Kate Bechtel

Kate Bechtel - 2018 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Director, Optical Technologies
Triple Ring Technologies, Inc., USA

Kate Bechtel

Country of Birth: USA
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: BS in Chemistry and Biochemistry-Biophysics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; PhD in Physical Chemistry, Stanford University; Postdoc in Biomedical Optics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


I'd always assumed I'd be in a STEM field as that's what nerds were supposed to do. But STEM didn't seem very interesting because my perception was that a bunch of guys in white coats figured it out already, or were close enough to doing so that they didn’t need my help. So I was entranced when my first chemistry professor started the class with a lecture on everything that was still a mystery rather than the dry recounting of codified knowledge. Later, I was captivated by spectroscopy and the information gleaned by simply shining light on something and measuring the response.

At Triple Ring, I design and develop optical devices, primarily for medical use. There is no way to adequately describe my job within the confines of discipline boundaries. Each day is a unique combination of optics, physics, chemistry, medicine, engineering, business development, project management, and personnel management. I leverage this interdisciplinary knowledge to create functional, tangible devices that improve quality of life. As part of this work, I manage a group of very talented individuals who have taught me that technical depth is only part of the equation; collaboration and effective leadership are just as critical.

The biggest challenge of my career has been dealing with the expectations of others. Well-meaning professors or mentors expected me to succeed within their own definition of success – to be just like them. Remind yourself it is your life, not theirs. Take the bits of advice that resonate with you and let the rest roll off your back. Career trajectories don’t have to be linear and you shouldn’t be afraid of taking the first step in any direction. The experience you'll gain is always worth it to your future self. Feel free to change direction later.

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