Sigrid Skovbo Adsersen is a Development Engineer in Research & Development (R&D) at the company OFS Fitel. She graduated from the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen with a Master’s degree in physics.
Please give a description of the work you do in your current position:
At OFS we produce and develop optical fibers. We have an incredibly broad product portfolio with more than 70 individual fibers, including anything from ultra-low loss transmission fibers for ocean cables to rare-earth doped fibers used in e.g., amplifiers and lasers. In R&D, our job is to develop the next generation of fibers, solve problems and troubleshoot, as well as develop new processes and new measurements set ups. Since I started working at OFS in September 2016, I have been involved in a little bit of everything, on all kinds of different fibers (ultra-low loss ocean fibers for transmission, gyro-fibers for aerospace, erbium doped fibers for amplifiers, etc.). Recently I also started working as a project manager.
How do you use the skills you learned as a physicist or engineer in your work?
I did my master’s in experimental quantum optics where I had the responsibility of building a new set up from scratch. A lot of things went wrong along the way, but I had the pleasure of working with a group of skilled, helpful, and inspiring PhD’s as well as a dedicated supervisor. Through a mixture of learning by failing and stubbornness I ended up being pretty good at problem solving and working with complicated measurements and data.
Besides still working within optics, and still working with experimental set ups, I think the optimism and culture I experienced in my lab at uni has helped shape the way I approach new challenges. When doing experimental physics, new product development or process optimization, you are essentially stepping into new territory. Therefore, things might not always go as planned, and you sometimes end up with a completely different result than expected. For me, this is sometimes the most interesting part. It can be disheartening and will require a lot of hard work when things fail, but it also offers the opportunity to better understand the problem you are trying to solve and develop a new skill set.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the private industry?
When I was approaching the end of my master’s I was very torn between whether I should pursue a PhD or dive straight into the industry. I knew I probably would not stay in academia forever, but I also feared that I would feel less “fulfilled” if I “just” had a master’s degree and not a PhD. Also, I did not know much about what kind of jobs were out there, except high school teacher or programming, both of which were not really for me. Another concern I had was whether I would stagnate intellectually if I left academia. One day, my supervisor came into the lab and gladly said: “Sigrid, I have found the perfect job for you!”.
This was the first time I ever heard about OFS. I looked through the job description and figured it sounded like a pretty good match – not only would I get to work with physics, but also my favorite subject, optics!
I decided I would apply and get a better idea of what the job might have to offer. I would never know if it was for me if I did not try it. I was only 24 years old when I got the job, so if it ended up being a complete mismatch, I figured I would still be able to go back to university and pursue a PhD.
Fortunately, the job turned out to be a great match. I have been working at OFS for 4½ years now, and I still meet interesting and stimulating challenges on a regular basis. One thing that I find appealing about working in the industry is that the work you do has a very direct impact on the technology and “real world problems” you are trying to solve. I think it is pretty cool that the solutions I help find are being implemented either in our own production, or by our customers around the world.
What motivated you to study physics or engineering in the first place?
In my opinion, science makes the world a bigger and more interesting place. My interest in physics started by watching “Viden Om” on DR as a kid. The show sparked my interest in science and made me generally interested in finding out how stuff works. I especially remember being interested in astrophysics and black holes.
I did quite well in the natural science class in elementary school (back then there was just one class that mixed physics, biology, and chemistry), but I was not until high school that I zoomed in on physics. I had a very inspiring physics teacher who actively encouraged me and fueled my interest further. When I graduated high school, I decided to go study physics at the university simply because I wanted to know more. If I found out it was not for me, I would have plenty of time to find something else to do.
What advice would you give to young people (in particular women and minorities) who would like to pursue a career in the private industry?
Do not let the fear of choosing the “wrong job” hold you back from pursuing a career in the private industry. Nothing has to be permanent, and if the first job (or second, or third) does not work out, it is not a failure. There are plenty of interesting job opportunities for physicists, and the best way to figure our what career suits you is to dive into it. Lastly, do not be afraid of the word “engineer” in any job posting. In my experience, a lot of companies have hired and need physicists without necessarily knowing so, because the job title is “engineer”. Across several fields of specialization, physicists generally possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills, both of which are sought after in many different private industries.
Far from everybody will be as lucky as I was, and have the perfect job show up out of nowhere. To those of you who are considering a job outside academia, but do not know where to start, my first advice would be to ask your supervisor or fellow/previous students, what companies, or jobs, they might know of. Depending on the supervisor, there is a pretty good chance that they know previous students who are working somewhere in the industry by now. Otherwise, try visiting job fairs such as the DSE fair in Lyngby and get to know the companies that way around.
When entering any field as a minority, whether that is based on race, gender, sexuality, or religion, remember to remind yourself that you belong, even though you might stand out. It is easier said than done, but internal doubt can be devastating to even the best of us. This is not to ignore all the external structures that works in favor of the majority. My personal way of dealing with this is to confide in and discuss with people I love and trust and get their perspective, advice, and support on how to deal with any issue or situation.