Chelsea Saldivar
Undergrad: University of Oregon - Physics
Track: Optics
Internship: nLight
Currently at nLight


What was your undergraduate institution?
University of Oregon – Applied Physics/Mathematics

How did you find yourself at Oregon? What about the program attracted you?
I was here as an undergraduate, so it appealed to me for obvious reasons such as staying local near my family and my husband’s family. However, even despite that, the program attracted me because it had a completely different end goal than most graduate programs that appealed to someone who was not interested in staying in academia for another 4-8 years. Most graduate programs are geared towards PhDs, academic research, post-docs and usually (eventually) teaching. My goal was never any of these things. I wanted to take my knowledge and apply it to real-world problems where funding and academic prowess (although still favored) was not the main concern. Rather innovation and progress was the main concern. The industrial program also appealed to me because it gave me an “in” to the industry work-force in an economic time when it was hardest for recent college graduates to find jobs in their field. Not to mention, it offered the promise of a financially comfortable job, which, let’s face it, is a plus in anyone’s book.

What was the intensive summer like for you?
The summer was a bit of a whirlwind, but I see it more like immersion learning. The courses and labs contained a lot of information which was a good mix of review and advanced topics, and really got to the core understanding of topics so that building off of that knowledge later would be intuitive. Granted, the amount of information made it such that you could not retain everything, but that was ok because it was enough to get you an internship where you would reinforce the ideas and theory with real-world practice. I cannot speak enough about how much industry experience really contributes to your education and understanding of your area of study. The variety of applications that you see in industry gives you a broad experience base that touches on a huge number of topics in your field. That is one of the things that really sets this program apart from purely academic paths where even in research situations, focus can be purely theoretical and/or very narrow, limiting your experience. Another thing that sets this program apart from others is the professional development skills they teach, which turned out to be far more helpful than I ever could have anticipated, and arguably one of the more crucial skills learned during the program. We learned how to really polish our resumes and interviewing skills to give us the edge when searching for positions in industry, and it WORKED.

Where did you do your internship?
I did my internship at nLIGHT Photonics, a company based out of Vancouver, Washington (also with a location in Hillsboro, Oregon) that manufactures diode and solid state lasers for various industrial, defense and medical applications.

Without giving away any proprietary info, what was your internship like? What were you responsible for? What was a typical day like?
My internship was, like the summer course work, an exercise in immersion learning. I was immediately put on projects where I was in the lab on a daily basis doing REAL optics work including optical system setups, measurements, and data analysis with the help of senior research scientists, as well as being put in charge of a few independent projects on my own. Additionally I was asked to learn some of the current products the company makes by learning the production of them step by step. Both these experiences really solidified my understanding of how lasers operate, and what is necessary to establish, maintain and improve their performance. It was a good mixture of mentored work and independent study, which although a bit intimidating at first, became second nature quite quickly. I found that senior engineers and employees were always happy to answer questions and take the time to help further my knowledge base, which easily tripled through the year I interned.

Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship? In what ways?
I feel the program provided a good platform from which I could launch into my career of choice. It provided me with the critical thinking skills and professional skills necessary to get my foot in the door, where the real learning would take place. If you really want to know your science/area of study, the only way (in my opinion) to do it is to get in there and DO it! Get your hands on some equipment and (under the guidance of mentors), DO the science. Given this and the way the economy and job market is today, internships are crucial to obtaining a job in your field--but only if you can actually land one! This program will help you to do this by focusing not just on teaching the science, but also teaching what it takes to be a desirable candidate in your field.

How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path?
My internship and my current career are not mutually exclusive, and I think this is true for many in the program. The internship was just the extended “training” period for your career!