How I Blazed
My Own Trail
BY NICHOLAS M. KELLY
In 2009, I completed my undergraduate degree, only to enter what was the worst job market since the 1980s. Jobs were few and the future looked uncertain. After some trial and error, I eventually found a path that worked for me. I’m now a process sustain- ing engineer at Fairchild Semi- conductor. Previously I had a full-time process engineer co-op and earned an M.S. degree in chemistry. In the next few pages, I’ll describe what I learned in my jour- ney— including coming to view my chemistry degree as a springboard into a world not limited to medical school, a Ph.D., or a lab bench. When I was taking classes as an undergrad, I was also working on a senior thesis, spending time with friends, and figuring out where my life was going after graduation. I envied my peers who “knew” they were going to medical school, or who had gotten into graduate school (which, in the sciences, overwhelmingly meant working on a Ph.D.). Others had lined up well-paying employment in finance or engineering. Still more
Immediately after college, Kelly (RIGHT) worked as an energy engi- neer for Kalamazoo College, where his responsibilities included obtaining temperature measurements and estimating steam leakage rates in the college’s steam tunnels. On the left is his co-worker Chris Hutchinson.
were enrolled in Teach for America, had a Fulbright Scholarship,
or were going to teach English in Korea.
Everyone seemed to have his or her life in order… except me.
As much as I longed for the freedom of not being in school, it was
nerve-wracking to consider what would happen after graduation.
So I did what many do when faced with an uncomfortable truth:
I avoided thinking about it, for the most part.
Of course, I’d entertained visions of developing the next renew-able energy source, perhaps overhauling the food system along the
way. How to actually pursue those dreams, however, was much less
obvious. For me, finding the answer required a journey.
Career road trip
It took a summer of working a job in the facilities management
area as an energy efficiency intern at Kalamazoo College and a
newfound delight in culinary simplicity. I managed to save up
enough money for a road trip across the country, during which
I would apply to jobs along the way. Plenty of older friends
had already graduated and started working, which meant I
had plenty of couches to sleep on. This was my first lesson in
the value of a strong network: know people, talk to them