Awardee Interviews | Stephanie Law - 2019 Peter Mark Memorial Award - Interview

Interview: Stephanie Law


2019 Peter Mark Memorial Award Recipient: Stephanie Law

Interviewed by Dick Brundle, October 24, 2019

 
BRUNDLE:  Okay, my name is Dick Brundle, and I’m representing the AVS in Columbus 2019.  I’m here today (along with Tom Beebe, who will take over as interviewer of the Award Winners next year) to interview Stephanie Law, who is this year’s Peter Mark Memorial Award winner.  She also gave a lecture which goes along with that.  The title of the lecture was “Molecular beam epitaxial growth of novel plasmonic materials, heavily-doped semiconductors, and topological insulators.”  The citation for the award is not the same as that.  It’s for “The epitaxy of novel materials and heterostructures for optics in the far-infrared and terahertz spectral ranges.”  So would you just introduce yourself so that the transcriber can recognize your voice?
 
LAW:  Sure.  I’m Stephanie Law from the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Delaware.
 
BRUNDLE:  Thank you.  So, I’d like to start off these interviews right from the beginning, so I’m asking you where you were born, when, and something about your family—your parents, what their background is.  Then we’ll go on as to how you got interested in science and things like that.
 
LAW:  Sure.  So I was born in Marion, Iowa, which is a relatively small town in east central Iowa.  Let’s see.  My parents were both in education for a long time, so my dad was a middle school and high school band director and my mom was an elementary school teacher for a while and then she was a librarian after that.
 
BRUNDLE:  Any brothers or sisters?
 
LAW:  Yeah.  I have one younger brother.  So he has his Ph.D. in genetics.  He’s currently a post-doc at Johns Hopkins.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay, so both in science.
 
LAW:  Yes, absolutely.
 
BRUNDLE:  And your parents as teachers—were they science-oriented?
 
LAW:  I mean they didn’t teach science per se.  No.  My father especially has always been very interested in science, but no, neither of them were particularly science-focused in their careers.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So, we’ll move on to elementary school.  Did you develop any early interest in science at that point or did it come later?  What were the influences?

LAW:  You know, people have asked me this before, like, “Oh, when you decide you wanted to do science?” and I can’t remember any particular…You know, I don’t have any of those stories that people have, like, “Oh, there was this moment and it really crystalized my interest in science.”  As a child I was really interested in everything, right?  I wanted to just understand everything, right, regardless of sort of what field it was in.  Then as I moved on into middle school and high school, I will say, especially in high school, I had a really excellent chemistry teacher.  He really supported my interest in science and I really…You know, I would say he was a very influential figure in my life for pushing science forward.
 
BRUNDLE:  That’s a response I get from most people…
 
LAW:  Oh yeah?
 
BRUNDLE:  …that there was one key person. Some even back into elementary school.
 
LAW:  Oh my goodness!
 
BRUNDLE:  But usually in high school, someone who really inspired them with what they were doing.  In this case it was chemistry.
 
LAW:  Yeah. 
 
BRUNDLE:  But you’re not a chemist.
 
LAW:  It was a chemistry teacher, but I’m not a chemist, no.  [Laughs]
 
BEEBE:  Tell us his name.
 
LAW:  Oh.  Dick Sloane [???] was his name.  I don’t know if he’s still active.  I know he retired from teaching high school.  He was teaching community college in my hometown for a while, but I don’t know if he’s still teaching.  I have no idea what happened to him, actually.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So you had an elementary and high school where you lived.  It was in the same town?
 
LAW:  Mm-hmm [yes].
 
BRUNDLE:  It was big enough to do that?
 
LAW:  Yeah.  Absolutely.
 
BRUNDLE:  Quite often I have people I interview who come from really small places and they have to go somewhere else for high school.
 
LAW:  Oh, no.  Marion is not quite that small.  No.  So we had all the schools in Marion.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So, you’re in high school.  You’ve at least now got very interested in science through the chemistry teacher, but you’re going to go to college, get your BS.  You don’t do it chemistry; you do it in physics.
 
LAW:  That’s right.
 
BRUNDLE:  Why was that?
 
