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Photonics: The next generation | Part three: Maria Giovanna Pappa

What inspires and drives young engineers?

For the photonics industry to attract – and retain – the best talent, answering this question is critical.

That’s why, ahead of the Day of Photonics on 21 October, Electro Optics spoke with people at the start of their careers.

We're looking to find out what’s important to them in their work – and how photonics organisations can meet their needs.

Third in this series is Maria Giovanna Pappa, Optical Engineer, NKT Photonics 

What led to you choosing a career in photonics?

When I was studying for my masters degree in Italy, we had several options to go into electronics, opto-electronics and microelectronics, etc. I chose the path that was in my opinion closest to physics. I had always been very fascinated by quantum mechanics and light in general, so for me the fact that I could choose a career in a field where I could both be an engineer and work with these interesting physical phenomena, made photonics the right choice for me.

I also wanted to work in a field that reflected what I’d been studying at university. I was seeing a lot of engineers ending up in software or other fields that didn’t really have anything to do with the topics they’d covered throughout their degree. And so for me being able to work with lasers, optical instruments and optical fibres – which is exactly what I’d been studying – was a perfect fit. I’ve since moved from Italy to the UK, as there are more optical engineering jobs there.

What have you enjoyed/found challenging so far?

For me the two are synonymous with each other – what I enjoy is also what I find challenging. We work on very sophisticated devices, and I love this both due to the complexities involved and also due to the fact that my need to continuously study didn’t stop after university. Many people have said they never use what they learnt in textbooks in their current job, whereas for me the opposite is the truth – I constantly need to read books to learn about the latest technology developments and apply them to my work.

I also enjoy the fact that photonics is such a wide field of technology that can be applied to so many different industries. So should I wish to work in a particular sector, say automotive, aerospace or biotech, I have the flexibility and knowledge to do so.

Some of the projects we are working on are also very fulfilling to be a part of, as we know they will have a big impact on society as a whole. For example, while working in the field of aerospace and defence, we had the opportunity to work with the European Space Agency on some fascinating projects, which in the long run will help improve Europe’s position among the already very competitive space sector.

Where do you see your photonics career taking you?

I plan to stay in the field of optical engineering for the foreseeable future, however I can see myself one day moving up into management. I don’t mean this in the sense of managing people, but rather projects. For me the joy is in the research and development of new technologies, the processes involved in working with them, and the final outcome. So I see myself overseeing the technical steps and overcoming the latest challenges involved in producing new products, rather than partaking in endless arrays of team meetings where I’m having to direct lots of people. 

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