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Career Story: Optics Design Engineer

Optics Design Engineer

Job Title: Technical Staff

Type of Company: My company is a Federally Funded National Laboratory working on problems of national security

Education: Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), B.S. in Physics •• University of Rochester, M.S. in Optical Engineering

Previous Experience: I have been doing design engineering since I received my degrees.

Job Tasks: I am responsible for designing and manufacturing optical systems. Example of these are lenses, such as are used in cameras, and small telescopes. Many of these optical systems are put into satellites. Sometimes I get involved with the design of laser systems.

A good deal of my time is spent in front of computer using optical and mechanical design tools. I also find myself doing a lot of mathematical analysis related to those designs, on a level of that obtained with advanced high school or early college mathematics (algebra, trigonometry, statistics, integral and differential calculus.) Sometimes, I work in a laboratory putting together things that I have designed or testing out new concepts.

I work in teams with people who have very specific skills (mechanical, electrical, thermal, manufacturing) in other technical areas. Together, we are capable of putting together precision optical systems that work in extreme conditions, such as space.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is being able to blend my creativity and engineering knowledge to design new systems. There is great satisfaction in looking at a final product and being able to say that you thought of that and helped make it a reality.

There are, of course, meetings and more meetings. These can slow down the progression of the work that I am trying to get done but it is important that everyone on a team be working toward the same goal and meetings are the means to that end.

Writing up specifications to send to vendors is not my idea of a good time, but it is needed to get parts and services as required.

Job Tips:
1. One would need a masters degree to really get a good start. There are not many work places that would allow on-the-job training that would be required to get a good basic understanding of my field.

2. I would probably advise someone to be very careful about getting involved in optics. Much of the work is now funded through government programs and military procurement. Photonics work related to telecom has already gone bust so there are fewer and fewer places to get involved with that type of optical work. But if you like building precision devices and like physics, then it might make a good choice for you.

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