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Katie Chong

Research and Development Engineer
Finisar, Australia

Katie Chong

Country of Birth: New Zealand
Country of Residence: Australia
Educational Background: BSc (Hons) in Physics, University of Otago; PhD in Nanophotonics, Australian National University


I have always been interested in how things work, but my high school physics teacher introduced me to physics. I loved physics and decided to study it at university. I never planned to work in science, but my parents and my partner encouraged me to do what I love and feel challenged in my career. I ended up studying for my PhD and staying in the field for work.

I am part of an R&D team that develops the next generation wavelength selective switches for our customers in the optical communication sector. My work involves optical alignment, device design, building and testing, and some modelling. I also develop and troubleshoot the production process for new products.

It was hard to move to industry when everyone was telling me I would do great as a postdoc and in academia. Seeing my supervisors hardly spend time in the lab and instead write grants and publications, I realized I did not want that. However, staying in academia was like staying in my comfort zone. To resist taking the easy way out, I reminded myself of what I really wanted to do: research and product development.

Learn more transferable skills while you are still a student, so you can transfer out of academia or to a different field if you choose. I focused a lot of my time on my PhD project and everything directly related to it, so that my skill set was too specialized. I had limited my opportunities in landing an interesting job. Despite having a job I love right now, I wish I had learned statistical analysis and programming because so many intriguing jobs required these skills, but I could not apply.

I would advise the next generation the way my parents advised me, “Do what you love and you will excel in it.” My parents had other career preferences for me, but they supported me regardless because they wished for me to have a career I enjoyed.

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