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Joan Haysom

It benefits you greatly to approach new challenges, even if you have never done anything like it before – as long as you have the willingness to work and learn, you will have respect from your peers.

I have a B.Sc. Engineering Physics (Queen’s) and a Ph.D. Physics (Ottawa). Between the two degrees I worked at Chipworks Inc., undertaking reverse engineering of integrated circuits (ICs) for the purpose of patent infringement investigations between large IC companies. Chipworks was an exciting place: while I was there it grew from 8 to 60 employees, who were smart and hardworking. I really enjoyed the semiconductor device physics aspects, and realized I wanted to be able to design and develop devices myself, so I decided to return to school. Before registering, I researched and approached a few groups to find a great fit, and was able to secure a student research position at the National Research Centre Canada with a supervisor who was also a professor at University of Ottawa. My Ph.D. in photonics integration led to a research positions at Nortel Networks and then Bookham Technologies, developing advanced processes for next generation telecom devices.

After a short pause to spend time at home with two daughters, I shifted fields slightly, moving towards devices that had a positive environmental impact. First I worked for a start-up Group IV Semiconductor Inc., developing efficient light emission devices, and then I moved into solar energy, in which, for the past four years, I’ve taken on both technical roles and community leadership roles.

I am a Senior Researcher and Project Manager at the SUNLAB research group in Electrical Engineering, University of Ottawa. The SUNLAB researches high efficiency photovoltaics technologies and collaborates extensively with the private sector to bring the best products and technical knowledge to market. In particular, I have led the development of two outdoor solar test sites and advanced energy yield assessment s. I have also worked actively with the University’s operations developing solar deployments on campus. Outside of SUNLAB, I have been on the Board of Directors for the Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative for three years. I have helped to grow this innovative organization, and in particular I have been the technical lead for the development of a $1.7M (and growing) portfolio of solar deployments which is 100% community owned.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, what is your current job?

I have been working for the past three and a half years as a Senior Researcher and Project Manager in the SUNLAB solar energy research group in the Department of Electrical Engineering at University of Ottawa. Our large research group undertakes collaborative research on solar cells and systems with a number of different academic and industry partners. This includes the operation and continuous modification to two outdoor solar test sites loaded with instrumentation for assessing solar resource and panel performance. I manage several of the relationships with companies, guide the research teams, oversee the technical progress, develop new grants, and undertake some research myself.

What made you want to pursue a career in engineering?

I have always enjoyed learning and knowing about how things work. I started university in the pure sciences, thinking that was the best match for me, but I registered for an engineering design course and very quickly realized how much I enjoyed the creative process of designing and developing new solutions, and also strong teamwork aspect to most engineering projects.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I love that I am always learning and get to play a large range of roles, continuously trying to improve myself in various ways. I love working with bright young students and working closely with technologies and colloborators, innovating towards the most efficient and most economical solar energy harvesting systems.

I have also really appreciated my engineering skills for roles outside of my “day job”, including in volunteer work and in taking charge of more technical issues around the house, from bike repairs to having a solar energy system installed on our house.

How do you celebrate National Engineering Month?

I try to get involved with a few outreach events every year, so that I can share my enthusiasm for engineering with school age students. In February I assisted with a grade 5/6 class who were building projectile launchers for the NRC Engineering Challenge, and in March, I will visit a Brownie group and build mini solar cars with them and discuss forms of energy.

What advice do you have for young women who hope to pursue a career in your field?

I truly believe that women make excellent engineers, and are often particularly well suited to the creative problem solving and team environment of engineering. To have an exciting career requires getting involved in the field, so I advise young women to be confident to try new things, pursue neat hobbies, and participate/initiate events and organizations where they can develop a wide set of skills. They should try to develop both so-called soft skills (such leadership, public speaking, entrepreneurial, etc) and practical hand-on skills (such as designing, building, and fixing things). It benefits you greatly to approach new challenges, even if you have never done anything like it before – as long as you have the willingness to work and learn, you will have respect from your peers.

How would you describe the relationship with your mentor/mentee?

I would say I never had one particular mentor, but in my various jobs I certainly have had several senior female engineers, as well as male engineers, who I highly respected and try to learn from, both through observation and through conversation.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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