LAW:  I think a big part of the reason was—You know, as I said, when I was a little kid I was really interested in everything, and one of the things that I was super interested in in high school was astronomy.  You know, lots of people like astronomy, want to look at the stars, that sort of thing.  So, in Iowa at least—I don’t know how it works in other states.  In Iowa, if you’re a high school student you can take college courses for free, especially if they’re not offered at your high school.  So of course my high school did not offer an astronomy class.  So I went and took an astronomy class at one of the local colleges, and I liked it but I thought it was sort of frustrating because everything was very imprecise.  Right?  Like all the numbers are really big and you’re rounding to the nearest like 10,000 or whatever, and I personally found that really frustrating.  So I ended up deciding I wanted to study physics because I felt like that was a way of understanding the world in sort of a much more precise way than astronomy, right?  Physics sort of underlies everything, really, and I wanted to understand everything.  So if you want to do that, I felt physics was the best way to do that.
 
BRUNDLE:  Are you strong in mathematics?
 
LAW:  Yeah.  So again, when I was in high school I took a couple of calculus classes at the local schools because…
 
BRUNDLE:  I’m a chemist, and the reason I’m a chemist and not a physicist is when I was in high school, I didn’t think my Math’s were strong enough to go into physics.
LAW:  Ah, sure.
 
BRUNDLE:  Though actually most of my career is probably more physics-y than chemistry—you know, physical side of it.  Yeah, okay.
 
LAW:  Oh, that’s funny.  I will say when I took…I took two calculus classes, calc 1 and calc 2, at a local college, and again, I had a really excellent math teacher.  He was just fantastic, and so I really enjoyed all this calculus, and a lot of the examples we did were physics-based examples.
 
BRUNDLE:  See, I guess I did not have because I could…I could follow it and do it, but I could never get the explanation why from the high school teacher. So, I think he was doing it more by rote than…
 
LAW:  Yeah, that’s probably true.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So where did you go for your BS?
 
LAW:  I did my undergrad degree at Iowa State University.
 
BRUNDLE:  Which is in…?
 
LAW:  In Ames, Iowa.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes, yes.  I have been there.  In fact, I nearly went to the Iowa lab when I moved to the US from England.
 
LAW:  Okay.  To the Ames Lab?
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes.  This is 1975.  But flying in over all that corn and the flat…Well, I knew my wife would not go along with that.
 
LAW:  Ah, sure.  Fair enough.
 
BRUNDLE:  Though Ames is a nice little town.
 
LAW:  It’s gorgeous!  Yeah, I really like it.
 
BRUNDLE:  They were at pains to point out there were actually a lot of cultural things to do there and everything like that.
 
LAW:  Absolutely!  Yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  So, you enjoyed your time there?
 
LAW:  I really had a great experience at Iowa State.  I was in the honors program there, and one of the things that the honors program does for you is they’ll match you up with someone to do research within your freshman year.  So, the second semester of my freshman year, you know, you tell them what your interests are (and I didn’t really know what my interests were).  Physics, but like beyond that, I had no particular field that I wanted to go into. 
Then they match you with a research mentor, and so they matched me with Paul Canfield, who works at Ames Lab, yeah.  He does a lot of bulk single crystal growth.  I ended up working with Paul the whole rest of my undergraduate career, and he is certainly one of the key reasons that I did not leave physics, right, because I’m sure everybody’s had this experience, right?  You have one really difficult semester or a couple of really difficult classes and I was feeling like, “Oh, maybe I don’t want to do physics.”  You know, I was double majoring in philosophy.  Maybe I should do philosophy instead of physics.  But I really liked working for Paul.  I really liked working in the lab.  The graduate students I worked with were fantastic, and that was one of the major reasons that I continued on to get my degree in physics rather than switching to something else.
 
BRUNDLE:  Do you know Pat Thiel from there?
 
LAW:  Yeah, somewhat.  Not super well, but yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah, because she’s been there a long time. Okay, so you are at Iowa State and you graduate.  How did you decide what to do next?
 
