Portrait of Kidger

Tina Kidger

For this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Tina E. Kidger. Tina is currently European Events Consultant for Synopsys, and an emeritus member of the board of directors of the European Optical Society. Since 1982, she has also served as managing director of Kidger Optics Ltd. Tina is very active in the optics community and is a leading organizer and participant at international optical conferences and exhibits.

What first interested you in pursuing science?

I was, you could say, on the periphery of the “mysteries” of optical design. I was first introduced to optical design by my late husband, Michael Kidger, who was a lecturer in Optical Design at Imperial College, London (IC). In the late 1960s we visited the Brookhaven Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., USA, with Prof. Charles Wynne and his wife Jean. We stayed for a month—and at that time, the computer they used filled a large room!

In those early days, I had the good fortune of meeting great optics people like Hilda Kingslake, Rudolf Kingslake and Bob Hopkins, all from University of Rochester, and W. H. Steel, senior physicist of CSIRO and Macquarie University, Australia. I would visit IC and talk with Walter Welford, and we hosted the first IC Physics visitor from China, Dr. Hsu, who stayed with the group for two years. You could say that optical design and its applications became part of my life!

Describe a major turning point in your career. Was there a specific action/accomplishment that got you there?

Oh yes—the major turning point was when Michael and I formed Kidger Optics Ltd. Michael came back from a conference and said that his lecture on optical design software had been a WOW, and, after discussing it, we decided to form our company to market and sell the optical design software that Michael had been developing. Subsequently, I decided not to pursue a planned career in education, so I might focus on running our new company.

I guess then that my business training kicked in, and with a small company I wore many hats. I was, at any one time, organizing the day-to-day running of the staff, sales manager, promotional manager, and then heading the technical meetings. This allowed Michael to concentrate on his development of the design software. The whole thing was extremely demanding of my time—along with raising our two children.

Have you encountered a period where you have been discouraged in your pursuit of science? If so, how did you persevere?

When Michael died in Australia in 1998, like most optical design companies, we were having a tough time with sales of our optical design software. These two disasters were very challenging. I decided to sell our Sigma optical design copyright but was determined to keep every aspect of Michael’s tutorial education going.

I worked through all of Michael’s course notes that he had given either at IC or on visits abroad, particularly in Australia with W.H. Steel. There was enough material for two books, Fundamental Optical Design and Intermediate Optical Design, which were produced with the assistance of Don O’Shea, professor emeritus at Georgia Tech, and then David Williamson of Nikon, and continue to sell to this day.

Also at that time, with the encouragement of Chris Dainty at University College London, I started promoting and working on raising funds for the Michael Kidger Memorial Scholarship in Optical Design. The support from different people and organizations worldwide enabled the first scholarship to be awarded in 2000. It has been my continuing privilege and pleasure to meet and talk with the Kidger Scholar Awardees. I have learned a lot about optical design simply by following their research, which is awesome. Currently, the Kidger Scholarship Committee is examining this year’s applications for the 19th Kidger Scholarship Award!

Of the conferences you’ve attended, has there been a stand-out topic/session/interaction that really stuck with you or changed your perspective?

We should never underestimate the value of directly talking and meeting with academic and industrial researchers to learn what they are doing.

When I first started attending and exhibiting at optical conferences in the early 1980s, I very much enjoyed meeting all those visitors who came to our exhibits.

I have also found it especially enlightening and informative to talk with and discuss what an individual was researching or teaching at the informal OSA and SPIE conference receptions, which are an opportunity to meet and talk with leading researchers. I have always been particularly interested in the work of the astronomers; and it was through networking at conferences that I was able to visit Robert Shannon at University of Arizona, USA, and to meet with astronomers in Hawaii, USA.

What tips for successful networking do you have for early-career professionals?

Young professionals can hardly do better than to participate in large optical society conferences. One meets a mix of academic, engineering and industrial people in an open environment where the most recent technology and science can be discussed freely. It is highly worth the effort for any member of the optics community, especially the young professional, to attend, either through personal expense or obtaining the support of their employer to sponsor a trip, at least one of the large optical conferences a year.

