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Rosa Alejandra Lukaszew

In this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Rosa Alejandra “Ale” Lukaszew. The Distinguished Virginia Microelectronics Consortium (VMEC) professor of physics at the College of William and Mary, USA, Ale has, since January 2017, also served as a program manager in the Defense Sciences Office at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Right now, her interests include understanding and developing new materials, structures and devices incorporating strongly correlated electrons—particularly exploiting topological correlations to create pathways to new paradigms in electronics for applications in memory, logic, energy conversion devices and sensors.

Ale believes that the emerging understanding of topological phenomena, along with discoveries of topological excitations in materials, offers great opportunities to extend the storage/logic device roadmap beyond current state of the art. We asked her about the road that has led up to her current position.

Has there been a particularly difficult decision in your career thus far?

I wouldn’t say this was a particularly difficult decision, but it was an important one. I put my academic career on hold to serve as program manager for DARPA. I believe this was the right decision for me at this point in my career, because it exposes me to the other side of the funding scene while also providing a different perspective on the additional benefits of funded research, particularly in the defense sector.

Do you have any advice for dealing with a particularly challenging colleague or supervisor?

My main advice is to avoid fruitless confrontation. In my experience, it is best to continue doing good work and engage in constructive conversation.

Has mentoring helped to shape your career?

Mentoring has been important in two ways throughout my career. On the receiving end, I am grateful for the invaluable mentoring that I received from colleagues when seeking advice for funding, promotion, etc. On the giving end, I worked hard to provide solid mentoring to all my students so that they can succeed in their professional careers.

What is some advice that you give your students?

I sometimes ponder the future, but for the most part I focus on the present. I believe that doing the right thing at the present time will influence the future. I adhere to the philosophy that "what goes around comes around.” I always tell my students to “dream big.” Only you can push yourself to the highest place that you were meant to reach in life.

What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?

The best platforms for networking are attendance at professional society meetings and participation in the governance of professional societies. I participate in OSA, AVS, and APS meetings and sometimes more focused meetings, such as Intermag, Applied Superconductivity, etc. I also read professional journals.

What is one question you had as a student/early professional that never seemed to be answered? Have you found the answer?

The big question for me is how to succeed in your career while keeping your personal life under control. In my experience, there is no one answer that fits all circumstances.

How do you define success in your career?

Success is a very personal feeling to me. I don’t believe in firm metrics, since success involves the degree of fulfillment that an individual achieves in various fronts of his or her life.

What habits do you frequently rely on that help you to succeed?

I’ve always benefited from deeply researching the topic or issue at hand, and then asking for additional help from friends and colleagues if needed. It’s important to do your own homework, but recognize when you need to ask for assistance.

At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?

I’m pondering this very question at this point in my career. I would like to pursue managerial positions, but I’ve also considered starting my own company.

If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?

I would love to be a physician or a veterinarian.