While many JILA alumni go onto have more traditional careers such as in quantum industry, other career paths that might not be as well-known offer some unique benefits. One of these career paths is in medical physics research. Medical physics is an important and rapidly growing field that is dedicated to the application of physics principles and techniques to medicine and healthcare. Medical physicists are experts in the use of radiation and other technologies to diagnose and treat disease, and they play a vital role in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medical procedures. They also research and develop the next generation of tools for diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy. For JILA alumni Liz Shanblatt, a Staff Scientist and Collaboration Manager at Siemens Healthineers, medical physics became an interest only as she was nearing graduation and starting to look for jobs. “After graduation, I worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Mayo Clinic Department of Radiology in Rochester, MN,” she explained. “There, I had the opportunity to learn about medical physics and clinical computed tomography (CT) research. CT scanners are constantly under development; the hardware, post-processing, and imaging applications are always being improved. The group I worked with at Mayo had a very close collaboration with Siemens Healthineers, testing and co-developing their latest scanners and algorithms. To support this work, the group has an on-site CT Collaboration Scientist from Siemens.. After finishing my fellowship, I began work with Siemens as one of the on-site CT scientists.”
While Shanblatt didn’t know about medical physics during most of her time at JILA, her work at the institute prepared her well for her future career in this field. “I worked in the Kapteyn/Murnane group on the imaging team,” Shanblatt stated. “My research was on ptychographic coherent diffractive imaging with an ultrafast laser-driven EUV source. This technique involves collecting the far-field diffraction pattern of a sample and computationally reconstructing the amplitude and phase of the object. My projects included developing imaging systems and algorithms for reflection-mode, dynamic, quantitative, and three-dimensional imaging.” Because x-ray-matter interactions, imaging system fundamentals, and image processing are all important aspects of CT physics, Shanblatt found that her work at JILA on these systems translated well to her current position. According to Shanblatt, “I learned a lot of valuable technical skills during my time at JILA, particularly relating to computational imaging, optics, x-ray physics, and imaging system design. More importantly, working at JILA taught me how to think critically and problem solve, and how to effectively work with a team. Any new career will have challenges and new things that need to be learned; scientifically, technically, and interpersonally. Learning how to teach myself new skills and ask for help has been incredible valuable, and working with lots of different people at JILA helped me develop skills to navigate new workplaces and cultures.”
Now as a Staff Scientist and Collaboration Manager at Siemens Healthineers, Shanblatt enjoys being both a researcher and a leader. “My job is essentially a two-in-one: I work as both a scientist and collaboration manager,” she elaborated. “I work closely with an academic research group, supporting the CT research projects with both clinical products and prototypes. I advise on experiments, help troubleshoot hardware and software, and share the team’s feedback with my R&D Colleagues to support product development. I collaborate with radiologists, clinical medical physicists, students, and research fellows to drive CT research and innovate new techniques. I also manage collaboration contracts and keep track of projects and deliverables.” With these many different tasks, Shanblatt enjoys having a balance between an academic focus while working as an industry scientist and seeing those products come to market and make an impact for hospitals and patients.
When thinking back on her time at JILA, Shanblatt is grateful for the many different opportunities the institute presented her. “The research being done at JILA is highly collaborative and produces unique and impactful breakthroughs in many areas of science. JILA also trains well-prepared researchers who go on to work in many different fields of research in both academia and industry. I think that the variety of skills that a JILA researcher has the opportunity to learn helps to make alumni particularly well-suited to take on many different types of careers.” For those who are currently studying at JILA, she offers some key advice: “It’s easy to focus on the most pressing issue in your research project, but make sure to find time to take advantage of all JILA has to offer! Go to the social events and meet new people, network, and learn new skills. Ask others what they are working on, and what’s challenging and exciting about their research. There are also great opportunities to learn machining, electronics, nanofabrication, and many other skills, so take advantage of those resources. Finally, spend time thinking about what truly motivates you and what kind of career and lifestyle you want to have. Find a job that looks interesting, look at what skills they are seeking, and work towards developing those skills.”
Written by Kenna Hughes-Castleberry, JILA Science Communicator