Aleksandra Boskovic is following in the footsteps of award-winning physicists like Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Shirley Jackson.
Dr. Boskovic has five patents that enable telecommunications systems around the world to keep up with bandwidth growth at the speed of light.
She invented an optical networking device for optical networks with increased transparency, a four-wave mixing reduction method in lightwave transmission, and an optical communication system with a fiber link capable of transmitting optical signals with high optical launch power over long distances. Her most recent invention is an optical communication system for use in communication networks.
“My inventions are related to bandwidth growth,” Dr. Boskovic explained on the telephone.
“They are all related to optical telecommunications systems. There are different ways and methods we can improve those systems to increase the bandwidth, which is basically how much information we can put in them,” she said.
Optical fiber and wireless technologies for high-speed communications networks are among several products that Corning offers. Others include emissions-control products for cars and trucks. There’s also glass tubing that Corning’s global customers shape into vials, cartridges, ampules and syringes or drug storage and delivery convert. Since 2007, more than 4.5 billion devices have been designed with Corning® Gorilla® Glass, perhaps including the one you’re reading on now. Corning’s latest high-performance glass has been successfully incorporated into high-resolution smartphones and tablets that feature upward of 500 pixels per inch.
It’s not always easy to do what you love for a career, and there isn’t a one-size fit all approach, Lori Deschene once said, but here are a few secrets to success from Dr. Aleksandra Boskovic, the 2016 Technologist of the Year.
1. Maintain: A professional network
I met another Corning researcher at the Optical Networking and Communication Conference while doing my Ph.D. in England. She was also Brazilian but we had never met before. A professor at Imperial College who happened to be at the conference introduced me to her. We all worked in the same field of optics. Although we shared a nationality, the initial connection was purely professional. I kept the contact as I finished my Ph.D. and through her, I found out about the job opening. I applied and eventually got hired.
2. Believe: Career and job changes can happen in one corporation
I started as an entry-level scientist at Corning’s central research facility in Sullivan Park. I came straight out of my Ph.D. nineteen years ago and never changed companies. I know this is unusual, but my plan is to retire with Corning. Today my job consists of research in optics, surfaces, and integration technologies. The group has about 100 technical people, with a large fraction of them having Ph.D. degrees. My role is to make sure my organization is contributing to the bottom line through inventing the next wave of products and technologies for Corning. My job, and my organization’s, is to invent the future for Corning in our area of expertise. I help my organization do that through identifying the directions we should go, the right topics to focus on and building a leading edge base of knowledge. Of course, I cannot do any of that without investing in the people in the organization and focusing my energy on helping them do their best.
3. Remember: A technical leadership career goes beyond the technical
I report to the senior vice president of Research for Corning, Dr. Calabrese. Even though my job is a leadership role, which includes management and supervision, I see my job as highly technical. I have learned that technical competencies will just take me so far. In order to truly excel, I need to go beyond the technical and excel also at leadership skills.
– You must have technical excellence. If you don’t, people will not listen to you or value your input.
– Don’t let bureaucracy take over. Yes, there are processes that need to be followed, paperwork to file. Find a way to do what is needed as efficiently as possible; it should not take the lion share of your time.
– Develop your leadership skills. Invest time into being good with people (people development, compassion, etc.), understanding your customers (internal and external), listening to a range of opinions (being inclusive of diverse thinking), building good problem solving/analytical skills and clear communication.
4. Trust that: Meeting Challenges requires identifying priorities
One of the key challenges in my current role is the breadth of technologies and businesses I have to interact with. This means that the complexity and range of information I have to be aware of all the time is very large. It is impossible for me to be equally involved in everything that is going on and I need to make choices of where to focus deeper. I have to be able to quickly identify higher risk areas and react quickly to make sure we continue to deliver high-quality results.
5. Enjoy: Favorite moments
Nothing compares to the feeling of professional accomplishment I get when I see:
A product introduced to the market; products that I have had a personal role in developing such as LEAF® optical fiber, ClearCurve®fiber, etc. become successful in the marketplace; a problem solved by a plant or a new manufacturing process introduced and I can recognize my (or my organization’s) contribution to it.
Someone that I have invested my personal time to help grow to get that dream job.
The organization I lead values what I did. For example, the care that CETC took in organizing a celebration when I was leaving to come back to the US and that people took a personal interest in crafting a gift for me. Those are the days I go home happy and feeling I did my job.Dr. Boskovic leads a large research group that builds understanding in optics, surface science, and thin films in order to make important inventions. These innovations are for high bandwidth communications, data center applications around the world for productivity and higher capacity, and novel glass surfaces.
Aleksandra was born in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Rio de Janiero is known for its famous landmarks, such as the 98-foot tall statue of Christ the Redeemer, with His arms stretching 92-feet wide at the peak of the 2,300 ft. Corcovado Mountain.
The city of Rio is also known for its beautiful Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.
Young Aleksandra grew up in a small apartment in one of the high-rise tenements that dotted the Copacabana neighborhood. Her father worked as a technician for the local electricity company and her mother was a stay at home mom. Both parents wanted their only child to have a stable job “in computer science,” she said.
“My passion was to be a scientist and do research and I was good in the technical areas like math and physics. My parents wanted me to go to college so I could have a stable future and a steady job. In Rio, the biggest thing was tourism so it was hard for my parents to imagine how one could make a living as a scientist,” she added. “When my [parents] would ask me what I wanted for my birthday or Christmas, it was always a microscope, or a stethoscope or a chemistry set. Those were the kinds of things that grabbed my attention.”
In 1985, Aleksandra started a degree in computer programming at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. At the end of her first year, she told her parents, who were paying her way through college, that she had decided to change to physics. Although the university she attended was one of the best in Rio, the number of students enrolling each year for pure science was low compared to liberal arts, business, marketing and engineering.
The switch from computer programming to physics added another year for the first generation college student. But after completing her bachelor’s in physics in 1989, she won a scholarship and went on to earn a master’s degree in physics at the same university. She studied detection of picosecond pulses and graduated in 1992, with a scholarship from the national telecommunications company, which had taken an interest in her work.
The following year, Aleksandra left her family in Brazil to pursue her dream. She joined the physics graduate program at Imperial College, London. Home to the greatest concentration of research of any major UK university, Imperial holds an award that recognizes advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine in academia.
Aleksandra’s thesis focused on the generation of short pulses with fiber lasers and on optical non-linear effects in general. She joined Corning shortly afterward.
“Aleksandra is an excellent example of professional achievement for women in science and technology,” noted Dr. David L. Morse, executive vice president, and chief technology officer.
“As one of our top leaders in research and development, she is setting the example for others to follow. She coaches and mentors employees inside and outside of her organization; with women employees in a variety of forums, she shares her career stories and how she overcame career obstacles. Aleksandra is a role model for many women and men,” he said.
Dr. Boskovic’s career began in physics, recalled Dr. Gary S. Calabrese, senior vice president for Corning Global Research, in a letter of recommendation several months before the 2016 Women of Color STEM Conference.
“She was instrumental in establishing an important system of modeling tools to help design, test and manufacture our products,” he added.
In her previous role as leader of Corning’s European Technology Center (CETC) in France, Boskovic firmed up the lab’s reputation as a center of excellence on the forming of glass. The lab delivered improvements to Corning’s glass melting technology as well as new glass ceramic recipes.