LAW:  So you know, I really enjoyed physics and when I was working for Paul—so Paul does really condensed matter physics, and at the time I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to stay in condensed matter or if I wanted to do high-energy or other branch of physics.  But what I liked about condensed matter is it’s all very hands-on.  You can do it all in your own lab.  It’s not these, you know, huge, gigantic collaborations, and I sort of liked that smaller scale size.  So I really enjoyed research; I really liked physics and so yeah, why not go on to graduate school and do more condensed matter?  So, I asked Paul, “Oh, where should I apply?” and he gave me a list of ten Ph.D. programs to apply to.  So that’s what I did.
 
BRUNDLE:  So, you applied to them all?
 
LAW:  Yeah.  Why not?
 
BRUNDLE:  And ended up…
 
LAW:  Ended up going to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the physics program there.
 
BRUNDLE:  Which is not too far away, I guess.
 
LAW:  Not too far away.  It’s about four and a half hours away from where my parents live, so they were certainly not unhappy that I went to UIUC.
 
BRUNDLE:  Tell us something about your experiences there.
 
LAW:  UIUC was a really different place than Iowa State.  So at least the undergraduate program at Iowa State was relatively small at the time I was there.  It’s ten-ish students or maybe less every year, and so the classes were all pretty small.  I pretty much knew everybody else.  The department was…  I wouldn’t say it’s a small department, but it’s a medium-sized department.  You can know most of the faculty.  UIUC’s department is really big, and there are huge advantages to that, right, because there are tons of resources.  If you want to find somebody to collaborate with, there are tons of collaborators.  But for me it was just a really different experience, right?  We were an entering class of like 50 PhD students or something, so you don’t really know everybody else.  Your classes are much bigger.  It was just a much bigger sort of experience, and it was just really different for me.  I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse; it’s just very different.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  How long were you there?
 
LAW:  So, I was in the Ph.D. program for five and a half years.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  Any highlights, any problems?
 
LAW:  Any highlights or any problems.  You know, one of the things that was sort of challenging was the project I worked on was a really interesting project.  You know, when I worked at UIUC that’s when I started doing molecular beam epitaxy and I really liked MBE.  But you know, we were doing something where the growth of the material was challenging.  The fabrication of the device was challenging, and the measurement of the device was challenging.  [Chuckles]  So, what that meant was it was just…and I didn’t really appreciate this as a Ph.D. student.  It was a very high-risk sort of project, right, because every step there was a high chance for failure, right?  So, to get one…You know, to be able to make a measurement you had to get through all these really difficult steps to get there and then even making the measurement was really hard.  So for me it was sort of challenging to work in that kind of environment.
 
BRUNDLE:  Given your frustration with astronomy, I would think you might have the same kind of frustration with that as well because…
 
LAW:  Well, it was a different problem, right?  It was not that what we were doing was imprecise.  What we were doing was very precise. We were doing low temperature, high magnetic field measurements of these really tiny little things.  Now the difficulty was just that every stage was just such a high chance of failure that it was hard to even make it to the end, so there was lots and lots and lots of failure.  [Laughs]
 
BRUNDLE:  It’s obviously changed a lot since the last time I was peripherally involved in MBE, which was at IBM a long time ago where it was more of an art than a science, I would say, in the early days.
 
LAW:  Yeah…Well, I mean its still kind of like that—actually.  That doesn’t bother me.  That doesn’t bother me about it. You know, of my Ph.D. experience that’s the one thing I kept, right?  When I was looking for post-docs, I was saying, “I’m sick of this low temperature physics stuff.  I’m just not going to do that anymore.”  But I really liked MBE and so I kept the MBE part and sort of went away from the low temperature physics.  It was a little too difficult.
 
BRUNDLE:  So, you’re there five and a half years.  Did you get involved in other things there, or were you entirely focused on your research?
 
LAW:  I was pretty focused on the research.  The one thing I did get involved in as a Ph.D. student was I started doing a lot more trail running, which I still do.
 
BRUNDLE:  Are you a runner?
 
LAW:  Oh, yeah.  I still do a lot of that today, and so there was a fairly strong group of— 
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah.  I’d caution you not to do too much.  I ran for 30 years and I can barely walk right now.  I need two knee replacements.
 
LAW:  So actually, the science does not back that up.  The science shows that runners need knee replacements at a similar rate to the general population.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah, but there’s an added factor for me.  I’m slightly bowlegged, so it puts a lot more pressure on the inside. I’m now bone-on-bone on those.
 
