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OSA Publishing

An Interview with Professor Chongxiu Yu

Author: Sai Chen

In 2009 when Sir Charles Kuen Kao, known as the Father of Fiber Optics, won the Nobel Physics Prize his citation by the Nobel committee was: "Light flows in thin threads of glass, and it carries almost all of the telephony and data traffic in each and every direction. Text, music, images and video can be transferred around the globe in a split second." The year of 2010 witnessed the 50th anniversary of the optical maser's invention. After the development of modern optical communication technologies for nearly half a century, it has already carried the communication architecture for the whole information society. In this case, as postgraduate students of the Institute of Information Photonics and Optical Communications (IPOC) of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT), how should we position ourselves? How can we see the future trends of this industry? How should we develop personal capabilities and make career planning? Should we read for a Ph.D.? Should we engage in business circle or academia? Profession Yu Chongxiu, an instructor of SPIE/OSA, shares her perspectives.

At the current stage, optical communication and wireless communication have both developed into a huge industrial scale. What is your view on the status of their respective historical development? What will be the development trend for optical communication industry in future years?

According to our plan, we first introduced optical knowledge to the pupils in Class Two, Grade Four and then demonstrated optics related experiments. Wei Ji was charge of teaching the background knowledge and received good response from the pupils. The pupils were active to answer the questions and we gave gifts to those who answered correctly.

In the next few years, the optical communication industry will gradually exert some new features and trends:

  1. the emergence of new fiber material - G657 fiber, resolving the problem Fiber to the Home (FTTH);
  2. Optical materials and devices will be widely used in the Ubiquitous Network and Internet of Things, giving full play to advantages of optical communication;
  3. Broadband strategy has been proposed at the national level, i.e., to implement broadband at all levels

(Backbone network, metropolitan area network and access network), no longer confined to backbone network only and the market demand of optical communication has been released.

Therefore, perspective of the industry is optimistic and students should be fully confident, send the research achievements to the world and contribute to the development of society

Many students are limited by theoretical simulation without carrying out experiment projects. I think they should make use of innovative projects in China, so as to cultivate their capabilities and combine theories with experimental studies. Student members of OSA can conduct more academic exchanges, help and inspire each other so as to make full use of the conditions in the universities. They are recommended to take part in a number of academic conferences, and go to the global platform using OSA as bridge.

China's communication industry is booming. As postgraduate students, what should we do to properly balance scientific capabilities and career planning?

Professor Yu:

Firstly, let us talk about cultivating scientific research abilities, which is particularly important for low-grade postgraduates. When just enrolled into the laboratory, students often cannot find their own direction, nor can they conduct independent research. Therefore, they are usually assigned to tasks by instructors or Ph.D candidates of high-grade and these tasks are either so-called "good" or "bad". The key to obtaining abilities lies in learning method, rather than having "good" or "bad" projects. Do not complain about the tasks assigned to you, since you can cultivate capabilities through various links, such as observing the learning attitude and methods from professors and students around you. There is no shortcut for learning. Only the ones who are hardworking, make an effort, and are careful and responsible can be successful. Although knowledge accumulation and progress of each day cannot be perceived in a short period of time, they are of great benefit in the long run. The more tasks and work you are undertaking and doing, the more experience you will accumulate, which will be the most valuable asset in your life.

About career planning, it is of "popular" or "unpopular" in terms of professional popularity. Situations are not identical in each laboratory of our institute, nor does each research team within the same laboratory, or even so for each student in a research group. I can tell from previous experience that when students are looking for a job, they should primarily think of their own interests, while taking into account the social need. I have once instructed a student, whose major is three-dimensional display. This major is typically unpopular against the backdrop of communication science in BUPT. However, since three-dimensional display technology fits the development trend in the society as a whole, finally the student has got a good career opportunity after graduation. When enrolled in a so-called unpopular major, you will always have opportunities to succeed as long as one can persevere and overcome difficulties.

