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What’s important—Let’s talk

Akhil Kallepalli e1631948484937

By Akhil Kallepalli, AVP of Young Professionals & Young Professionals
Advisory Committee Chair

What a year 2020 has been for all of us. This has, by far, been the single most universally challenging year in our lifetimes and I hope it is the last of those!

2021 begins with an optimistic outlook and expectation with news regarding vaccinations and a better understanding of COVID-19 available for science, industry and the general public. I am hoping that we, in the Photonics Society, can ride this optimistic wave of the pandemic’s eventual resolution with initiatives to promote and enable better opportunities globally for Young Professionals (YP) in the Society. In this issue’s column, I would like to share:

  • Initiatives of the future
  • Plans for the Young Professionals Advisory Committee, formed in the New Year, with a motivation to prioritize all aspects of early-career professionals, including personal well-being, professional opportunities and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).
  • Some personal thoughts and experiences

The YP community, members and volunteers up to 15 years post their first degree, members and volunteers up to 15 years post their first degree, within the Photonics Society is one of the largest sub-groups of our membership. Any member who has completed their first graduation or qualification is eligible. This includes many professionals in various sectors and well into their careers. With the Young Professional Advisory Committee, I would like to focus on facilitating the improvement of professional experience with development opportunities. Simultaneously, this also goes to include those professionals
who are considering transitions between domains (industry, academia, public sectors) and/or career levels.

Young professionals hold great potential in shaping the future scenario of any workplace, environment and culture. Giving this community the tools and ability to achieve this positive change is one of the primary motivations of the committee. The Advisory Committee intends to focus on, but not
limit itself to:

Leadership, training and professional development:

  • Increasing and enhancing volunteering opportunities
  • Providing a smooth transition between career levels and sectors
  • Assisting in better education and mentoring programs
  • Positively educating, promoting, and facilitating equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Highlighting and promoting positive mental health
  • Recognizing individuals and organizations facilitating positive change

This does not limit our collective interest, as the global community has a diverse set of requirements and challenges; a set that also allows us to learn from one another. A specific problem in one region may have been overcome by the membership of another region; the committee intends to include this philosophy from the very beginning.

As this is our first conversation, let me share a couple of serendipitous stories with you. In August 1996, an aspiring, young Larry showed up to an orientation session at Stanford. He was considering doing his graduate studies there. A student was assigned to him to show him around-meet Sergey! Even though they disagreed on a lot, they found a lot they agreed on too. Little did either know that in a few years, they would co-found Google. Consider the possibilities here, and the serendipitous nature of that meeting.

This one is a personal story. I have been volunteering for the IEEE UK and Ireland Photonics Chapter since 2017. In December 2019, just before the pandemic became an all-encompassing reality, I helped organize the British and Irish Conference on Optics and Photonics (2019 IEEE BICOP). I was in the audience when an ever-enthusiastic and one of the best presenters I have ever met, Prof Miles Padgett, took
the stage for a plenary talk. As soon as he finished his talk, with me only weeks away from handing in my thesis, I approached him to consider future collaboration opportunities (as I had done with many other researchers as well). After an interview that occurred in the airport while I was on my way for my first US conference with funding from the IEEE Photonics Society, I submitted my thesis and signed a contract for
a postdoctoral position at the University of Glasgow. In the same conference visit, I came to meet Lauren (Mecum-Smith) from the Photonics Society; a meeting that would eventually bring me this very role.

I am not saying my story is similar (if only!) or different from that of Google, but I’m hoping to highlight that the opportunities that present themselves have no way to let us know what the future has to offer and how much good can come of one opportunity!

In a recent webinar series I organized I requested the speakers to share their advice to early career professionals and students. When posed to Prof Padgett (University of Glasgow), his response was “Work with the smartest people you can find that want to work with you. You can learn something from
each other. Work somewhere you will be happy … I think the people you work with are more important than what you are working on.”

As I begin my term as the AVP of Young Professionals and Chair of the Young Professionals Advisory Committee, I invite you to be a part of this conversation, encourage participation and involvement of the membership in the hope and belief that together we can make the future better than the past, no matter the task.

About the Column

This regular column is written on behalf of and for Young Professionals in the IEEE Photonics Society. The eligible membership for YP are members up to 15 years post their first degree graduation. This makes the IEEE Young Professionals community one of the largest groups within the membership. Through this column, with inputs from me and other invited authors, the objective is to reach and cater to the needs of this diverse community. The expectation of this column is to ensure that it provides a forum for me to share the Advisory Committee’s progress in achieving its objectives (more to come on this) and encourage you to write back to me with your insights and promote a positive, ever-progressing outlook. Please reach out to me if you would like to comment, support and write for this column ( I am happy to connect on Twitter (@OptoPhysAkhil) as well.

A Bit About Me

I (Akhil Kallepalli) grew up in the vibrant coastal town of Visakhapatnam in India. My background is diverse and of a “jack of all trades” nature; I have worked on remote sensing, hyperspectral imaging, biomedical optics and biophotonics, and novel modalities for sub-diffraction level imaging. After completing my Ph.D. in biomedical optics and biophotonics at Cranfield University (Shrivenham, UK), I am now based at the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow as a postdoctoral research associate.