Kristen Norton
Undergrad: Willamette University, Salem, OR - Physics
Track: Optics
Internship: ESI
Currently at Radient Zemax



At the end of my senior year at Willamette, I was deciding between a rigorous PhD track and the UO’s Master’s Industrial Internship Program — opposite ends of the spectrum! I knew I wanted to go into industry, I just wasn’t sure how. My PhD program of interest let me defer my acceptance for a year so that I could complete the UO’s master’s program, but in the end I decided against the PhD program and here’s why…

The UO program is a fantastic way to get your feet wet in industry (my initial intention), but it is also sets you up for success in your field of interest. The hardest part of landing a job in industry is getting your foot in the door—a PhD is potentially one way to do this, but the internship program has staff whose entire job is to help you land an internship.  During my time here at ESI, even though I am in a PhD dominated group, I have found that further education is optional but not necessary for my success. 

I came from a small school and was worried about the quality of the professors at a bigger state school, but they absolutely blew me away! They are what made the program so worthwhile for me. They’re incredibly approachable, inspiring, and helpful—inside and outside of class. Along with the professors, I also really appreciated the sense of community within the program. I am still in touch with my UO classmates, who are now colleagues in my industrial network.

I also found the curriculum to be very focused and efficient. We started with the basics, and then dove further into special topics relevant to industry. I felt that the professors bent over backward to make comprehensive lesson plans, and to make that sure I understood everything. The textbooks included in the tuition were also great—I still use mine almost every day.

Another surprisingly strong part of this Master’s program is the focus on soft skills. My employers and contacts at other companies repeatedly commented about how well prepared the students were for interviews. The program helps you work through your resume and forces you to practice the toughest (yet realistic—I actually was asked some of them) interview questions.  Such training distinguishes this program from other internship programs—like I said, it sets you up for success. 

Now, in addition to my undergraduate physics degree, I have a Master’s in Applied Physics and am a salaried Laser & Optics Engineer at ESI. I work on cutting edge research and development every single day, and couldn’t be happier!