Dr. Akhil Kallepalli is the Associate Vice president of the IEEE Photonics YP and Outreach Officer for IEEE UK and Ireland Photonics Chapter (PHO36). During the lockdown in 2020, he has organized a virtual seminar series, HOPES to facilitate productive technical engagement of the Photonics community.
What’s your professional background?
I have a “jack of all trades” background. I started my academic journey with a Bachelors in Geoinformatics, focusing on satellite image processing. I moved to an international Masters program that allowed me to sharpen my image processing and data analysis skills. Only this time, I worked with aerial hyperspectral imaging for vegetation mapping. Fueled by personal interest and the right opportunity, I refocused my energy on biomedical applications for my PhD in imaging, biophysics and biophotonics. For my postdoctoral research, I am investigating fundamental physics problems to improve imaging techniques to use them in the future for novel biomedical applications.
How and when did you start volunteering for IEEE?
The IEEE was quite “visible” when I was doing my joint Masters program (between India and the Netherlands) and I was keen on getting involved. While the opportunity was always present, my circumstances were perfect to join when I began my PhD program with Cranfield University in 2015. Subsequently, a call came up looking to (re)establish the UK and Ireland Photonics Chapter. This was exactly the sort of responsibility I was looking for as I wanted to begin to have an impact that lasts longer than an individual/single event, on the society at large. I joined the UK and Ireland Photonics Chapter as a Committee Member and an Outreach volunteer. The IEEE Day celebrations in London in 2016/17 were my first exposure to IEEE Outreach.
Why do you volunteer for IEEE?
As researchers and academics, it is very important to contribute not only to the scientific conversation but also to the current needs of the society with outreach and impactful policies. The IEEE, as an organization, is keen and motivated to make such contributions. As a volunteer, I can participate and propose my initiatives to have a positive impact on the community. Through the years, I have participated in events that involved STEM activities and mental health events for community college students, school children, and academics.
What have you done as an IEEE volunteer that you’re most proud of?
Through the Chapter and the IEEE Photonics Society, I have had the opportunity to organize a couple of key events. I am particularly proud of the series of lectures I have organized and championed in the past few weeks. The series, called HOPES (for Horizons of Optical, Photonics and Emerging Sciences), is an attempt to reinvent webinars and keynote talks by inviting key researchers from different domains to share their visions of the future. I hope that these talks will inspire and provide a pathway for students and researchers to plan and visualize their careers.
What advice would you give to new volunteers?
The opportunities to make a positive impact in your immediate surroundings and within the greater community are plenty. The IEEE teams across all sciences and domains are constantly at work, trying to find the next big impact you can have. Also, they are some of the best listeners I have ever met – You can share your ideas and build on them collectively to look back and think “I did that. I had that impact. I made a difference.” This is an extraordinary feeling.
My advice would be “Find that local chapter, branch, committee, etc. where you are and join in. You will find this to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of your career while also navigating the challenges of the day job.”
How would you describe IEEE in 3 words??
Community-driven | Receptive | Impactful
What impact have IEEE and volunteering had on your career?
The IEEE has allowed me to extend and build my professional network immensely. Through my involvement with BICOP Conference Series, I have been able to meet highly successful researchers and industry members. This involvement has helped further my career as well; I met my current PI/Group Leader at BICOP. Both as an attendee and an organizer, I got a chance to stand out and share my interest in working with him – And I love my job right now. It only makes me want to volunteer more!
What do you think the future of volunteering looks like?
The future of volunteering is bright. Championed by organizations, individuals from diverse backgrounds are joining in a movement to have a positive impact in the world. The people are willing; organizations must not lose their momentum in fueling this energy. If both go hand in hand, I can see communities rising on the shoulders of extraordinarily enthusiastic volunteers.
IEEE-wise, what are your goals for the future?
I started my IEEE journey as an outreach volunteer and a UK and Ireland Committee Member. I have the privilege of now being the AVP for the Young Professionals Committee of the Photonics Society. I hope to move further into the positions where I can have a significant impact, inspire others and be representative of the inclusive IEEE community.
Career-wise, what are your goals for the future?
I can confidently say that I have found my career path in academia. I am very glad and lucky that I was able to find my interests early, having mentors and supervisors who encouraged and nurtured that enthusiasm. I am currently extending my experience through a postdoctoral position and applying for early career researcher fellowships. I hope to subsequently establish my group at a reputable university to work on the cutting edge of science and provide opportunities to motivated and passionate researchers.
Which life achievement are you most proud of?
My PhD. Without a question. It was singlehandedly the most challenging and rewarding phase of my life. I have learned many research techniques and, more importantly, invaluable life lessons.
What is the best among your experiences of organizing virtual/hybrid events?
I have organized and hosted the UK and Ireland Photonics Chapter’s Horizons of Optics, Photonics, and Emerging Sciences (HOPES) webinar series. Making this webinar series happen under pandemic conditions was a challenging experience as it required coordination of both speakers and audience, in the hope to reach as wide a global audience as possible.
Please discuss other extracurricular achievements outside IEEE
In addition to the IEEE, I am also an active member of the Institute of Physics as a committee member for the South West Branch and the Optical Group. I also serve as the co-Lead for the Consulting Working Group for Dragonfly Mental Health, a non-profit organization motivated to promoting positive mental health conversations in academia.
Connect with Akhil: LinkedIn | Email | Twitter