LAW:  Yeah.  That sounds very painful.
 
BRUNDLE:  And of course, at the time, you don’t think about those things, but yeah.
 
LAW:  But yeah, so I took up running as a Ph.D. student.  UIUC had a fairly active bunch of graduate students who ran quite a bit and we still…So Serena Eley is a good friend of mine.  She’s now a professor at Colorado School of Mines, and we’ll run these ultra-distance relays together.
 
BRUNDLE:  Ultra-distance?  How long?  Like 50 miles, you mean?
 
LAW:  So, the relays that we do are like 200 miles, but you do it with like six people, and so you each run a number of times.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  Yeah, it’s close to 50 miles a person.
 
LAW:  Yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  Did you run in the 5K race here earlier in the morning?
 
LAW:  No, because I didn’t get in till Tuesday evening and I didn’t realize there was such a race and then it was too late for me to sign up.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, you must come back because obviously…
 
LAW:  Yes, absolutely!
 
BRUNDLE:  …you’re going to do really well with that.
 
LAW:  Well, I’m not super-fast.  I mostly run trails where running slow is acceptable.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah.  I had a colleague who…You know, they have team races as well.
 
LAW:  Mm-hmm [yes].
 
BRUNDLE:  The first cup they had for it was for corporate teams, so I entered a team from IBM.  I was the captain of it, but I was not the fastest runner by any means.  But I was also quite old then, so it’s prorated for that.
 
LAW:  Oh yeah, sure.
 
BRUNDLE:  But we had one runner who was a marathon runner and his times were really, really impressive.  But he couldn’t run fast unless he’s already run a distance.
 
LAW:  Oh yeah, yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  So, when he ran for us, he’d get up and he’d already run five to ten miles before he started the 5K race to get going.
 
LAW:  Yeah.  He had to be nice and warmed up.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah.  I don’t think he ever won.  There was always somebody faster, but he was very often second.
 
LAW:  Yeah, sure.  Mm-hmm [yes].  Yeah, I’m not that fast.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, that’s a fun thing if you don’t mind getting up at 6:00 in the morning.
 
LAW:  I don’t mind that, yeah.  No.  When I noticed it in the program, I was like, “Oh, shoot!”  I would have registered earlier if I had noticed, but…There’s so much stuff going on it’s hard to…
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, please, come back next time.
 
LAW:  Oh, absolutely!
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, that leads us on to the fact that…Well, we’re getting out of sequence here, but you’re not…Were you even an AVS member before you got— 
 
LAW:  Yeah, I’ve been an AVS member for quite a while…
 
BRUNDLE:  But you don’t usually come— 
 
LAW:  …because I’m involved in the NAMBE conference, and so with the NAMBE conference they do this JVST special issue.  Then if you publish in that, then you are an AVS member.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  You become a member.
 
LAW:  Yeah, exactly.
 
BRUNDLE:  But you haven’t been to any of the national meetings.
 
LAW:  I’ve not been to any of the national AVS meetings before now, although I am sending one of my post-docs to one of the other AVS meetings in the spring.  She’s very excited about it.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So, I was asking really what else you did during your Ph.D.  Running.  Okay. So now you’re coming towards the end of your PhD.  What next?
 
LAW:  Yeah.  So my husband lived in Champaign-Urbana with me, and I was sort of looking around for post-docs and I was sort of thinking about whether I wanted a post-doc or a permanent industry job.  It turned out there was a professor, Dan Wasserman, who was moving to Illinois basically right at the time I was finishing up in the ECE department, and he was looking for somebody to do MBE growth for him for optical materials.  For me it was a really nice fit because I could continue doing MBE.  Didn’t have to do anymore low temperature physics, and I didn’t have to move, right, because my husband already had a job.  We had a place to live.  So I applied to work for Dan and he hired me and so then I spent the next couple of years working over in the ECE department.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay, and that’s how you got into the optical area.
 
LAW:  Exactly.  Yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  So more or less by chance then.
 
LAW:  Totally by chance.  Completely by chance.  Almost I feel like most of my career has just been by chance.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, that’s not bad.  Most of my career has been like that, too.  Happenstance.  Yeah.  You were a post-doc for a couple years?
 
