Laser-Focused on Advancing His Career
Benjamin Fisher, Jr.
Research Engineer, Synrad
As an undergraduate student, Benjamin Fisher Jr. took a class about lasers that sparked his interest in the subject. After graduating he landed a job in the field, but realized he needed further education to take his career to the next level. Here the 2015 graduate tells us how the UW Master of Science in Physics program helped him gain the knowledge and skills necessary to increase his professional opportunities.
Can you tell us a bit about your current job?
I’m a research engineer at Synrad, a company that creates carbon dioxide lasers. A recent project I worked on, which I used as my final master’s project, was developing a carbon monoxide (CO) laser for Synrad.
The CO laser was a completely new product that used a different gas mixture, and that meant it was going to have a different set of optics, different characteristics and output for when we do run the laser. The laser’s particular use is in the field of glass processing. For example, it’s a more efficient tool for cutting and processing the glass that’s used on mobile phones.
Why did you decide to get your master’s in physics?
To further my career path. The next position up at my work is laser scientist. One of the prequalifiers for that is having a master’s or doctorate in physics or optics.
People who have gotten an undergraduate degree in physics, mathematics or even some of the engineering fields often run into a roadblock after the first several years of working in the industry. They’re expected to have a master’s or a doctorate to move on to the higher-ranking positions in companies. I see getting my master’s as a very predictable step to advance in the field that I'm in.
What appealed to you about the UW program in particular?
I really valued the reputation of the program. At Synrad, I was the fifth person to have gone through the program. My boss and the head of the research and development department thought highly of these other employees and remembered how much the program helped their careers. They were very supportive of my earning this master’s because of the good reputation that UW had with them.
The evening program also allowed me to continue to gain experience working at my current position while getting the education to be able to move on to the next position.
How has your experience in the program helped with your current position?
This master’s program focused a lot of the coursework on problem solving and on different techniques I hadn't learned when I was an undergraduate. It expanded my tool case for what I'm able to do now and how I'm able to approach problems at work.
What did you learn that will allow you to move up the career ladder?
The most applicable classes in my circumstance were Professor Larry Sorensen’s class on laser physics, professor Jeffrey Wilkes’ class on contemporary optics and professor Boris Blinov’s class on computer programming. All of those classes, as well as the core classes on electromagnetism, apply in a very hands-on way to the position of laser scientist. In that position you're doing predictive modeling – trying to create models to predict how the plasma and the different optics inside of the laser interact once you actually build the product.
Was it challenging to earn your master’s while working full time?
It's a lot of work, but it's definitely worth it. Even after a full day's work, it didn't feel like a chore going to class. The program worked very well with my schedule and ended up being a very good match for me.
The professors were aware that their students were working and many had families or had to travel for work. A lot of the lectures were recorded or put online. The whole program is focused toward making sure students are able to succeed.