Jillian at Habitat for Humanity construction site during an Olin spring break trip
What is your job like at the Naval Underseas Warfare Center?
I work as a researcher in the Sensors and Sonar division at NUWC. Mostly, I work under various PhDs in support of their projects. In practice, this has led to a wide variety of tasking, as described below. Generally speaking, our work is in either basic research (such as characterizing a particular material/phenomenon) or applied research (such as transducer design using a novel material).
I should also mention that NUWC has given me a ton of support towards furthering my education. I've been taking classes toward my Master's degree at Brown University for the past year. NUWC pays for tuition, and my supervisor has been really flexible with my schedule, allowing me to work odd hours so I can go to class while working full-time. NUWC also offers a long-term training scholarship that pays your full salary for an academic year so you can finish up an advanced degree full-time - I'm planning on applying for that next year so I can complete a thesis. Sometimes it gets a little busy during the semester, trying to balance work and school and a personal life, but it hasn't been overwhelming. It helps that government work is a 40hr/wk deal, unlike much of private industry. Olin instills a pretty good work ethic, anyways :)
What sorts of things are you working on?
My favorite part about my job is the diversity of projects I've been able to participate in - it's really broadened my technical perspective. In the past two years, I've worked on a turbulent flow project at our Quiet Water Tunnel facility, and presented a paper on that work at a conference in London. I learned a bunch of computer modeling for a project on underground fiber optic sensors. I've developed a new experimental set-up for the characterization of magnetostrictive sensors - learning a lot about magnetics and electrical equipment/feedback loops in the process. I've also done a lot of work characterizing polymer coatings on our Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), along with some other materials. Currently a lot of my time is also going towards a project regarding parametric sonar design.
What brought you to NUWC?
I first heard about NUWC at the fall career fair at Olin. I had been thinking about going to grad school, but I didn't feel ready to commit myself to one specialty quite yet. Ideally, I was looking for a job in research where I could get some exposure to a wide range of topics, which is exactly what I found at NUWC.
NUWC is funded by the Naval Research Lab, and other Navy (as well as non-Navy) organizations. How do you like doing work that is so closely linked to the Navy?
For the most part, I really enjoy working for the Navy. I'm fortunate to be in a branch that is largely focused on research and development, so I work with a lot of great scientists. There are occasionally drawbacks of working in the government - sometimes bureaucracy gets in the way of doing work efficiently. And I know some other people at NUWC that don't have nearly as much variety in their work as I do. But my position, and the people I work with, are an excellent fit for me at this stage in my career.
Do you use skills you learned at Olin?
For sure! When I think of skills I learned at Olin, it's all the intangible things that come to mind. Olin made me a lot more comfortable exploring concepts that are well outside my area of expertise. It turns out that spiral learning really works! Presentation skills have also been invaluable. Now having interacted with some recent grads from other universities, it's becoming obvious to me that Olin's focus on presentation skills is far from universal. Regarding technical skills, I've often wished I paid more attention in some of my classes - particularly math. But I suspect that was a failing on my part, rather than on Olin's.
What was your most valuable experience at Olin?
SCOPE. The opportunity to execute a project at that level, and over the course of a whole school year was really powerful. It gives you an opportunity to develop so many skills. There's the technical work, of course, as well as managing a budget, taking the customer's needs/desires into consideration, communicating your ideas professionally, and working effectively in a team environment. SCOPE was truly the capstone of my Olin education.
Do you have any words of wisdom for current Olin students?
I remember getting pretty burnt out a couple of times at Olin, and feeling like I would never use most of the technical information I was learning. When it seems like the work is irrelevant to your future, try to push through anyway. I've been shocked at how frequently I've needed to use some bit of information I decided to blow off in classes.
Getting punchy while working in a clean room during a Cornell summer internship