LAW:  About two and a half years, yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  So, at that point you’re looking around for a more permanent job.
 
LAW:  Yeah.  So you know, after a couple years Dan was saying, “You should start looking for a permanent position rather than a post-doc position,” and I was really unsure about what I wanted to do, right?  Go the professor route or go into industry or look at a national lab, and Dan told me, “You would hate working in industry.  I know you would hate it.  You should certainly apply for faculty jobs,” and I was very unsure.  You know, you hear, “Oh, it’s so hard to get a faculty job.  It’s impossible to get a job anywhere.  The job market is terrible.”  You know, you hear all these negative things, and I think if it hadn’t been for Dan really pushing me to look at a faculty job, I probably wouldn’t have done it.  But he pushed pretty hard and I think he was right.  I think I’m certainly much happier in this job than I would have been working for Cree or IBM or whoever.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, you know, there’s industry and industry. 
 
LAW:  Certainly.
 
BRUNDLE:  I spent a lot of my career working in IBM research, but IBM research was different back then.
 
LAW:  Exactly.  Yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  Before that, a long time before that, I was a post-doc at Bell Labs in their real heyday.
 
LAW:  Yeah, absolutely.
 
BRUNDLE:  It was really the premier national lab of the country, and it was treated that way.
 
LAW:  Oh, for sure.  Yeah, yeah.  Yeah, I mean we have a lot of Bell Labs alumni, if you will, at UD, right, and they say the same thing.
 
BEEBE:  Our colleague is Bob Opila.
 
BRUNDLE:  Oh, yeah!
 
LAW:  Yeah, Bob is fantastic.
 
BEEBE:  We’ve both known Bob forever.
 
LAW:  I love Bob.  He’s great.
 
BRUNDLE:  He’s a runner, too. I know.  I mean I could never beat him in the AVS 5K races.  I would go out fast and he would pass me at some point.  [Laughs]
 
LAW:  Yeah.  Slow and steady, man.  [Chuckles]
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah.  But it sounds like you had a problem at that point, though, because your husband had a job?
 
LAW:  He was pretty willing to move.  He was pretty flexible.  He always knew that the Champaign-Urbana gig was temporary.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, let’s just talk about that, then.  How did you meet him and what was—
 
LAW:  Oh, I met him when we were at Iowa State, so we were both undergraduate students there.  So he was friends of my friends.
 
BRUNDLE:  But in physics?
 
LAW:  No, no, no.  His background is—Actually, his degree is in psychology, and for a while he was a behavioral counselor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, which is where he’s from.  Then when he moved to Champaign-Urbana he started working as an IT system supervisor person for Wolfram Research.  So they make Mathematica and other mathematical software.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So, you applied to Delaware…and I don’t know much about the structure of Delaware.  So, a very specific department?  They were looking for somebody?
 
LAW:  Well, so this particular position I have is actually sort of an interesting one.  So, I’m the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor and so— 
 
BRUNDLE:  I saw that, but I don’t know what it means.  Explain.
 
LAW:  Yeah.  So, Clare Boothe Luce…Actually, she was sort of an amazing person.  She was a writer and a playwright.  She was the first female ambassador from the United States. She was a very interesting woman.
 
BRUNDLE:  I did recognize the name, but I couldn’t place it.
 
LAW:  Her husband was Henry Luce, and he was also very active in politics and what not.  So my understanding is that her whole life, you know, she was Catholic and she was very supportive of Catholic charities and Catholic works and whatnot.  Upon her death, she apparently shocked all of her friends and relations by leaving a bunch of money to this foundation to promote women in science, which apparently was not a cause that she had been particularly championing during her life, but yeah, on her death she left a ton of money to this foundation…among other things.  It does many things, but among other things universities can apply for these endowed assistant professorships, and so the foundation gives money to the university to then hire women in departments in which women are severely underrepresented. 
So, at UD this position was…They were searching for somebody in either material science or mechanical engineering, but in material science in particular doing hard materials rather than like polymer materials.  We had a number of women doing polymer materials; at the time zero women doing hard materials, and so that was what the particular job was for.  So it was a little bit…It was a very open call.  They were looking for really anybody doing any sort of hard materials or mechanical engineering.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So you got that position, but now you have to get funding.  How does that work?  Is it connected to the fact that you have this position?  Does that help?
 
