Kesley Price

Kesley Price

Track: PV/Semiconductor
Undergrad: University of Washington, Seattle, WA – Chemistry, International Studies
Internship: Thermo Fisher Scientific
Current Job Title: Applications Engineer Associate at Nikon Precision

What about the program intrigued you and why did you choose this path?
I guess I want to answer this with a little bit of my story. I took 5 years off between undergrad and graduate school. When I graduated undergrad I had no idea what I wanted to do. I worked as a raft guide, outdoor education instructor, substitute teacher, EMT, Medical scribe and then heard about the master's program. Even a year ahead of it, I was thinking about going to PA school or nursing and taking anatomy at a community college...So it was a 180 for me. I knew I needed a "real" job with decent pay and benefits, I knew I always like inorganic chemistry vs organic (in terms of health care/bio options - I was a chemistry major in undergrad and had intentionally avoided biology) but I didn't have a clear direction or idea of what to do beyond that. I knew vaguely that I was interested in the topics a degree in material science would work on, but I wasn't sure what that would be applied to beyond solar panels. 

I also knew I liked to work with people, which was part of why I kept considering health care. I preferred team projects to independent work and I wanted my social/communication/collaborative skills to be highlighted as an asset in my career rather than a side note. I liked analytical problems, but not more than I loved having community with those I problem solved with. 

I chose the program because it seemed like a smart economic choice with the right kind of payout. It cost on par with a BS in Nursing or a Master’s in Education, other 15 month programs I had considered. However, it had the added benefit of 9 months of a good paying internship to offset that. It also set me up with the skills and experience to be a competitive applicant for a high-paying industry job, where I wouldn’t have residency or years of additional school before I could get to the point where I was earning a liveable income. And I could use the skill set I had intentionally pursued and honed in undergraduate because it had been my interest. The industries this program feeds into are in need of good scientists, and it provides opportunities for people to ascend to jobs that would otherwise be hard to be considered for from a normal undergrad or graduate background, due to the strong program reputation and network. Even positions which used to be reserved for PhD's can be available with enough on the job training and some years of experience under your belt. It is broad in what it sets you up for: you can have the analytical "I work by myself and problem solve independently", or the collaborative job where you solve problems with teams contributing to a large task you have to coordinate closely on, or the "I understand science but also like marketing/imagining technology for the future and want to move toward the business sector". Many people who graduate from the program have also moved onto project management in a variety of fields beyond the sciences. The point is, it sets you up really well to be a competitive candidate in the semiconductor industry, and where you want to go from there is up to you.  

There is a strong commitment to helping your work be your personal journey and finding the right path for you. I think more than anything, I appreciated this aspect as a "non-traditional" student of the program. That's not to say you can have everything the way you want it, but the ethos is by putting your time into skill development, you gain power to ask for what you want more and more out of your career.

What was the intensive summer like for you?
I came into the summer after 5 years of being out of school. I was worried about the gaps in my knowledge and how I would be relearning old topics under pressure. I think no matter what path you are coming from, the program aims to be challenging but available. I certainly struggled returning to school, mentally, emotionally and conceptually, but the emphasis of the program in part is to learn that the biggest resources you have are often your own resilience and the people around you: your peers, advisors and teachers. And everyone is there to help you succeed. You do have to ask. You do have to show up and participate and face that feeling of unknowing or dread that maybe you aren't prepared/doing enough/ready. You do have to build the habits of success. But mostly, you have to just put your head down and do your best, and if it’s not good enough, someone will ask you to do it again until you get it right. I asked for study materials ahead of time before the program started to get reoriented to the fields we would be studying, however I never really dove into them before the program started. I think just being ready to give your all to the program when you show up day one, being ready for it to be hard, to have habits in place to take care of your life beyond school with little time... whatever you need to do ahead of time to be in that mind space when you show up day one is what I'd recommend to prepare. 

Where did you do your internship?
I would say my first internship position at Thermo Fisher strongly set me up for success. Thermo Fisher is a multi-faceted company and I worked in their scientific instrumentation branch with electron microscopes. My role was as a Applications/Development Engineer and I was part of a team developing analysis processes for a new Beta tool that was coming to market for the first time. I often worked to meet deadlines for delivering potential customers particular images of samples they had sent us, trying to visualize defects or other aspects of their material that required the electron microscope to determine or visualize. My ownership was around the metrology, or the measurement systems of the tool. Customers like to know the size of defects or other features, and on the scale of nanometers you need extremely good resolution and imaging to get that correct. I conducted statistical analysis of our tool’s metrology capability and created documentation for the Best Known Methods (BKM) we had for metrology techniques. I was given my own projects with a mentor and a great team to help me achieve and troubleshoot processes. 

