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Sara Van Overmeire

Researcher, BEST Sorting, Leuven, Belgium
Country of birth: Belgium

Educational background: PhD and MS Engineering (Applied Physics and Photonics), Vrije Universiteit, Brussel, Belgium

Sara Van OvermeirePrimary responsibilities of your current job.
I am a researcher for a company that specializes in manufacturing sorting machinery for food and non-food industries. Our sorters use a wide range of technologies to detect foreign materials and defects in products. Most of my time is devoted to the investigation and development of completely new technologies. This includes following fundamental research and staying up-to-date with the latest developments in the fi eld, conducting feasibility
studies, building proof-of-concept demonstration setups, and assisting in implementing these technologies.

Our company collaborates with different universities, so I work closely with academic researchers. I combine the knowledge of both academia and industry, which is very inspiring. I am also involved in funding acquisition and project management.

Biggest obstacle or challenge that you have faced in your career
After finishing my PhD, I was offered the opportunity to stay in the same group for a post-doctoral project. I enjoyed working at the university and loved doing fundamental research and interacting with students, so this was a very tempting offer. But, I also felt it was time for a change. So although many people (especially my mother!) advised me to take the offer, I decided to jump into the big pool of industry. Fortunately everything turned out well for me as I quickly found my current job and met a lot of new people and discovered new ways of working. I think I would have been very happy being a post-doc as well. Any job where I can work with cutting-edge technology and be creative suits me. After my PhD, there were no good or bad career decisions, the most important thing was that once I made my decision, I believed in it and went for it for 100%.

Advice you wish you had received when you were first starting out
"It is research, nobody knows what we will end up with!" Doing research can be very frustrating, especially when you don't have a clearly defined project or clear strategy. It often seems that other groups have more clever ideas and more innovating products. It is a huge challenge to stay motivated and to keep on looking for new opportunities. I think the magic trick is to never forget that even the simplest ideas or most trivial questions could lead to the brightest inventions.