Jennifer McKinley - 2019 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Business Development Manager, Physical Sciences
University of Central Florida, USA
Country of Birth: USA
My parents and teachers consistently encouraged my curiosity and gave me great opportunities to explore my interest in research and science. My mom took me to science museums and the library, and I had a chemistry set. I also recall going to my dad’s manufacturing plant and being so excited by the steps involved in making products—design, construction, quality.
I evaluate intellectual property for the University of Central Florida for patentability, market fit, and commercialization. I’m part of a team called the Technology Transfer Office that helps bring our researchers’ discoveries to the marketplace—transforming innovative ideas into successful products and services.
My greatest challenge is navigating uncertainty through industry, jobs, and personal life changes. I studied optical materials, began my career in semiconductor manufacturing, and lost that job after US operations closed down. This led me to start two companies—one providing evidence for patent assertion cases and the other making infrared glass materials.
You can craft a detailed answer to “what am I going to do in five years?” all you want. Life happens anyway, and you just can’t plan it all out. There’s some balance in specializing in certain skills and staying flexible in order to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Disregard stereotypes of what a technical person is supposed to be. There is so much variety in the types of STEM jobs that are out there. I think there’s something for every type of engineering personality and skill set.
Creating my own jobs wasn’t something I set out to do, and it’s not for everyone. But I eventually lost the fear of change and learned how to lean into it. The result is a career that I never could have planned. And I’m grateful for the experiences, even though they have been challenging!