoting sustainable projects, and fostering collaborations with like-minded individuals and agencies, I aim to contribute to a more sustainable future for our industry and the broader global community.

With my fellow IEEE Women in Photonics Grantees at IPC 2023: Women Supporting Women.

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

“And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” – Dan Brown, in Angels and Demons.

Since high school, this quote has resonated with me for more than a decade, significantly shaping the trajectory of my life. Light, a term extensively used in both literature and science textbooks, took on profound meaning during my school years, when I realized that light isn’t just a concept; it’s the very energy that drives and is driven by the universe itself. From the invention of fire to the mind-boggling experiments with subatomic particles at TeV energies in high-energy Physics labs, humanity’s journey with light has been awe-inspiring. 

This fascination led me to choose physics as my college major, where I came to understand that to uncover the mysteries of the universe, “light” serves as our eyes and ears. This realization fueled my passion for research, propelling me into the vast and ever-growing field of photonics. In photonics, we don’t just “see” the universe in all its glory; we get to experience it firsthand. It’s this immersive exploration that continues to fuel my curiosity and passion for photonics.

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

The Society’s commitment to fostering a bright future that includes everyone, characterized by diversity, equity, and inclusivity, is something that resonates deeply with me and continues to motivate my involvement with the IEEE Photonics Society. I deeply appreciate the Society’s dedication to providing opportunities for individuals at any stage in their professional careers to contribute and be acknowledged for their efforts, especially to beginners in their journey, much like I was when I received an IEEE Women in Photonics travel grant to present my research at the IEEE Photonics Conference 2023. I admire the dedication of Society’s leaders, staff, and volunteers, who are not only experts in their fields but also modest and devoted to their work.

Engaging in serious and funny moments with the then IEEE Photonics Society President, Dr. René-Jean Essiambre at IPC 2023.

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

One thing I wish someone had told me when I was an undergraduate student is the importance of having faith in my intuition. What I have realized over the time is that taking that first step based on that little inner voice will ultimately lead you to a path uniquely destined for you.

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

For ongoing learning and skill enhancement at any point in one’s career, I value the significance of engaging with individuals met at events. Conferences and workshops, both in India and abroad, have been invaluable sources of knowledge and networking opportunities for me. In today’s era of AI and social media, acquiring new skills and applying them to one’s work has never been more accessible. 

Personally, I find platforms like YouTube and LinkedIn to be treasure troves of authenticated sources where experts generously share their knowledge, providing me with a multitude of perspectives right from my laptop. Additionally, subscribing to newsletters from various institutes helps me stay updated on the latest developments in my field of interest.

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?

One crucial step to better support early career professionals transitioning post-graduation into industry, research, or academic settings is to provide opportunities for exposure. Encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones and gain firsthand experience in diverse professional environments can greatly enhance their skills and confidence as they navigate their career paths. In this context, the IEEE Photonics Society is doing a great job by providing travel grants to attend conferences, which serve as excellent platforms for early career professionals to participate in and stay up to date with the latest trends in academia and industry. 

Tell us something fun about yourself!

I’m a voracious reader of fiction—I once devoured Harry Potter Book 5, the longest in the series, in just two days! I also enjoy experimenting with new cooking cuisines, and lately, I’ve been diving into Mediterranean dishes, like falafel and hummus. On a lighter note, I have a funny fear of dogs, which is ironic because my husband absolutely adores them!

Cover photo caption: Me at International Center for Theoretical Phyiscs (ICTP), Triests, Italy participating in 2023 School on Wave Dynamics 

At India’s largest Book Fair in New Delhi.
After devouring world-class Mediterranean dishes in Turkey, my amateur attempt at making falafel in January 2024.