LAW:  No.  So this position does come with a small amount of discretionary funding, but I mostly use that for travel—so going to conferences, visiting collaborators, that sort of thing.
 
BRUNDLE:  But you’ve obviously been successful in getting funding.
 
LAW:  Yeah, absolutely.  Yeah, I’ve been pretty fortunate at getting funding from mostly NSF and the Department of Energy basically.
 
BRUNDLE:  And you haven’t yet reached the point of finding you’re spending a good chunk of your career trying to get funding rather than doing science!
 
LAW:  No.  I’m certainly spending a good chunk of my career trying to get funding, but actually I don’t…I wouldn’t say I enjoy doing it, but I sort of like writing grant proposals because it lets you think about like what are you going to do?  Like what sort of science could you do in the next three years or five years, depending on what sort of grant it is?  So I sort of like imagining, “What awesome science can I do with this money?”
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah, but you also have to kind of match that to what kind of science are they likely to give money for?  [Laughing]
 
LAW:  For sure.  Yeah, absolutely.  Yeah, and the rejection rate is brutal, right?  It’s difficult, right, because you look at…You can go to Research.gov and look at all your NSF proposals.  Declined, declined, declined, declined, declined, right?  So yeah, I’m not saying it’s easy certainly, but…
 
BRUNDLE:  So, you must have had some declines.
 
LAW:  Oh yes, many.
 
BRUNDLE:  And that didn’t depress you or you just…?
 
LAW:  Well, of course it depresses you, right?  Like nobody wants to see, “Oh, declined,” and then you read the reviews and you know.  Of course it’s always depressing.  Actually, speaking of Bob, I asked this to Bob.  Early on I got two proposals declined in the same week, right, and I was feeling pretty pitiful and sorry for myself.  I saw Bob in the office and I said, “Bob, I feel terrible.  I feel crappy.  Does this get any easier as you get further on in your career?” and he says, “No, not at all.”  [Laughter]  I was like, “Well thanks, man.”
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, his career is totally different.
 
LAW:  No, I know.
 
BRUNDLE:  I mean like big time.
 
LAW:  But I was just hoping.  He would say, “Oh, yeah.  You can—”
 
BEEBE:  Classic Bob.
 
LAW:  I know!  [Laughing]  I was like, “This is not comforting at all!”  He said, “It’s not meant to be comforting.  It’s meant to be true.”  “Yeah, okay.  Well, thank you.”
 
BRUNDLE:  But you’re not discouraged.  You sound like you’re enjoying things.
 
LAW:  Yeah!  I mean I like my job.  I really like my colleagues.  They’re all…The Materials Science Department at UD is a very supportive environment.  People are super helpful.
 
BRUNDLE:  And you obviously got involved—maybe before that; I don’t know at what point—with lots of organizations, conferences.  I notice you’re on committees of several and you’re the chair of at least one.
 
LAW:  Mm-hmm [yes].
 
BRUNDLE:  You enjoy that kind of organization and getting young people involved?
 
LAW:  I do, yeah.  I mean conference organization I think lets you do a couple of things, right?  One thing is it just lets you meet lots of people, which is great, right?  It’s always better to meet lots of people because you never know who you might be able to collaborate with or work with in the future.  But it also lets you…You know, I organized an MRS symposium and I was the program chair for NAMBE, the North American MBE conference.  What these things sort of let you do is invite a lot of good speakers that you want to hear from, right, and so especially as a junior person, organizing a symposium like that or organizing a conference like that lets you invite really senior colleagues.  So you get to meet them.  You get to hear their research.  They get to talk to you a little bit.  It’s a great way, I think, to meet new people in your field.
 
BRUNDLE:  And so you enjoy it?  Yes.
 
LAW:  Yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  That’s good, good.  So I mean you’re at the start…well, in the early part of your career.  Any thoughts about the future or are you too busy in the present for that? You must be approaching tenure, right?
 
LAW:  Yeah, I’m up for tenure this year, so my tenure stuff is working its way through the various levels of decision making at UD.
 
