B.Sc. McMaster, M.Sc. UBC
My first job was working for my M.Sc. supervisor in his vacuum technology company. It was part physics, part electronics, part plumbing, part purchasing etc. A great learning experience. My knowledge at that time was in operating vacuum deposition systems rather than designing them, so the design part of my job was the electronic control systems. The systems we were building were for various applications, like anti-counterfeiting films and photocopier drums, so I got to learn interesting things about the applications as well as the technology.
When I decided to move to a larger company, I was lucky enough to get an offer from BNR to do optoelectronics R&D. One of my first jobs was to design a GaAs circuit, which was a great opportuunity. Then I got more into the fiber optics side of things, working with lasers and detectors, i.e. active optoelectronics. Eventually I left Nortel to join JDS and work on passive fiber optic devices.
We were trying to make YBCO superconducting films by DC magnetron sputtering, shortly after the high-Tc craze got underway. Late one night we tested a film and watched excitedly as the chart recorder registered a transition around the right temperature. We should have known better. We were using a two-point measurement technique, and all we were measuring was the compliance of the ohmeter. We did eventually succeed, but not before getting a little more skeptical.
Many of the most useful learning I have done on the job, learning from colleagues or experiences. But two of the most important basics for me have been thermodynamics and electromagnetics.
When I was at McMaster, the honours physics program included a single half-year course on optics. In retrospect, more optics would have been a good idea.