I know this isn’t true for all internships, but Thermo Fisher has hired a number of people from the Master’s program so there was a strong relationship walking in the door. Many people in my first week went out of their way to introduce themselves to me, as former Master’s Program graduates, and share a little about their journey from initial internship to their current position. I was also able to network in the office, conducting informational interviews to understand multiple positions in the company: Software engineer, Applications Engineer, Researcher and Development, Project manager, Marketing/sales, etc. I also ran with a group at lunch several days a week that spanned many different departments of the company and helped me look beyond my immediate position. I asked for and was able to collaborate with the programming team to work on a small project as a trial of being a member on their team. While this ultimately did not end up getting me a job as a software developer, it gave me the opportunity to really reach for something beyond my current position and understand that that was a direction I had more interest in. I was also given the opportunity to travel abroad representing the company’s Applications Development team in a week-long trip that took me to Taiwan, Penang and Singapore which was a great experience to learn more about the marketing side of the business and understand customer relationships. My experience in my internship showed me that if I put in the work, I could really choose what direction I wanted to go with my career.

Without giving away proprietary info, what was your internship like?  What were you responsible for?  What was a typical day like?

My work revolved around when I could get time on our tool to do my work of looking at materials for customers, conducting tests for my statistical analysis or working out my methods for my BKM. Tool time was decided daily in the 10am meeting, and it dictated how I prioritized my time. An advantage of this was that I was given a lot of freedom to set my own schedule in my internship, as long as I was able to make the daily standup meeting at 10am, and meet my objectives. Some days I was in by 7:00am, if I knew I’d need to be leaving early, somedays I came in at 10:00am, knowing that I would be staying late to get tool time. But, I had to be able to pivot and work on other things if the tool wasn’t available, so managing multiple projects was important for my success. 

I would often meet with my mentor or teams from other aspects of the tool to troubleshoot an issue that was stopping progress for multiple groups, due to this being a development process everything wasn’t ironed out. This was my favorite part because it allowed me to be in groups with diverse backgrounds and learn from them as they shared their perspectives and ideas. 

Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship?  In what ways?
The Master’s program prepared me for my internship at Thermo Fisher directly through the Electron Microscope class offered in the fall, through the Design of Experiments course, which exposed me to JMP and statistical tools commonly used in the Semiconductor industry. I also audited an Introduction to Programming class in python that was instrumental in being able to think through a program, which is helpful to many aspects of these computerized and automated industries. At my internship specifically there was in-house software that we used to automate processes on the tool and for measurement. These had a user interface, but having some basic understanding of programming made them much easier to learn and engage with. Beyond that, the Master’s program painted a picture of the Semiconductor industry at large that has continued to serve as a solid reference of how each component fits together. 

The other thing the program really emphasizes is how to work well with others. This is a key takeaway for any office culture, and really helped set the tone for my expectations in my career of how people should treat one another and how I show up in my job in order to be the best team member I can be. 

How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path? 
After my internship, I decided I wanted to move more toward data analysis. I felt very prepared to make that transition because I had had the opportunity to talk to so many people at Thermo Fisher working in different aspects of the company and see their work, deadline structure and organization. Beyond the work I did, I was able to learn so much more about the company and industry as a whole and how I could move around in it. The statistical analysis I had done was a good entry to show I was capable of looking at large datasets and drawing conclusions. I was able to speak to working under deadlines and for customers with specific examples that spoke to my strategy and work ethic. The internship gave me a venue to display how I work and what I was capable of. 

What is your current job like?
I currently work for Nikon Precision Inc as an Application Engineer. Nikon Precision makes photolithography equipment for semiconductor manufacturers like Intel. We sell them a photolithography tool and then provide service on that tool in the form of employees in the fab physically working on the equipment if it needs repairs or changes in processes, and in the form of myself and other Systems Engineers that work on data that is pulled from the tool to analyze trends, troubleshoot issues and do a more data-driven analysis of what is going on. 

I think what I love most about my position now is the scavenger hunt in data to find a pattern, or explain why a tool isn't working. We have lots of data on the tools temperature, sensors, error logs etc and piece together the puzzle like an investigation! 

How have you evolved in your career since you started?  What do you enjoy about what you do and what makes it a good fit for you?  If you ended up going a different direction, did your experience in the program help you figure that out?
I am still early in my career, but I started the Master’s Program knowing that while I like working on analytical problems, people are always my bottom line. This has served me well as an Applications Engineer, both in my internship at Thermo Fisher and also my current position at Nikon Precision. I appreciate that my work has a consistent mix of independent analysis and team oriented discussion. It is my relationships with teammates and customers that drives my problem solving, collaborations and successes and helps my individual work gain deeper understanding. I appreciate that the program really emphasizes how much collaboration is an essential part of work in the semiconductor industry. This industry isn’t one of individuals that lead by dictating down, its much too complicated for that. Instead, it is one of teams of inquisitive individuals working together to question and pool knowledge so we can collectively gain greater understanding and build up. 

What else would you like to share with students?
I was blown away by the authenticity of the directors and faculty that run this program. They are invested in student success and growth, and understand that this is an incredibly valuable stepping stone towards a career. It is challenging and hard, but in a way that builds character while being supported by its community. It is overwhelmingly team oriented and the dynamic is set up from the beginning to cultivate respect among all fellow students.