Rachel Benson

Rachel Benson

Track:  PV/Semiconductor
Undergrad: Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA - Physics & Astronomy
Internship: Thermo Fisher Scientific
Current Job Title: Surface Scientist, Micron Technology

What about the program intrigued you and why did you choose this path?
I liked that this program helped students narrow the focus of their education. Physics especially is a very broad field of science, students with this undergraduate degree enter the job force as a jack of all trades, master of none. The program intrigued me because it offered specialization options in highly employable areas of study. I personally chose the semiconductor and photovoltaic track for two reasons. The first reason being my undergraduate research in material science which aligned well with some of what I’d be studying at UO, and the second reason being my passion for renewable energy, particularly solar energy. Up until very recently, renewable energy hasn’t been a viable option for employment, but I’m looking forward to a shift in the energy industry.

What was the intensive summer like for you?
It is as difficult as the professors and previous students warned me it would be. The courses and labs didn’t bring any surprises because I wasn’t under any delusion that it would be easy going. I was so worried about the technical work going in that I didn’t have time to really consider the other very important part of this program, which is the professional development and collaborative nature of the labs. I believe that these components prepared me most for industry, and the more time that passes the more I find myself feeling grateful that I got to learn and hear from actual industry workers my age.

The interview event was nerve-racking. I don’t do well with on the spot questions. It was like a very uncomfortable two days of speed dating. However, the program does a good job of preparing students for the types of questions we can expect, and the best ways to phrase responses and stall for time if necessary (which for me it often was).

Where did you do your internship?
I had a year-long internship at Thermo Fisher Scientific - Legacy FEI, located in Hillsboro, Oregon just west of Portland. Thermo Fisher Scientific manufactures scientific instruments such as SEM’s, TEM’s, FIB’s, XPS’s, etc. The Hillsboro location manufactures a select few models of these instruments, and this location also designs and produces electron and ion sources for these instruments.

Without giving away proprietary info, what was your internship like?  What were you responsible for?  What was a typical day like?
I enjoyed my internship quite a bit. I got to intern with two different groups throughout my time there, one role was with production engineering where I did a lot of data science for electron emitter yield improvement, and my other role was with the electron source R&D team where I got to be really hands-on and exploratory in next-generation electron source research. A typical day usually had my time divided between the R&D lab, setting up an experiment, monitoring one, making measurements, etc. I’d spend time at my desk analyzing data, modeling data, coding, and putting together results either in a report or in a presentation. I’d spend a lot of time in the huge factory-sized clean rooms. I’d run experiments testing different settings and observing how yield was impacted with each change. And of course, a few hours each week for meetings.

Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship?  In what ways?
Yes, the program prepared me well for the internship. Mainly because the program was much more difficult than the internship itself! The internship felt like a vacation compared to the intensity of the program, and while I say that you have to understand that I worked hard at my internship. The program of course prepared me technically for some of what I did, it prepared me socially and professionally with the professional development course and especially with the diversity and inclusion weekly meetings where we got to do Q&A’s with students fresh out the program and with seasoned industry workers. I really knew what to expect, and going in I already knew of ways I could become involved through Employee Resource Groups and company clubs.

How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path?
My internship and my current position do not have a lot of areas of overlap technically. However, my internship allowed me to become more comfortable and confident in taking on projects and communicating with colleagues, both through written reports and group presentations. Taking ownership of results, making mistakes, and communicating my own ideas clearly are all skills that I developed or greatly improved at my internship that I still need and use frequently in my current role.

My internship also gave me the opportunity to learn a new programming language, which will only ever help a person out in the future. My current lab manager was really intrigued by my coding abilities and had me on projects automating data analysis within two weeks of hiring me. It’s something I really enjoy doing, and I’m extremely pleased that I got to improve this skill so much during my internship, and that it is now part of my job today.

What is your current job like?
During my internship, I got flown out to Boise, Idaho to interview with Micron Technology for a position in their Surface Analysis Lab. Micron designs and produces memory devices, such as NAND or DRAM. I got hired as a surface scientist, which is a specialization of material science that uses surface sensitive techniques and instrumentation to study a material’s composition and structure. My role is a mixture of daily jobs submitted to our lab by various engineering groups at MIcron, and internal projects that serve to better the functionality or technical capability of the lab, or Micron as a whole, in some way or another. The techniques that I specialize in are XPS, REELS, UPS, and EBSD. Daily jobs will request a certain type of analysis technique, they’ll say what they’re interested in learning more about, send us their samples, and we’ll run the job and write reports communicating the experiments results. The internal projects are more difficult to explain due to confidentiality.

How have you evolved in your career since you started?
My internship and my role at Micron are very loosely related to what I learned in the program, and they’re also pretty different from one another. So, my career path has changed many times in the last few years. I enjoy my current position; I’ve gained expertise in a lot of different techniques using many different kinds of instruments. I think combined with my education, my current role helps make me a more versatile candidate for a lot of different types of jobs.

What else would you like to share with students?
I would say to have patience. I think a lot of people, myself included, tend to create a step-by-step plan of what they want their education and career to look like, and many people do not consider how “paying dues” might play into the master plan. Your internship might not be what you thought it would be, maybe your first job or your second job won’t be either, and I guess I’d want students to remember that in each role you’ll end up learning something valuable and marketable, and it will only make you more employable for when your end-game job position does make itself available. If you enter a job position and recognize right away that it isn’t for you, then plan an exit strategy, but you still need to put in effort in that role. Network and impress whoever you end up working for, because that may be the person who points you in the right direction.