There is a phenomenon in today's society, i.e. many graduates are expecting to find a job with high pay, yet no work stress, which is not quite possible since you can't have your cake and eat it too. Young people should have aspirations, and contribute to social development through hard work and creativity.

Specific to our institute, another situation exits: the research direction of institute is generally within the range of optical communications, but some students make their own judgment for future employment according to the current industrial focuses. Therefore, they give up the task given by the laboratory and spend a lot of energy doing things outside of their duties. I do not completely oppose such a choice from the view of career planning, but so doing may suffer from higher risk and it is likely that loss outweighs the gain.

When further exploring this issue, it is wrong to hold a fragmented view on research and field, since the inherent laws of many things are interlinked. Once again take the example of optical communication and wireless communications, optical and wireless do not only share something in common in terms of technology, but also have inherent similarities at the law of scientific research. For example, both of them entail how to research and write application reports. Therefore, students should embrace a broader vision when studying at universities. They should not only learn scientific knowledge, but also cultivate capabilities in different aspects so to grasp the rules to solve problems. It has been shown from experience of previous years that some outstanding students in optical major can also find a suitable job in wireless-related fields and do it well, since companies are likely to employ graduates with good potential.

In the last place, I would like to talk about the relationship between academic and industrial circles, i.e., distinction of the role from universities to companies in terms of social function. The industrial circle is often to solve problems of social development and people’s need, while academia is positioned at the forefront of innovation and research, technical reserves, as well as providing new theories and programs for continued social development. Most enterprises are to solve the problem of current social needs, such as development of intelligent network, cell phone's multifunction and other so-called popular professions. At the same time, universities are focused at training students in all fields. For example, although there is not widespread need for high-end technical talent in the field of optical communication, we can expect that with academia's promotion in technology and industry's market-driven stimulus, many fields will adopt optical communication technology, thus more talents will be needed and must be educated at universities.

Ph.Ds are a special group. Optical communication technology is ranked as high-end. Moreover, due to national policy and employment pressure among other factors, the number of Ph.Ds with Institute of IPOC is increasing steadily. Can you tell them what should they do after graduation?

Professor Yu:

There for generally two options for Ph.D. candidates after graduation: go abroad for further studies or stay in China for employment. I would like to give you some ideas.

As for studying abroad, the education for Ph.Ds should have a higher standard. Although much better conditions have been created by both the nation and the professors, doctorate education in our country still is subject to many restrictions. Once choosing to enroll in a Ph.D. program, students should have higher requirement for their own study, go to top study level using international platform. If the supervisor's research can not meet international standards, you can choose to go abroad for further study, making research in foreign advanced research environment and using first-class research platform. After graduation, you may choose to find a job in China to serve the motherland, or stay abroad which can also serve the motherland, such as conducting exchanges and cooperation with domestic universities or corporations, helping them get more projects and have a better development. Doctoral students should position themselves as high-level talent with international horizon, who can be a leader at work and guide others to do research and engineering.

Regarding employment, it differs according to the size of companies. For larger companies, in order to sustain development, they normally assign Ph.Ds to do planning and pre-research. While for small companies, there is no distinction between technical, pre-research or talent reserves, and they are not likely to recruit Ph.Ds. Even if they do recruit some Ph.Ds, those talents are normally arranged to engage in engineering and project management. Therefore, it is not wise for Ph.D candidates to do only research at university; instead, they should also take the initiative to cultivate organizational capacities. In addition, according to the current employment situation, Ph.Ds may not be limited to find a job in enterprises; colleges and universities not in Beijing can also be considered as good opportunity since they provide good payment and sound career development.

Ph.D candidates are supposed to be good at thinking and studying. Therefore, students ought to make careful analysis of their character before choosing to enroll in a Ph.D. program.

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Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin
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Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Physics, Beijing
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Nanjing University of Posts and Telecom, Nanjing
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Xi'an Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics, Xi'an City
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Xidian University, Xi'an
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