Chemists in the Real World

Michelle Schulberg

 

Michelle Schulberg, Principal Process Engineer


Michelle Schulberg works for a company that makes semiconductor processing equipment—the machines that companies like Samsung and Intel use to make computer chips. “As a process engineer,” she says, “I figure out how to optimize the performance of the existing systems and develop the next generation of equipment.”

Schulberg earned her Ph.D. in physical chemistry, specifically surface science. Her professional journey to her current position has been a “long and winding road,” she says. “At times it seemed like I was at a dead end and had to double-back to head in a different direction.  Be prepared for a constantly changing work environment and don't get discouraged if you don't find a "forever" job immediately.”

In her current position, Schulberg likes knowing that the data she collects has an immediate impact on how customers run their equipment and process their wafers. “I like working with a group of smart and dedicated colleagues who know how to get things done,” she says.

Today, Schulberg is a Principal Process Engineer at TEL NEXX.

What's a typical day on the job like?

My days are very variable. Most days I spend some time in the lab and analyzing data, and I supervise undergraduate co-op students who do some of the hands-on work. I average about one formal meeting a day, but much of my time is spent informally conferring with my colleagues. Instead of writing formal reports, we share results with colleagues around the world by e-mail and phone conferences.

What is your work environment like?

I have a cubicle with a laptop computer.  There are also various labs that are shared among a large group of people, including a cleanroom, a "wet" chemical lab, and engineering labs for hardware development.  We have demo versions of the electroplating systems we sell as well as various microscopes and other analytical metrology tools.

Andrew at work

Does your job follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule?

I work ~50 hours/week. It's an extremely fast-paced environment.  We have customers and colleagues around the world, especially in Asia, so there are often e-mails and phone conferences late at night. 

I travel a couple of times a year.  I visit our customers to train them to implement the processes I’ve developed, to learn about problems they are trying to solve, and to discuss future collaborations.  I also occasionally attend scientific conferences.

What is your best productivity trick?

Hire a good co-op student! :)

In the past, I have sometimes tried to segregate "lab days" when I do experiments and "non-lab days" when I write reports, analyze data, etc.  It helps to not be running back and forth between the lab and the office all day.

What's the best career advice you've received?

Find an area where you can make an impact.

Do you have any special talents or traits that make you a great fit for your job?

I'm extremely well organized and very detail oriented.  I can take a large amount of raw data and draw conclusions from it.

What essential habit do you have now that you wish you'd started much earlier?

Before I go home each night, I jot down a few lines about what I did that day.  It's helpful to remind myself of some of the smaller projects I've worked on for annual reviews or resume updates, or just to remember ideas I want to go back to pursue later.

What is your favorite ACS resource?

Reading Chemical & Engineering News keeps me up to date on the industry.