Kidger at podium

Tina Kidger at SPIE/COS Photonics Asia 2016

What tips do you have for effective collaboration in your field?

I would say, bringing together, either through meetings, courses or conferences, a diverse attendance of lecturers, students and people in industry is a positive way to enable collaboration.

I don’t necessarily think that someone needs to stand on a podium and lecture the audience about how to work with each other. Rather, a lecture by a researcher/representative from industry about their work is a good way to go; it encourages the attendees to talk informally, about what they are doing, and what they want to achieve. It is also an opportunity to exchange views on the lecture, which sews the seeds for future interaction.

What have you learned by being a mentor to others, and what have you learned from mentors who helped shepherd your career?

If we consider that my work with the Kidger Scholarship brings me into the umbrella of mentor, then the great satisfaction and honor is in hearing that the scholarship opened doors for the students to institutions or further education that they would not otherwise have had—and then, of course, to their appointment at university or industry. It is wonderful to have been able to help in a way that continues today.

I think that the late Kevin Thompson, Synopsys Inc., was a great example and mentor for me. He supported my optical design meetings by attending and giving papers. Long before that, he had always been someone whom I could talk with when there was an optical design question. He was always available day or night; whenever and whatever Kevin was doing he would always answer my emails. I try to do the same for those who have questions and need support from me.

How do you define success in your career?

For me, the growing success of the one-day optical design meetings that I have organized in the U.K. since 2006 represents personal success. Success is also manifested in the privilege I have been granted by being able to bring together senior optical designers from the U.K., Europe and USA, for these one-day meetings and being invited to organize one-day optical design meetings in Spain. So perhaps you might say, that my success is in enabling optical designers to network and exchange their expertise, and of course facilitating the career enhancing award of 19 Kidger Scholarship Awards.

How important are leadership roles in career development and how do you hone your leadership skills?

I think that leadership roles are very important, in giving an individual the confidence to put themselves and their research and ideas forward in a confident way. So, I would say leadership makes for confidence and of course the other way around.

If we think more about this, being a leader in your skill, whatever it might be, encourages others to respect and show interest in what you are doing, and of course this progresses, to being able to apply for a scholarship or a job with confidence. It is the person who talks confidently about their research and interaction with other researchers that catches the eye. Confidence is part of being able to lead. I lead myself by always wanting to do better than I did before. It’s probably reasonable to say that I remain very competitive and always want to lead myself to higher achievements.

What advice do you have for young scientists who are about to interview for their first job?

I would say, think carefully about what it is they want to do in that job, what does it mean for them, what are they hoping to give to it and to achieve from it.

If I was interviewing them, that is what I would be wanting to hear. I would want to see if they would be prepared to go “the extra mile”. As someone who has carried out interviews of young optical designers, I would be looking for the interviewee’s confidence and enthusiasm of knowing something about what they hope to achieve. It goes back to what we have discussed about leadership.

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

I am very much looking forward to the rewards I gather from meeting the authors and listening to the presentations at the many optical meetings I help organize and in which I take an active participation. This year, I am a Symposium Chair at Optical Systems Symposium in Frankfurt, Germany, a Co-chair for the Symposium and for the Illumination Optics V Conference and a Co-chair for SPIE/COS Photonics Asia’s Illumination Optics VIII conference, in Beijing, China!

For 2019, I am organizing two ‘one-day’ optical design meetings. I was invited by Sergio Bonaque, Wooptix, to organize a meeting at the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, Spain in March and I have a commitment from IC to host a U.K. meeting in September.

In addition, I get great satisfaction in making the Kidger Scholarship Award each year and meeting the gifted young awardee. I look forward to being part of advancing the science and technology of optics.

If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career (e.g., pastry chef, fighter pilot, etc.)?

Oh, and not because of your suggestion, my dream career has to be that of a fighter pilot! I have had an ongoing fascination with airplanes and flight from the time when I was a very small child.