Maria PowerBy Joseph Bernstein • May 21, 2013
Maria Power is a principal engineer in the Accelerator Controls Systems group in Argonne’s Physics division.
What role do you play at the lab?
I manage the control system and other operations computing aspects for the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS), which is a superconducting linear accelerator for heavy charged particles.
What attracted you to work at Argonne?
I was returning to the workforce after being home with my kids for five years. Before that, I worked for a building controls company doing mostly software development for interfacing with a building control system. My brother-in-law works at Argonne, so when I saw a job posting at Argonne, I was already familiar with the lab. When I came in for the interview, it was a perfect fit. I completely understood control systems, so ATLAS was just another machine using the same principles of computing and control systems.
What do you like most about your job?
I love the atmosphere and working with people who really care about their work, and I find the research that comes out of the accelerator very interesting. I’m always learning something new. Part of my job is making sure that the operations staff can do their jobs to the best of their ability. With the control and monitoring systems I provide, it is easier for them to do their job. This makes work better for everybody at ATLAS.
What’s it like working at a user facility?
It is a 24/7-support operation, so you’re constantly on call, but I have the ability to connect remotely. There’s always something new going on. The users come from U.S. universities and national laboratories as well as from foreign institutions. ATLAS is a very dynamic and interesting facility.
How did you get involved in a career in technology?
I always enjoyed technology. In high school, a friend mentioned she was looking into computing careers, and I thought that sounded really interesting. I ended up going to the Illinois Institute of Technology for my Computer Science degrees. I give credit to my brother since he was the one who really encouraged me to apply there. That school ended up being the right one for me. Their curriculum for computer science was very practical. I worked on projects and just loved the programming.
In the middle of my sophomore year, I started co-oping with a controls company, and I ended up working there for 13 years. Just before I graduated with my bachelor degree, a staff position came open. I applied for it and worked part-time while I finished my degree. It worked out really well for me: I ended up with a master’s degree while working full-time.
What career advice would you give to school-aged girls?
There are two Argonne activities that girls and young women should consider. One is Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED), for middle school students, and the other is Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW), targeting high-school students. So many kids, especially in the inner city, have no idea of the possibilities that are out there. Participating in programs like IGED and SCSW can help them explore science and engineering careers.
As a student, I knew that I wanted to do computing and got into a co-op position that was exactly the type of computing I wanted to do. Co-op appointments, which are basically the industry-sector equivalent of academic internships, can be very helpful in charting a career path. I also know people who took co-op positions and didn’t like what they were doing. That can be just as valuable as working somewhere that you absolutely love because it can give you the information you need to change something about your academic focus. Try different things and see what you like to do. Then, when you find something you love, try to make a career out of it.