Describe a failure or setback in your life. How did you
overcome this setback? What, if anything, would you do differently if
confronted with this situation again?
While working towards my PhD, I spent the summer of 1995 as an intern at Ford Research Laboratories (FRL). I was working in the industry for the first time, and I found every aspect of my internship to be exceptional. I had a supportive boss who gave me the freedom and resources to define and manage my project. In addition, I was provided a nice apartment for the summer and had great roommates. The whole experience was memorable.
By the time I returned to Wisconsin to continue my doctoral research, I knew I wanted to work at FRL. I planned to finish my PhD by the end of 1996, and I had been offered an internship at FRL again for the summer of that year. I accepted it, hoping that I would obtain an interview for a full-time position. Sure enough, my supervisor was extremely pleased with my performance and wanted to hire me. He asked me to stay on at Ford and finish up my thesis while he obtained the necessary approval to interview me. Meanwhile, I was so sure this was where I wanted to be that I did not even search for other jobs.
Right at that time, Ford had a quarter of poor profits, and FRL announced a hiring freeze. It was November of 1996, and I had just submitted my dissertation. Since I was no longer a student, I could not use the university job placement services. Moreover, as an international student I had a unique problem: my employer had to agree to sponsor me for a work visa.
After searching for a couple of months, I was finally offered a position at ITT Automotive. It was a nice job, but definitely not one I had dreamt about. Besides, the position was in Ohio, and my wife worked in Detroit. I spent a year and a half at ITT as their in-house expert in metal casting and computer-aided engineering. I benefited from the experience and obtained a fresh perspective working in a smaller organization where I had to be versatile. But I still wanted to be in research, and my job duties at ITT offered no scope for research. To remain an active researcher in metal casting, I proposed research projects that would help ITT improve its process development capabilities. With the support of my management, I initiated these projects in addition to performing my assigned duties. Meanwhile, I kept in touch with my supervisor at FRL. A year after I joined ITT, he mentioned that he was moving to a different division at Ford and had recommended me for his spot. A month later I was interviewed by Ford and offered his job.
I enjoy being back at Ford and working in the same city as my wife. I realize that I was partly responsible for the problems I faced. I was obsessed with working at FRL. I lacked the maturity to understand that it never hurts to keep one's options open. I should have interviewed with other research labs while I was at school. Given the choice, I could always have chosen FRL.
Today, I do not see research as the only creative and challenging career path. I have enjoyed being in research, and now I desire to move on to other challenges.