Thursday, June 23, 2016

National Women in Engineering Day 2016- An Interview With Dr. Monika Balk

We sat down with one of our Market Development Managers, Dr, Monika Balk to talk about her experience getting into the field of engineering. Monika holds a PhD from TU Darmstadt in Electrical Engineering and Computational Electromagnetics. 

Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me. Let’s start with who you are and what you do here at CST.

My name is Monika Balk and I am a product planning manager and market development manager. That means I communicate with developers about what to develop for the next year and talk to our experts in certain fields and I provide key account support in the charged particle dynamics market- that means everything pertaining to charged particles, like electrons, within an electromagnetic field.

And what did you study at university?

I studied electrical engineering with a special focus in high-frequency engineering. I basically have become a physicist and if you asked my colleagues now, they may not realize I was originally an engineer.

Oh, so did you switch when you did your Masters?

I actually didn’t officially change, but the fields are so closely related and it just happens to be where I work the most these days.

So what first got you excited about sciences, math and engineering?

Ah yeah, so my dad basically tried to make me into a scientist quite early, but I put the LEGO bricks into my hair instead of building things. So, that wasn’t so fruitful. I actually wanted to do something with languages, maybe be a teacher, but it turned out I wasn’t very good at languages. Although I actually ended up having to always speak in a foreign language anyway. Then at a certain point, I had an excellent physics teacher and it was fun. I became quite interested and continued on that path. 

And how old were you?

I think I was 14, 15, maybe - so, old enough to have an idea that this was my direction. 
What about engineering and physics was fun for you?

So engineering is kind of like looking into problems and finding solutions. It’s like being a detective- I’m not finding murderers, but I’m finding solutions to problems and that’s very interesting.

What advice would you give to students looking to enter the field of engineering- girls in particular?

I think that it’s not necessary to be perfectly organized but you have to be curious and analytical - that’s perfect. Everything else can come later while you are learning.  I don’t think that being a woman was a disadvantage for me. I never felt I was looked at negatively. It was more the male students always showing off, they’d say some strange things. Just let them talk - you will probably already have your masters while they leave university without a degree. Just be relaxed and don’t let them scare you.

In the last three years, I have been working on magnetrons, because I find them quite exciting. They are quite complicated- they are the devices that provide the power for radar. They are also in every microwave oven and generate the fields that heat up the food. It’s a very fascinating, complicated thing but I quite like it. Last year I also worked on gyrotron simulation - that is a device that provides high power. It is interesting in terms of fusion reactor programs and that’s so important right now because we are looking to the future of providing power to people. We all need power, so that was quite interesting.

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