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Elizabeth Gerrish

Senior Optical Engineer; Technical Lead and Program Manager
Wilcox Industries, USA

Elizabeth Gerrish

Country of Birth: USA
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: BS in Physics; MS in Management and Leadership
SPIE Early Career Professional Member

 

I worked full time in retail while I went to college. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be an engineer, let alone change careers. Luckily, an acquaintance connected me with a local company specializing in fiber laser research. I sent an unsolicited cover letter and my interview was the first time I had been inside a professional lab. The precise moment I saw a fiber laser lase was a moment of awe and I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to figure it out.

I currently lead a cross-functional team of optical, mechanical, and manufacturing engineers, developing electro-optical products for medium volume manufacturing in multiple applications. I create optical designs from a system perspective and advise my company on opportunities to incorporate innovative optical technology.

My biggest obstacle has been myself. I didn’t start my career or education with the intent of becoming an engineer and consequently spent the earliest part of my career wondering if I was smart enough to be in the industry or if my opinion mattered. I was intimidated by other engineers. Over the years, I have developed self-advocacy techniques that allow me to celebrate the success of my team and take credit for my accomplishments.

Not many people know that I was a teenage mother and had a child prior to entering college. A high school guidance counselor championed my continued education and pushed me to apply for academic scholarships, which funded 90% of my undergraduate degree. Getting through college and into a career was a struggle and my vision didn’t extend beyond the end of the week or after the next test. Notable changes started happening when I developed a long-term perspective.

Young women considering careers in STEM should start building a professional network early. No one person holds all the answers or can be an expert at everything. Start by talking to your teachers and connecting with them on professional networks. Go to networking events. There is no telling where my career or life would be without the tribe of people I trust to bounce ideas off and cheer me on.

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