Name: Arjun Wadhawan
Master’s degree: Applied Geology at IIT Kharagpur in India
PhD degree: Computational Science at University of Amsterdam
Current position: Project Lead (Wafer Alignment) at ASML
My ambition was to gain adequate skills in a research driven environment and transition to industry from the very start of my PhD. I considered myself an average person (with no stellar smartness) and often met people who were even more smarter than me and still struggled in an academic environment. This could be because of skewed funding setup, rigorous competition, limited permanent positions and several other uncertainties. These external factors combined with my inner drive helped me to focus clearly on developing specific skills and ensured that I focussed on transitioning outside academia. As an example, after publishing a paper in an esteemed journal (I got 4 postdoc offers from very famous groups in my field), it took me no time to respectfully deny them since I knew what I wanted to do next, which was not a postdoc.
At times, it was very hard to live with a clear dream of moving outside of an academic setting since during my PhD I had to prove my worthiness as an academic researcher. This meant focusing on writing publications and reviewing manuscripts. I had several moments where I had to defocus from my goals to work on things that I did not enjoy, which was a learning in itself but was difficult at times. Lastly, not to forget personal issues of living as an expat in the Netherlands where I had to manage my family obligations which caused their own level of complications. Every so often, I was not sure if I could make it and successfully transition outside.
I tried to stay connected with several events that companies organize for PhD fellows around the Netherlands. My PhD program was a unique collaboration with an industry and academic funding body. This helped me to stay connected with industrial realms and to focus on building a network.
In my 3rd year of PhD, I attended several career events. One of the best ones was organized by ASML, where they invited PhD fellows from around the country to showcase the researcher’s life in ASML. I was genuinely intrigued by these events and kept collecting useful knowledge which in the end helped me in my transition. In my final year, the prestigious ASML PhD masterclass was of great help to structurally understand how I could use my skills as a researcher and move into industry. I surely recommend these events to others. Lastly, since I also had several friends from my undergraduate time who were following their PhD courses in the USA and Asia, I regularly talked with them to understand how they were orienting for their post PhD life.
My current position as a researcher and team lead in ASML is a splendid opportunity for me to grow my technical and interpersonal dexterities, while I hone the skill of working in a world class tech driven environment. At heart, I am still a researcher who likes to think analytically and solve physics driven problems to come up with human understandable solutions. I get to practice programming skills, stakeholder management, product lifecycle, effective communication and several other expertises which makes me content and happy at the end of the day. My previous experience (from PhD) of running physics based simulations and data science can be directly applied to my current job.
If I had to look back at my younger self when I started my PhD, my five key suggestions would be: