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Meet Sinan Genc, Associate Vice President of Young Professionals

Sinan Genc
Sinan Genc 4

Sinan Genc was recently appointed as the IEEE Photonics Society’s Associate Vice President (AVP) of Young Professionals and will chair the Society’s Young Professionals Advisory Committee (YPAC) from 2024-2026 and serve on the Society’s Diversity Oversight Committee. Below is a short Q&A with Sinan so that you can get to know his background and goals as a volunteer leader!

What is Your Current Professional Job?

I am a Research Assistant at Abdullah Gul University (AGU), in Kayseri, Turkey. Since October 2023, I have been working as a visiting postdoctoral researcher at Middle East Technical University (METU), in Ankara, Turkey. 

What Aspects Motivate You to be a Volunteer for IEEE Photonics Society? 

I have been volunteering for the Society since 2016, from a student volunteer at conferences and within Chapters, to a Global Strategy Rep for the YPAC and the Society’s Globalization Committee. Being part of a community has always made me feel more confident. At the beginning, my aim was to learn from professionals, network in the field, and participate in conferences as an attendee. In time, I noticed that there is more to the IEEE Photonics Society, support for the student chapters, the Mentor Match program, session chairing, and the most important —you have a voice to influence change once you show your enthusiasm.

As an AVP of Young Professionals What Do You Want to Accomplish in the Following Year?

As our world suffers from the issue of microplastics and the level of danger increases dramatically, I want to focus on environmental topics during my term. My PhD topic was on optical sensors to detect, classify, and characterize microplastics in the aquatic medium. In addition, I am volunteering for environmental NGOs to develop strategies to increase awareness. Therefore, a seminar series, training, or workshops to develop technology for a sustainable world and to combat Climate Change will be one of the points that I want to focus on most and inspire other young professionals to pursue. To do that, the YPAC will also take on the topic of social entrepreneurship and implement best practices to encourage future engineers to consider start-up growth around the development of products that address social, cultural, and/or environmental issues, for the benefit of humanity. IEEE’s core mission. 

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Mention One Thing that You Want to Switch to Improve the IEEE Photonics Society?

Although there is communication between the chapters and the branches, I want to make this link more concrete. As a past YPAC Global Strategy Rep for Europe, I believe that we can collaborate more and organize academic exchange more effectively at the regional level. Therefore, I want to create more practical ways to increase communication between chapters/branches, as well as link or start new YP Affinity Groups within our technical chapters. We are missing the opportunity to influence the parent-IEEE’s young professional program with our local photonics talent and future thought leaders. During my term, the goal is to start a Young Professionals Speakers Bureau, similar to the Society’s Distinguished Lecturers Programs, but it would feature a collection of technical and motivational speakers up to 15 years post their first degree. Many of our members in their early career have knowledge to share, transformed outreach methods, and/or have technically advanced the field, but are often overlooked. This would be an opportunity to better recognize young professional leaders and provide mentorship to students as well as a unique perspective to the community.

Can You Name a Person Who Has Had a Tremendous Impact on You as a Mentor? Why and How Did This Person Impact Your Life?

Prof. Humeyra Caglayan, from Tampere University, Finland, has always been a big supporter of mine, and I am grateful for her guidance. For more than ten years, she has been a safe space and mentor to me, supporting my development and showcasing how I can create pathways in my career. Not only from an academic perspective, but also in every aspect of life, I am grateful for her existence and confidence in me.

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Why Do You Think Members Should Be Involved as Society Volunteers? What Are the Benefits?

The first and most important point is networking. This is one of the key points to developing yourself. Learning about what is going on in the field, having the chance to have discussions with senior professionals, having the guidance of a mentor, and learning how to collaborate with people who are working together towards a common goal, will motivate you. I am a testament. 

How Do You Ensure the IEEE Photonics Society and Its Activities Are Aligned with Your Core Values?

Through serving as a volunteer for 8+ years, I have learned more about the inner workings of the IEEE and what the IEEE Photonics Society aims to accomplish. I am still here, now as a leader, because the staff and board truly care about the needs of its members. The Society’s center leadership approach, for example, recruits community leaders who reach out rather than down. They facilitate change, recognizing that much of our success is driven by the contributions and commitment of our members locally. The approach puts community impact at the core of all decision making, offering transparency, collaboration and feedback between departments, boards, councils, committees, volunteers, and its members. I believe that in order to obtain a sustainable, bright future, we must work together and collaborate as one. It’s important to become well rounded engineers and scientists outside the lab and classroom as well. My common goal is to contribute to the community and guide members as they transition from student to young professional to senior elevations. 

What is One Characteristic that You Believe Every Leader Should Possess?

Although it is not possible to make everyone happy, a leader should be a good active listener and give others the chance to have their voice heard. This shows that you care about your team and that you are open to new ideas, which can be raised by any member of your team at unexpected moments. We shouldn’t miss those moments.

What is One Mistake You Witness Leaders Making More Often Than Others? Do You Have any Advice/Suggestions for Them?

Inequality. I observe it the most, and to be honest, it’s the worst mistake one could make. For sure, we all have our own unconscious biases and there will be people with whom our character traits and lifestyles align more with, but if we don’t allow all to have a voice and place in the scientific field we miss out on different perspectives of understanding. As the Society champions, “Diversity is Essential to Innovation”. Unconscious bias affects everyone and is triggered by our brains automatically making quick judgments and assessments. We need to recognize our privileges and continually educate ourselves on how to be more inclusive allies to others, otherwise we will continually lose talent. 

Why Photonics? What was Your “Photonics Moment?” (you may mention the most favorable moments/ story, etc.)

In 2016, I started my master’s in the field of display technology and color quality. It was a sudden decision, and I did not think about it so much. I noticed that there was a future for nanomaterials and their existence in different application areas, so I dived into this topic. In time, after attending IEEE Photonics Conference, the Society’s flagship conference, and learning about other attractive topics and applications within the field, I decided to take a different path for my PhD. As I have heard so much about one of the global issues, microplastics, I’ve chosen to work on something related to the environment. Since then, the integration of photonics with the environment, sustainability, and global issues has always been on my mind.

11. Tell Us Something More About Yourself  !!!!

Coffee and coins. I call myself a “home barista.” I have many different brewing tools and I try different coffee beans from all around the world. Experiencing the different recipes and extraordinary tastes amaze me. My one and only non-technical article for the Society Newsroom is on International Coffee Day. I have also been collecting coins for years, and I am probably the largest coin collector in Turkey. I enjoy it because I follow patterns of great changes in history and learn about the stories behind the coins. It is my favorite “free-time” activity.

12. Please discuss other extracurricular achievements outside IEEE.

In addition to the IEEE, I have been volunteering for the Global Solutions Initiative, a global collaborative network of world-renowned think tanks that conduct research-based policy to help governments tackle major global challenges of the G20 and beyond. As an appointed  Young Global Changer, I had the opportunity to connect with other young leaders, students, academics, nonprofit professionals, and entrepreneurs from around the world, committed to making the world a better place.