Stanford Optical Society

2013-2014 Executive Board Exploratorium After Dark with the Berkeley PhotoBears 2013 OSA Chapter Award Bay Area Science Festival Hike at Jasper Ridge Networking dinner SUPR 2014 group photo Bay Area Science Festival

I've had a great experience connecting and becoming friends with other optics researchers in the Stanford Optical Society, a student chapter of OSA and SPIE. After serving as the program chair of the fifth-annual Stanford University Photonics Retreat (SUPR), a friend jokingly told me I should run for president. After conferring with Cathy Jan, a friend who helped immensely during the planning and running of SUPR the previous year, we decided to run together as co-presidents. We were elected in May 2013, served for one year, and had a great time leading one of the most active graduate student groups on the Stanford campus.

Student Chapter Excellence Award Finalist Presentation

OSA Annual Student Leadership Conference, Orlando, FL, October 2013.


Optics by its very nature is an interdisciplinary field, spanning many departments such as Electrical Engineering, Applied Physics, Physics, Bioengineering, Materials Science, Chemistry, Biology, and even Medicine. The Stanford Optical Society was formed in 1992 and revived in 2004 to serve this diverse community, facilitating interaction between graduate students and postdocs who are normally separated by disciplinary and physical boundaries at Stanford. We run social events, invite academic and industry speakers for seminars, engage children and adults alike during our outreach events, and organize and run a yearly photonics retreat. This student organization strives to serve the professional and community needs of its graduate students, and it has been a privilege for me to serve in this organization.

Tasks completed

As co-president, I was responsible for the leadership of the society as well as functioning as a pro re nata organizer and/or volunteer at all of our events. This included:

  • Scheduling and holding regular executive board meetings to coordinate activities and update officers on the state of the society
  • Interacting with officers and staff of OSA (Cathy handled SPIE) to submit grant applications for financial support of our various events, submit annual and grant reports, and handle special society events as they arise
  • Organizing and running quarterly networking dinners with optics professionals from around the Bay Area
  • Attend OSA (Matt) and SPIE (Cathy) student leadership conferences: present a poster and give a talk about chapter activities
  • Meet individually with each of the committee chairs to set goals for the year; facilitate their plans by writing grant applications or contacting external organizations for connections
  • Write quarterly newsletters (winter and spring) to the chapter summarizing previous events and advertising future events
  • Submit applications for various chapter awards, such as the OSA Student Chapter Excellence Award and Student Chapter Recruitment Contest
  • Recruit first-year graduate students to join our chapter by visiting department orientations, handing out flyers, presenting our chapter poster, etc.
  • Facilitate reorganization of chapter website to make information about each committee easier to find, as well as highlight past and future events
  • Host weekly breakfasts around campus before elections to increase interest and awareness of chapter and recruit future leaders
  • Formulate, organize, and execute plan for chapter succession to ensure continued and sustained success of the organization in future years

Skills gained

  • Organizational and leadership skills to run a large student volunteer organization holding multiple activities per month
  • Communication skills to interact with sponsors, staff of our parent organizations, and student volunteers to ensure continued support of our chapter
  • Technical and web skills to update the chapter website and send event announcements and chapter updates to over 600 people on our mailing list
  • Fundraising and networking skills to establish and maintain relationships with our various funding agencies, as well as engage volunteers outside of Stanford to connect our chapter with professionals in our area

Lessons learned

  • Being surrounded by a good team makes the difference between needing to do busywork all by oneself versus being able to delegate tasks appropriately so that leaders can focus their energy on leading the organization. Cathy and I worked well together to split up tasks, work out personnel issues, and execute a shared vision for our presidency. We also worked together to execute a few tasks that weren't completed by other officers as needed for the good of the organization.
  • Succession planning is one of the most important and time-demanding tasks for student leaders. As co-presidents, Cathy and I carefully considered the interests and personality matches of each of the volunteers within our organization, consulted them individually to learn their desires and plans for the coming year, and personally contacted perspective students to attract them to our group. We dealt with some interpersonal conflicts between prospective officers but ultimately converged upon a succession plan that ensured the continued prosperity of the chapter.


Leading the Stanford Optical Society as Co-President has given me valuable experience managing a volunteer student organization. I have made many wonderful connections with professionals inside and outside of Stanford. I've also realized that I find working with a great team of people extremely rewarding. As I look ahead beyond my time at Stanford, I see myself engaging with and giving back to the community, both within my future workplace and through my membership with professional societies.

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