Interview with Signe Kathrine Meelby (Quality System Manager)

This week we got a chance to have a talk with Signe Kathrine Meelby. She is a graduate of MSc.Eng Chemical and Biochemical Engineering from the Technical University of Denmark from 2017. Earlier, she did her BSc.Eng in Chemistry and Technology from DTU in 2015. Not only did she graduate without extending her demanding 5-year-civilingeniør education and worked as a Student Assistant at one of the most renowned companies of Denmark, but did so with impressive grades.

She is currently working as Quality System Manager at NKT Photonics. She started her career at NKT Photonics in 2018 as a Quality Engineer and within a short time has risen through the ranks to becoming a manager, due to her impeccable skills and incredible work ethic. Undoubtedly she has proved her hard-working attitude and competent knowledge in both academia and in the industry.

During her university years, she worked as a student assistant at Haldor Topsøe production facility, which led her to working within QC Role and then as a Principal Technician within the same facility after graduation. Hence, she not only has the theoretical engineering knowledge, but has also proved her knowledge by applying it in the real world within a renowned company as well.

Education

Signe graduated with great grades and has an in-depth and competent knowledge of the engineering principles. Therefore, we were very interested in hearing about her university experience.

Chemical Engineering is a tough degree, so how was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?

Definitely reports and big assignments was a big part of the workload, sometimes up to 8 reports per week. We also had a lot of teaching hours, group work and meeting up with project groups at all sorts of times when everyone could fit it into their schedules. There has been many, many hours spend at the campus library and data bars.

Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum in either BSc/MSc?

On the bachelor there was a lot of chemistry to ensure that everyone had the same basis. And in general, just a lot of the science (psychics, material science, math, biology, psychical chemistry, organic/inorganic chemistry etc.) so that we would all be able to build on depending on which direction we wanted to take later. So, I would say it was quite broad and not so limiting as I originally thought.

On the master is was mostly process engineering, programming and advanced math used on chemical issues. But we also had some practical courses of doing experiments in the pilot plant and labs.

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?

The programming parts. Setting up advanced differential equations in e.g. Matlab describing the various chemical processes in order to solve the equations and perform simulation of the processes. That was definitely a challenge for me, as I am more a pen to paper person. And the math could also become very abstract and advanced in some courses, where I function better with something that I can relate to the real world and not “imaginary numbers”.

ChemE can be a volatile degree and allows its students to specialise in different lines, so what did you choose to focus during your degree?

I chose the specialization in Process engineering. I found it the most interesting when I was reading about the options and I already have had many courses at the “chemistry technical institute” (kemi teknik). I liked the professors there and the fact that there was a lot of group work, practical courses and it was more assignment based versus based on reading 300 pages for the next day. I feel very comfortable in writing reports and do more practical problem-solving instead of a lot of reading by myself. I also think that many of the courses were very related to “real world issues” and used many examples of chemical plants etc.

Did you get your degree from your home country or did you go abroad? if yes, from where to where? How did you do it?

Mostly in Denmark at DTU. But I spend one semester abroad in Oregon, USA. At Oregon state university. I was able to go through DTU and the study abroad program that they have.

Did you have student jobs during or between your education? How did you get them? Where did you work? How did it help your education or future career?

Yes. I worked as a mentor for another student for some time during my bachelor. He was having a hard time at DTU and especially with planning his time and assignments etc. so I helped with that. Then I worked at Haldor Topsøe during my master and worked every other weekend from 5am and also some nights after school. I worked in a lab doing testing of their catalysts through their whole process, from powder to final product. I learned a lot and it was very interesting and I especially leaned a lot about the various testing equipment. After I was done with my studies I got a position in the same lab as a “laboratory supporter” where I would help develop new processes, do various process optimization and doing root cause investigations if something went wrong or if some equipment did not work. So, it did help me a lot after I was done, and it was a great reference to have on my CV for finding my current job.

How did you manage your student job and courses, and getting such impressive grades in all of your courses?

At times it was quite hard to make it all fit together and get all the assignments done in time. I was very lucky to have a great student group, were we took most of the same classes and worked together if we had the chance. We were all kind od the same mindset of getting things done and all contributed equally. The best part was that we each had different areas that we were best at, one had great programming skills, the other great advanced math skills and one was great at linking it all together and getting a coherent report out of it. That was definitely a big help for me.

Another strategy was definitely planning and organizing. I planned every semester in the beginning of the semester when we got the assignment overviews and reading plans. I made a program for each week with the assignments, pages to read, when I would make them etc. and planned ahead if I had other commitments. I also tried to plan my courses so they would be on the same days, so I would have more combined focus time. I never pushed things to last minute and tried to be finished early, so I didn’t have to stress and have things luring in the back of my mind.

Work Experience

As mentioned earlier, Signe has had very relevant work experience to her engineering education. Furthermore, she currently works in respectable and renowned company, so we took this chance to get to know about her work experience.

Which industry and in what role do you work in? How long have you been in this industry?

I work as the Quality Management System Manager within the laser Industry, in a company called NKT Photonics. I have been in my current job for 3 years now.

What is your daily work routine like? What do you do at your job?

I am responsible for creating and maintaining the quality system in the company globally. This includes all of our sites that are located in 6 countries around the world. I am responsible for our ISO quality system and setting up all required processes and procedures that is needed for this and managing quality issues and improvements. So, the work that I am doing, actually does not directly have anything to do with being a chemical engineering. But the whole mindset of being an engineer has made the basis of me being able to perform my job. I gained a logical way of thinking, a natural and easier way of understanding complex processes and an ability to being involved and understand all aspects and areas of the company.

What are the typical tasks which you have to deal with?

Managing internal and external quality issues, supplier quality issues, internal and external audits, reporting, tracking and calculating KPIs, running various improvement projects, writing and developing processes and procedures, finding solutions, training, planning and organizing and many other things.

What hard and soft skills are the most important for your job?

Project management, good coordination skills, patience, eye for detail, management skills, good writing and speaking skills, quick at understanding various issues.

What is the best thing about your job?

A lot of freedom and management of my own time. But I still have a lot of responsibility and authority, and I am given a lot of trust by the company.

Which topics from your degree do you use the most on the workplace?

Understanding skills, reporting skills, visualization of issues, data management and evaluation, project management skills and just a general knowledge about various aspects of science that always comes in handy when visiting suppliers and dealing with technical issues.

How easy was it for you to change company and/or jobs if any?

I think it was hard for me to get a job that was not related that much to my education. That was a big decision and step for me to take. But it turned out to be the right decision for me.

Getting the job was not so difficult, especially when I look at my other graduate friends who had a hard time. I think one of the key things was having a relevant student job, have some experience on the CV from the industry and having a good reference. At least I think that helped me to get to interviews.

What are your future plans for your career? What does your current job allow you to do in future?

I would like to someday get my own company of being a consultant to companies in setting up quality/ISO systems. But I am very happy with my current job and look forward to doing a lot more things there and develop myself within the quality world.

Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.

Try to enjoy it and not stress about it. I stressed a lot and was one of the few to graduate “on time” and with top grades, but I also spend many, many nights up and many weekends of work, leaving parties early, taking extra courses etc. I would have relaxed a bit more and enjoyed it more and not been in such a rush to be done on time.

But I will recommend everyone to have a relevant student job, because it will be easier to get into the industry through that. And I would also recommend going abroad during your studies, that was one of the best things I ever did and I gained friends for life!

Try to enjoy it and not stress about it.
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