BRUNDLE:  So, assuming that goes ahead, maybe you have some idea of the directions that your future research will go in?  Will you stick with optics and MBE?
 
LAW:  Well, I certainly want to stick with MBE.  Yeah.  I enjoy MBE.  I think it’s a really nice way to make new materials.  So the plan for next year is I’m on sabbatical next year [laughs], and so the goal is to…You know, I’m going to go up to Brookhaven National Lab and do a bunch of materials characterization, but I also want to spend some time thinking about exactly this question, right, because I feel like when I started at UD, you have to write this really clear research plan if you want to get hired.  So then these past years have pretty much been executing that plan.  I’m not saying the plan is done by any stretch of the imagination, but you know, spending some time to think about like where to go next I think is going to be important because I don’t want to just keep doing the same things.  Eventually those things will become boring, and so that’s high on the agenda for next year, is thinking about future directions to go in.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So how long have we been going here?  Oh, it’s about the right time.  So we’re approaching the end, then, of the interview.  Is there anything you’d like to add to say, because then I’m going to ask you one question.
 
LAW:  Okay.  Well, one thing that I would just like to say is I think for me it has been really important to have really good mentors and really good colleagues at every level of my career, and I think for those of us—People ask me all the time like, “How do we get more women in science?”  I get asked this all the time, and I think one of the crucial things is just providing mentorship to people—again, at all levels of their careers, right?  As an undergrad, graduate student.
 
BRUNDLE:  From other women or it doesn’t matter?  Anybody?
 
LAW:  Oh, I mean I don’t think it matters necessarily, right?  I’ve had excellent mentors who are women and I’ve had excellent mentors who are men and I think it can be equally…I don’t think that women have to mentor women necessarily, but just you know, having a strong culture of mentorship and supporting junior people I think is really important to just keep everybody in science, not just women, right?  It’s good for everybody, really.
 
BEEBE:  That’s true.  Yeah.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So the one question I ask at the end—and this is a little early for you, but I ask it to everybody.  Keeping in mind your progression and how you’ve done and got here, what would you advise somebody starting out maybe at the bachelor’s level who hasn’t decided what they’re going to do, what route they’re going to take?  What do you think is important that they should do in their life?
 
LAW:  I think they should just try things, right?  Like many of the things I’ve done are not things that I necessarily thought I would do, right?  I did not have a very clear plan.  You know, a good friend of mine is in biomedical engineering, and when you ask her this question, she had a plan and she executed the plan.  That was great for her, and she clearly works really well that way.  I just sort of did things that seemed interesting at the time and did things…not necessarily…
 
BRUNDLE:  Not quite random, but…  [Laughs]
 
LAW:  Not quite random, yeah, but sort of if an opportunity was there, I would just try it, right?  I think a lot of times people are really risk-averse to trying new things, and I mean what’s the worst that happens?  Like it doesn’t work out and you go do something else.  So I think taking advantage of opportunities is really the most important thing.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, young students—I think so much more now than when I was—they’re under pressure to think, “Well, I’ve got to find a job afterwards.”
 
LAW:  Yeah, but these things are going to work out.  I really honestly think in general these things will work out.  You should just try something.
 
BRUNDLE:  So, they shouldn’t worry about it too much at that point.
 
LAW:  Yeah, especially as an undergrad, right?  There are so many sort of safeties there.  You should just try…Just try things.  I don’t know.  That’s my advice.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So I think we’re through and I’d like to congratulate you on your award.
 
LAW:  Thank you.
 
BRUNDLE:  You probably don’t know, but I was the first winner of this award in 1980. It was a big influence on my career.  I’d just moved from England.  I’d been much earlier at an AVS conference in New York and I was so impressed with the mixture of people from different disciplines and got to meet a lot of people.  So, but for AVS, I probably would not have come to the US.  So thank you very much for coming for the interview.
 
LAW:  Oh, yeah.  Thank you!
 
BRUNDLE:  You turned up here right at 9:00, so you were probably in…Were you in a talk before?
 
LAW:  I was.  So I’m going to get back to the Materials for Quantum Computing is where I was sitting.
 
BRUNDLE:  All right.  So we’ll let you go back to that now.  Thank you again.
 
LAW:  All right, sounds great.  Thank you!


return to top