Jason Kay

jason kayBS optics, BS applied math '04

(MA '07, PhD '09 mechanical and aerospace engineering, Princeton University)

Current job: Optical engineer, LGS Innovations
Residence: Caldwell, NJ
Family: Wife Arielle, daughter Ellie, son Avi.
Community activities: Synagogue, softball team.

When and how did you choose your major?

I entered freshman year sure that I was going to be a physics and astronomy major, and I had never heard of optics.  My TA for a physics class was an optics major, and she convinced me to take the intro course in optics. After that, I kept going.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

My two main extracurricular activities were Hillel and OBOC.  In Hillel, where I quickly became a leader and eventually president, I learned how to responsibly run an organization with a team, and perhaps more importantly, that experience taught me that every individual needs something different to feel comfortable and welcome.  In OBOC, I learned how to be part of a large team effort where cooperation and success from each person adds to overall quality and fun. The late rehearsals for OBOC taught me that it's worth pushing yourself to have fun even if it means cutting back on sleep.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

After graduation and a final summer at camp, I started a PhD program at Princeton University. During an internship I had after junior year, my mentor told me about the people he worked with at Princeton and told me to apply there. My plan had been to stay in the optics department at UR, but I enjoyed working with the group at my internship so I changed course instead.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I work for LGS Innovations, a government contractor, as an optical engineer. I got into the government and defense world because I had the SMART fellowship while a graduate student. This fellowship funded my research (and more!), and it came with a requirement that I spend some time working for the Department of Defense.  My placement was at a Naval facility in Indiana, a big change from my east coast upbringing. I really enjoyed the work and the world of defense, but after my required time was over, my family wanted to move back east to be closer to our families, so I got a new job...still in the defense world, but as a contractor instead.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

Growing up, I remember that we had dinner as a family almost every night. This and other time spent with family and friends are far more important to me than my job and career.  While I strive to do the best I can at my job, it rarely takes priority over my family. One of the most important choices we made was to live fairly close to my work (~20 minutes) rather than have a long commute. This allows me to go to the occasional mid-day school event for the kids and to be home for dinner almost every night.  It's very important to set priorities and then live by them.

What advice do you have for current students?

College is the most unique period of your life. Without much effort, you're able to find and participate in so many groups and activities that interest and entertain you. Do as much as you possibly can while still being able to keep up with your school work and do well in classes. If you end up being overwhelmed, drop something. If you have time for lots of TV, add something. True...courses come first, but once you're doing what is necessary to do well, fill up the rest of your time with other things. And one more thing.  "I don't have time" is a really annoying thing to say to others. Most likely, it's not true. There is always more time.