In this installment of Senior Member Insights, OPN talks with Goutam Samanta. Goutam is an associate professor and heads the Photonic Sciences Laboratory at Physical Research Laboratory, India. Prior to joining Physical Research Laboratory, Goutam obtained his Ph.D. at the Institute of Photonics Sciences (ICFO), Spain.
His research interests include structured laser beams, nonlinear generation of structured beams, optical parametric oscillators, and the development of entangled photon sources with high brightness. In addition to his regular research activities, Goutam promotes optics and photonics among India’s school and college students through hands-on experiments.
What first interested you in pursuing science?
I don’t exactly remember what I wanted to be when I was a little kid. However, I clearly remember my favorite pastime was to make different electrical or mechanical elementary gadgets for fun. My interest to pursue science, I think, was the natural progression in my academic career. I happened to be a student with a strong affection for mathematics and physics. Later, I pursued an undergraduate physics degree and a master’s degree in optics and optoelectronics and started enjoying optics and photonics due to my strong affection towards lasers.
What aspect of your current work do you find the most interesting or exciting?
There are two aspects of my current work that I find very exciting. As I have said previously, during childhood my favorite pastime was to make different gadgets by implementing my own ideas and thoughts, with my parents providing the budget for my fun. Presently, I am doing the same thing, but getting paid.
Additionally, there is a continuous inflow of young and motivated minds (my students) to help implement my ideas and thoughts. There is no strict routine and boundary to explore the unknown; I don’t know of any other profession that has such freedom.
Describe a major turning point in your career. Was there a specific action/accomplishment that got you there?
After completing a master’s degree, I was wondering whether I should go for a Ph.D. or look for a job. While a Ph.D. was something close to my heart, the fellowship amount in India was too tight to support my family. At this juncture of my career, two incidences changed my career path. I got the Ph.D. offer from ICFO, Spain, and my wife got a permanent job in the Indian Space Research Organization.
I was also fortunate to have Prof. Majid Ebrahim-Zadeh as my Ph.D. supervisor. I have learned many things from him and many of my accomplishments are a direct or indirect outcome of his guidance, support and positive attitude toward everything.
What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
Like other scientists, I attend various professional conferences, review papers and proposals, and regularly read the latest research articles to stay active and engaged in my research field. However, due to the limited resources, I sometimes miss the opportunity to attend big conferences in the field of optics and photonics, including CLEO.
Additionally, my group has a regular research paper discussion session and, during the summer, I volunteer an experimental physics course for undergraduate students. Such activities help me to explore the various experiments and methodologies related to my domain of expertise.
Members of Goutam Samanta's group in the lab.
What tips do you have for effective networking and collaboration in your field?
I believe that successful networking and collaboration, especially in a professional career, demands that all parties be in a win-win situation. It is also important for all involved parties to have a minimum accomplishment in their careers. Given these known facts in mind, my realization for effective networking and collaboration would be that one should first earn respect from their peers by achieving a certain level of success in their career through hard work.
Honesty, professionalism and accommodativeness are some of the important parameters for long-lasting networking and collaboration. For students, having a mentor can sometimes make a big difference in developing international connections and collaborators.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you were given as a student/early in your career?
I did not have enough exposure to the advantages of networking. I focused on earning a very good Ph.D. through my hard work and dedication; as such, I did not keep any time in my daily routine for networking.
However, I later realized the importance of networking. So, right after joining the Physical Research Laboratory, I started an OSA student chapter, and I encourage students to network through various events, one of which is the annual international conference SCOP (Student Conference on Optics and Photonics) organized by our student chapter.
Therefore, my advice for students is that while hard work has no alternative for a successful career, the right proportion of hard work and networking can take you to the next level in your career.
What are daily habits that help you to be successful?
I believe that success in a professional career requires the person to be physically and mentally rejuvenated each day to bring out his/her best. Therefore, I spend quality time with my family, especially with my little daughter Oyishani, and I play football with many of my group members regularly. Physical exercise not only helps to maintain fitness, but it also facilitates the dissipation of frustration and anxiety in day-to-day life and helps to start the next day afresh. One of the interesting facts of academicians is that they are always surrounded by young, talented and motivated people who are full of energy.
I also spend time with my group members discussing various academic and non-academic issues, and share light moments to build a healthy environment for our group to work as a team.
If your ten-years-younger self was looking at your career now, what would they be most surprised by?
My ten-years-younger self, looking at my career now, would be most surprised to see me have a faculty position in a premier research laboratory of India while staying with my family. I believe that success in a career requires the person to have a happy life. It is always difficult to get a faculty position in premier research institutes and universities despite having a strong CV. The level of difficulty further increases if you have to solve the two-body problem by securing a job not only in a premier institute, but also in an institute that should be situated in the city where your spouse is already working in a prestigious organization like Indian Space Research Organization.
The solution to such constraints automatically narrows the options into one or two institutes in which to secure the job. In such a scenario, despite having a strong CV, you have to be lucky and maintain self-belief. Truly, I was lucky to get a faculty position in Physical Research Laboratory, India.
If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?
I would probably end up as a [sports] player. I love sports and regularly play a half-dozen of sports including table tennis, tennis, football and volleyball. Unlike my peers in the scientific community, I am well known as a sports person among my office colleagues and friend circle.