Life of a PhD Student: Conferences

One of the integral part of being a graduate student is participating in research conferences. Today, I want to change gears from previous blog posts to talk about an important but often undervalued aspect of researcher’s career: attending conferences. I will start with discussing importance of conference for young researchers and later share my personal experience with conferences so far. To begin with, let’s discuss what a typical physics conference entails. Origin of the word conference is Latin word conferre which means ‘bring together’. The formal definition of conference is ‘a formal meeting of people with shared interests’. A scientific conference is an event which generally brings together researcher with all level of expertise and experience working in particular research area or group of areas to present their results and discuss recent advances in the field. This is done usually in a combination of talks and posters by attendees along with more informal coffee and dinner sessions.


So that leads us to ask following questions, why do scientists have to attend conferences? Isn’t main goal of our job to work in a lab on something novel and unknown? Isn’t conventional way of publishing paper enough to inform community about the work we are doing? The simplest answer is not really. There are several benefits of attending conferences which makes it essential part of work of a scientist.


First of all, dissemination of research through an oral medium like talk or poster is often more effective than simply publishing online or in scientific journal. You are also able to receive feedback on your data/results at various stages of experiment, which can help in guiding project. It also leads you to think about their research with different point of view to present it to broader audience and enables you to improve your communication skills.


Attending a conference will also facilitate learning about cutting-edge research in your own research area. It can help you realize how important your current work is for the community and connect it to big-picture research goals. This often leads to new ideas or techniques whose validity you can assess at conference itself and later implement in your own lab.


Third benefit is networking. Meeting colleagues working in same field can also help in generating collective ideas or resources and collaborations for future experiments. The importance of collaboration is obvious in present day science, most famous examples are LIGO which led to observation of gravitational waves and CERN led observation of Higgs Boson particle, two of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of 21st century. Another benefit of networking for young researchers is potential to check the fit with different PIs and groups for future positions.


Last but not the least, conference gives a huge opportunity to travel around the world, see new culture and make new friends. It gives you a chance to refresh mentally and therefore, it can be considered as fun work time.


Our Innovative Training Network Spin-NANO considers scientific conference an important part of training young Early Stage Researchers and plans to organize a conference/meeting every half a year. Most recent meeting was organized at TU Delft in June 2017 along with our Industry Partners. It was a highly engaging 2 days conference where ESRs and project partners were able to introduce, to rest of the network, their work or company respectively. I really enjoyed learning about the industrial culture and challenges from our partners along with scientific results from my fellow ESRs, over talks and conversation over coffee and lunch sessions.


The meeting was followed by Think Ahead Workshop where we discussed topics like communicating research to public and presentation skills with immediate feedback on our own presentations during meeting earlier, making us learn about how to better disseminate our research. It was also the first time that all ESRs came together, we had wonderful interaction during the meeting and I am sure it will be start to many wonderful collaborations in next years.


Another conference that I attended after starting my PhD was Resonator QED which is organized by Nanosystem Initiative Munich (NIM) in Munich. It is organized every 2 years and is a combination of talks, tutorial talks and poster sessions. It brought together scientists from different fields studying Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) including solid-state cavity QED, atomic cavity QED, circuit QED, single photon sources and quantum memories. This made the entire conference really interesting as scientific goals of these communities are overlapping but system and technology used are widely diverse. While it is not in the scope of blog to summarize entire conference, here I chose to give outline of two of many interesting talks that were presented. Hopefully it will demonstrate exciting work going on in developing quantum technologies using different platforms and also generate your interest to find out more:


1) Nanocavity QED: from inverse design to implementation by Prof Vuckovic, Stanford, USA

In her talk, Prof Vuckovic described the work in her group using nanophotonic structures. In one experiment, they have shown strong light-matter coupling between quantum dot (QD) and photonic-crystal cavity creating quasiparticle called polariton and use it to observe dynamic Mollow triplet [1]. In later part of her talk, she discussed an inverse design technique/algorithm to obtain more efficient photonic devices. For example, they have used their algorithm to design compact wavelength demultiplexer (see Figure 1) [2]. This is interesting as it illustrates that the methods from Computer Science are helping physicist to advance integrated photonics.


Figure 1: Schematic of wavelength demultiplexer with one input and two output waveguide and design region (from ref: [2])
Figure 2: Optical micrograph of sample showing superconducting structure and DQD (from ref: [3])

2) Strong coupling of a superconducting resonator to a charge qubit by Prof Ensslin, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Prof Ensslin, whose group is in fact a member of Spin-Nano network, talked about an experiment that combined solid-state qubit and superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) array resonator (see Figure 2). SQUID resonator operates in microwave regime and was frequency tunable using magnetic field, it was coupled with GaAs double quantum dot (DQD). They were able to demonstrate strong coupling limit by showing vacuum Rabi mode splitting [3]. This will enable future experiments in quantum information processing using this platform, also known as semiconductor circuit QED.


I will conclude by saying that conferences are going to be important part of academic career and one should utilize it fully to their benefit.


[1] K. Fischer et al, Nature Photonics 10, 163 (2016) [Web Link]

[2] A. Piggott et al, Nature Photonics 9, 374 (2015) [Web Link]

[3] A. Stockklauser et al, Phys. Rev. X 7, 011030 (2017) [Web Link]


By Samarth Vadia, PhD student at attocube and Nanophotonics Group of LMU Munich, Munich, Germany


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