Eric Ireland
Track: Optics
Undergrad: Carthage College, Kenosha, WI - Physics & Math
Internship: ESI
Currently at ESI

 

 

I received my bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics at Carthage College, a small private school in Kenosha, WI on the beautiful shore of Lake Michigan. For the first two years of college, when asked what I want to do with my physics and math degree, I'd always jokingly answer, "I don't know; I'll stall in grad school for a few more years and then figure it out." Halfway through my junior year, the reality of actually needing to answer the question was setting in. I had some research experience, but still felt like I was only just a good student, having no idea what I'd want to do for a job. I would have enjoyed the academic rigor of getting a PhD in some subfield of physics, but I didn't want to invest many years into a degree when I didn’t have an end goal.

Feeling lost, I went to a professor who I became close with early as a freshman. She told me that a student two years older than me, who I reminded her of, went through the Master's Inernship Program at the UO and was doing an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory (now a full-time employee). I’d still get to learn more physics while getting direct experience on how to apply it. While exploring a few different options – other master’s programs and a few jobs – I realized how much higher of a caliber this program is than the other Professional Science Master’s Degree programs in physics and math related fields. I’m even more impressed by the program now that I’ve experienced it.

The summer coursework can be summarized in one word: intense. I came into the program only having had an independent study in optics, yet I came out taking away more than I thought possible in one summer. Every morning we had class, where we learned a wide range of material from basic optics theory, a full course of quantum mechanics in a week, solid state physics, and some advanced optics topics. The afternoons consisted of applying what we had learned from class in the lab. Unlike in undergrad, the professors took a hands-off approach to the labs, giving students open-ended instructions and letting us find the best ways to complete the task. This teaches students to be resourceful, collaborative, and think outside the box – skills essential for working in industry. The program is designed to give students more work than they can handle individually, and they emphasize that nobody succeeds unless everyone succeeds. My optics track quickly grew close, as we discovered how each student’s unique skills and backgrounds could be used to make sure everyone in our class completed our homework and lab reports on time.

The summer boot camp is capped off in September with a networking event followed by two days where you could potentially interview with up to a dozen companies. I was fortunate to be offered a position at Electro Scientific Industries (ESI) in Portland, OR. ESI makes systems that use lasers for processing semiconductors, microelectronics, and other materials used in the micro-machining industry. I’m on the applications team in the Laser Business Unit, which looks at a customer’s needs - cutting holes in glass, ablating strips of copper on a circuit board, digging trenches in aluminum, etc. - and finds solutions with our lasers on how to achieve the specific criteria. The goal is to show customers that we are capable of meeting their needs before they make a purchase. My team of four people works both externally with customers and internally by supporting other divisions. So far I have worked on about two or three dozen different projects – some lasting less than a day and some lasting a few weeks on and off. Sure, there is a lot of material from the summer that I use at ESI – Gaussian beam propagation equations, free-space optics alignment techniques, etc. More important, however, the summer has given me the confidence and mindset to be able to pick up new material and make a real world difference with it.

The program not only prepares students academically for industry, they provide thorough professional development training. Learning about the psychology behind what makes a good resume, interview, and even handshake - then being able to practice it - has been a priceless experience. If the academic and professional training isn't enough, we have been connected to a network of dozens of companies and hundreds of alumni that we can use for the rest of our careers. Taking a job right after my bachelor’s degree would have given me temporary satisfaction, but this program has given me a more permanent peace of mind knowing that I have the tools and means to navigate the job market in the long term so that I can land a more satisfying career.