Myself Hema, woman in early 30’s, flew 8000 kms from India to Ireland, taking such long international flights all alone for the first time to pursue my passion. Am currently in final year of my PhD in Photonics at Tyndall National Institute.

Pursuing a scientific career depends on how the curiosity of the kid is handled at home and at school. I think my dad played a humongous role in answering all my questions at young age. Like why some trees are bent and some are straight, why there is a gap in railway track and so many stuffs thought to be silly. He himself being a scientist (chemist), instead shutting me up, he nurtured such questions and gave me logical answers that I can relate and understand. Reasoning out why certain things are being done in a particular way satisfied me. This got continued at school as well. We were introduced to basics of physics, chemistry and biology in 6th grade, say around 11 years of age. All the three classes were interesting as they had answers to real life questions. My passion towards science started when they thought about the fact that light can travel faster than sound, that is why we see the lightning first and then hear the thunder. This fact fascinated me, I started asking my teachers, brother and brother’s friends, why is that so. I have to mention that my brother is 10 years elder to me and could guide me and we had great discussions. All these people they spent their valuable time in giving examples, suggesting books all along in school. So that is when my curiosity began and I pursued bachelors and masters in Physics.

To me, inspiration come from people whom we get to see every day and have the luxury of long chats. So for me its my family and friends. My mom, dad and brother none of them were sacred to ask questions, explore why, sometimes we know the answer sometimes we don’t, still we wondered why about lot of stuffs. My brother’s friend Shankar played a crucial role in my life from explaining me the basics of electricity when I was a kid to being a mentor forever after, by introducing me to photonics. I had a good score to join engineering after school and that was what preferred by the society as well. Engineering and doctor are two major degrees Indian students are suggested to study hoping they will get job sooner! Now there has even come a saying if you throw a stone randomly in a street there are 90% chances for it to hit an engineer. But I was clear with choosing science over any other degree though I wasn’t aware what is the job market like for science. One thing was clear to me engineering is about applying the knowledge to some thing useful to mankind. Science is that knowledge or the basic concepts used in applications. I preferred to explore the basics!

I think doing internships during college gives an idea of what we really like to do. During my masters degree, I got an opportunity to be an intern in optics lab where I got to handle things myself, learnt a new software, saw PhD students and post docs daily life, got to learn from them and its overall very nice experience along with developing such nice contacts for life time. I did not do any specialization in physics, since my degree both bachelors and masters is general physics, I had a wide scope to explore any specific branch of my choice. I eventually got opportunity to work as project assistant in Photonics. This is where I really learnt what I s being done in photonics research, about fabrication, cleanroom, simulations and way more stuffs and all which kept me interested. That gave me the chance and basement work to pursue PhD degree in photonics.

My advice? Learn what interests you. What you enjoy doing. Every career has a challenge and struggle and some phase, its only our passion which keeps us motivated. When there are more than one interest, take some time in everything say art/science/business, involve in some summer school or get some internship for short term, to see if the fields really keep you interested. I mean unless we dive deep we really don’t know what is there in store. So experience each of them, and make an informed decision.