Friday, March 20, 2015

Interview with a long-standing member of UL SPIE, MSc.Phys. Inga Saknite

The University of Latvia SPIE (UL SPIE) Student chapter is a part of an international society advancing an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light. A lot of student leaders have been and still are members of this chapter. We offer an interview with a long-lasting member of the UL SPIE Student chapter, Inga Saknite who holds a Master’s degree in Physics and is a promising PhD student. She has been awarded with a Travel Scholarship by SPIE to attend the worldwide conference “SPIE Photonics West 2015” – the world’s leading laser, photonics and biomedical optics conference, held in San Francisco, USA. Let’s hear about her impressions!
Inga, please introduce yourself! How have you been involved with UL SPIE?
I am a third-year PhD student of Physics, currently working on my doctoral thesis on optical methods used for estimation and mapping of skin bilirubin, hemoglobin and water. I have been a member of SPIE and UL SPIE since 2010, for 5 years. 

The first time I attended and participated in a worldwide conference was in 2012 with the support of SPIE. It was the “Optics & Photonics” conference held in San Diego, USA. It was also my first time in the United States which brought many new experiences. Participation in this conference and especially in the Leadership workshop for SPIE student chapter members encouraged me to become the leader of UL SPIE student chapter.  Consequently, I became the president of the Latvian chapter for two terms. 

I have been a part of the organizing committee of the annual international conference “Developments in Optics and Communications” (DOC) since 2010. When I became the president of the chapter, I also had the chance to experience being the chair of the conference for two years in a row. That was an amazing experience which, I believe, helped me become a better leader and also let me obtain new skills. During the last 5 years, I have also attended quite a few international and local conferences, including “Photonics Europe” in Munich (2013), “Photonics West” in San Francisco  (2013), “Photonics Europe” in Brussels (2014) and, most recently, “Photonics West 2015” that was held during the 7th to 12th February in San Francisco.

What are your impressions about the conference in San Francisco that you just got back from?
I would like to say many thanks to SPIE for this great opportunity that allowed me to visit “Photonics West 2015” by receiving the Travel Scholarship. Thanks to SPIE, I had the chance to participate in the largest and the most important worldwide conference in my research field. I was fortunate to meet the leading experts and professionals in my field, as well as other fields of Optics and its applications. 

I was presenting a poster on determination of in vivo skin moisture level by near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy which is a part of my PhD work. To my mind, the poster session was very successful; there were a lot of visitors interested in my research who gave me a couple of great ideas and interesting views that will be helpful for my future experiments.

I also had a chance to learn about the latest novelties and technologies in my research field. Also, I used every possibility I got to network with other students, researchers and professionals by attending different social events, like the Lunch with Experts, Member reception, SPIE student meeting, and others. 

Fig. 1. Travel scholarship winners. I. Saknite: from the right 1st person on the second line

Tell me about your plans for future!
Right now my goal is to finish my PhD thesis and publications that I am currently working on. Afterwards, I will probably need a little break. However, not for long, as I already have some ongoing scientific projects that I want to continue after finishing my PhD as I don’t have much time to work on them right now. These projects are mostly scientific collaborations with scientists from other institutes, and I would like to stress how important, in my mind, is the interaction between researchers from different fields, different institutes and different parts of the world.

Latvia is a small country, and we need to collaborate in order to achieve even greater things. We have great minds, and we need to use them to achieve even more. 

I also see myself as a future leader. I want to write my own research projects, I want to lead a team, I want to be a part of something important and help others be a part of something important as well. I also think it is very important to be involved in explaining our research to public, to school kids who want to know more.

In your opinion, what are the goals of being a scientist? What are the benefits?
The goal is quite simple: to make this world a better place. However, it is maybe an even more important question to ask – what does it take to be a scientist? As a scientist, you have to go through many challenges and hard times. You have to meet project deadlines, you have to publish, you have to show that something works, although it may not always work the way you would like it to work. I have spent months of sitting in my laboratory and almost literally hitting my head against the wall, trying to solve a problem. When the understanding comes, when you manage to see what you expected to see, it is a great feeling of excitement and joy. Until you face a new challenge. This is why I strongly believe that interaction between scientists and working in a team are the keys to scientific research. Team helps you look at your problem from a different angle, helps you not lose faith and reminds you why is it significant what you are doing. This is why it is also very important to attend international conferences, especially the largest ones like “Photonics West”. You meet your colleagues from all over the world, you get new ideas, new networks and new friends. 

It is crucial to be a part of local and global scientific communities like SPIE and University of Latvia SPIE student chapter. It is amazing that SPIE offers so many benefits to all level students and even school students from all over the world. I would never have had the chance to visit large conferences in the United States, if it wasn’t for such organizations as SPIE.

What is your wish for other young and perspective scientists?
Be passionate, be active, look for opportunities, and interact! 

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