Undergrad: University of Oregon, Eugene, OR – Physics and Math
Internship: Thermo Fisher Scientific - Analytical Instruments Group
Current Job Title: Staff Program Portfolio Manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific
Growing up, I was always been really good at school, and thought that my end goal was to reach the highest level. In college I studied physics and did a couple of summer internships. All of the projects I worked on were focused on renewable energy and solar energy. Throughout college I was pushed by my professors to pursue a PhD in solar energy. So, I applied and got in. But right before it was time to make a decision I found out about the UO internship program and my interest was piqued. I was wary because professors kept stressing that continuing school was the path I should follow. But I came to realize that’s the path they followed, and the one that was comfortable. I decided I could always go back to school if I wanted, but this program might open more doors for me than any other path. And boy was I right! I haven’t looked back! Not only did I get an amazing internship, I found a company to call home, and have unlocked potential in me I didn’t even realize existed.
This program was a good fit for me because of the fast pace and how hard it pushes students. The goal is to get you ready for the real world, the stresses that you might be under, and how to work with people that you may not want to. The program definitely got me ready for industry. I was also intrigued by the career development aspect and learning to become a professional in interviews and resumes.
I’ve greatly enjoyed my time at Thermo Fisher, mostly because I’ve been able to move around within different departments and see different aspects of the business.
I interned at Thermo Fisher as an applications development engineer, working directly with semiconductor customers to see how our microscopes could help their businesses. I not only learned how to use a scanning electron microscope, focused ion beam, and dual beam, I also became an expert in the applications of those tools and was able to create novel processes that were sold to customers! It was challenging because I was inventing new ways to solve problems and find defects in wafers. I had to use my scientific knowledge and be creative as well.
Later, I moved into manufacturing engineering, which was a complete shift in thinking. Now I was solving manufacturing issues - some short-term, some year-long issues, but every day was a new adventure. I didn’t have any specific engineering knowledge, I was a physicist, but I was able to bring my internship experience to the table and grow from there. I learned about all the bones of the microscope and how it functions, is assembled, and how to troubleshoot it. The best part of this job was solving new problems every day. I think the program prepared me for this phase of my career by teaching me how to work in a stressful, fast-paced environment – and leverage team members to be more successful as a group.
Today, I am a portfolio program manager for research and development, where I work with many different groups throughout the company to figure out what new technology we should turn into a product, and then lead that project from concept to final product! It’s been challenging working with so many different groups, compiling all the information, and then managing teams to work together successfully to release products on time. Although it’s been my most challenging role to date, I enjoy it the most because I get to see the success of the products within my portfolio, while also growing the performance and output of my teams!
I’ve enjoyed all the opportunities I’ve been given, as well as all the potential I see in the company. I feel recognized for my hard work and contributions, however small they may be in the large scheme of things.
By jumping right into the industry I was able to absorb knowledge and learn at a very fast pace. I was learning how to problem-solve, and work with teams earlier in my career than if I were to stay in school. I was learning the soft skills that are never taught to you, while also learning about new technology I knew nothing about. You can only learn so much from a book, or a class, but when you have a real-life problem to solve, you never forget that, and you’ll definitely never make the same mistakes twice on the job!
In school I always thought I was going to save the world with solar energy- create a cheap and efficient solar cell or something like that. I was attracted to the program because there’s a track in photovoltaics and semiconductors, so I thought I could still continue down that path. The program really opened my eyes to how big the semiconductor business actually is, and all of the companies that support it. I had no idea!. While not directly “saving the world” with solar energy, I know I’m enabling other companies to make the world a safer, cleaner and healthier place!
The master’s program not only teaches you technical knowledge, it teaches you how to be a professional. I’ve been able to leverage my strengths (my soft skills) and go down the path of becoming a manager rather than a technical expert. If I had stayed in school however, I might have chosen differently just because that is what I would be specialized in. Both are great options, but I had to make the choice of where I wanted my career to go. I find more personal success and happiness when a team and a product are successful because of my guidance, rather than the small personal wins of conquering technical issues alone.
The greatest part of this program is that not only do you get to learn the technical knowledge, but they teach you all the soft skills and professional development you could ever imagine. I knew I was a natural leader, but the staff was so good at finding your weaknesses and honing in on them to make you even more valuable to a potential company. I feel like I’ve been in a thousand interviews- moving from job to job, and I’ll never forget all of the tips and tricks that I learned from this program and I still use them to this day!
I’ve stayed in touch with many alumni of this program (half of my family), lots of friends at Thermo Fisher, as well as the program managers. I now know people all over the country who have been through the program and know that as much as I can help them, they would help me back, so it’s an amazing network to leverage and grow from!
The advice I would give to undergrads is that there’s so much out there, it’s impossible to know where you might end up, or what might interest you 10 years from now. This program gives you all the right tools to be successful in your career - and opens many doors within the industry that you might not even know exist. Be open to new opportunities, and don’t be afraid to take risks. The bigger the risk the bigger the reward. And you rarely get rewards from staying in your comfort zone!