Fatima Garcia-Gunning, Ph.D.
Senior Staff Researcher at Tyndall National Institute
VP of Membership, IEEE Photonics Society

What is Your Current Profession?
I am a Senior Staff Researcher at Tyndall National Institute and Head of Graduate Studies. My research is focused on optical fibre systems and sensing, where I am leading a team working on analogue photonic solutions for high capacity systems and also on the exciting area of 2 μm photonics, enabling us to not only think about communications beyond traditional C-band and utilizing novel optical fibres, but also in sensing applications, in particular for environmental monitoring. As Head of Graduate Studies in Tyndall, I also focus on strategic training programs for our postgraduate students, focusing on our key core skills in photonics, semiconductor fabrication & packaging, but also in diverse applications from telecoms to medical devices. We also engage with innumerable outreach activities to ensure citizen engagement with Science.

What Role Does Your BoG Position Play for IPS? What Challenges Do You Face in Your Part?
I am the current VP of Membership, where we look after all things related to membership, extending beyond recruitment and retention plans, so also working with chapter revitalization, mentorship programs, members-only
content, and diversity and inclusion. One of the biggest challenges is overseeing all the activities across the globe and ensuring we are supporting our regional chapters and student branches. Luckily, we have an excellent team
(staff & volunteers!) to help with such a task!

What Do You Want to Accomplish as a Board Member this Year/Next Year?
I am very passionate about mentorship to all career levels, and we also find that mentorship is critical to reaching the advancement of underrepresented groups. One of the most rewarding experiences since volunteering with the Society was the micro-mentoring I received, which helped me tremendously. So, I want to share this experience with our members, our students and young professionals. This year I would like to see further engagement in our e-mentor match program, for example, which has been successful during conferences!

Why Photonics? What was Your “Photonics Moment?”
I knew I wanted to continue my studies in Physics beyond my undergrad degree when I stepped into the nonlinear optics labs at PUC-Rio (Brazil), where I studied. One of the highlights (although most people would have hated it) was to re-align the entire cavity (note: invisible IR light…) of this massive water-cooled Nd:YAG laser. I was also humbled to be trusted by my supervisors (Walter Margulis & Isabel Carvalho) to take on such a significant challenge, as it was the heart of the lab’s research. I never looked back and continued to learn new areas in Photonics, from nonlinear optics to optical communications, through semiconductor devices and packaging.

What About Our Society’s Mission, and Work Motivates You?
The community model engagement. As in “we” as members, we can engage with IPS for a greater good. Not only networking and exchanging research ideas, entrepreneurship opportunities, and even commercial engagement but also contributing to a better society. It is encouraging to see how some of our volunteers have ideas that can change lives around the world.

Why Do You Think Members Should be Involved as IEEE Photonics Society Volunteers? What are the Benefits?
I remember not understanding the importance of being a member of a professional society, except for the discounts in major conferences. It wasn’t until I started working with IPS that I realized how inclusive the IPS community is, and of the opportunities available to make a difference if you are up to the challenge. It started with a micro-volunteering opportunity for a diversity event at a local conference “Photonics Ireland.” Given our ideas and passion, we were then engaged with events in larger international conferences, and from then onwards, our relationship grew stronger and stronger. By “we” here I mean myself and my team members. We benefited tremendously from this strong engagement, personally through mentorship and an opportunity to lead a few impactful activities; from my team’s perspective they were able to build their own network of contacts which is super crucial for their careers, and for IPS we are now implementing activities and guidelines that will enable a more diverse community with an inclusive voice. Winners all around!