Every area of science shows us the way of approaching a problem and solving it. If one deep-dives into any subject in science, the lines that distinguish them start to blur – everything becomes one. 

Ankita Jadon, our next pathbreaker, Principal Product Engineer, works for a global semiconductor manufacturer that is a leading expert in the high-volume production of essential semiconductors, components that are required by every electronic design in the world

Ankita talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about taking a a leap of faith and pursuing an industry sponsored PhD on an intriguing subject related to nuclear accidents and safety.

For students, your career path should be driven by the curiosity to broaden your area of expertise by learning disparate technologies, because such experiences teach you to approach a problem with more than one problem-solving mindset !

Ankita, Your background?

I grew up in Rajasthan. I was schooled in Jaipur until 8th class, then moved to Kota to prepare for competitive engineering entrance exams, and then went on to Ajmer to study engineering. 

I was a shy student who did not participate much in extracurricular activities. I enjoyed my time in the school library, going through books unrelated to classroom subjects, such as Atlas, storybooks, etc. 

I distinctly remember long walks with my father when I was about 10 years old, and during those regular walks I would ask him a lot of questions, like – how do planets move, what holds Earth and the moon together, what will happen if I keep walking towards the center of Earth?

This curiosity to know more has driven me to pursue my Masters, then PhD, then a Post Doc. I currently design semiconductors.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

For my under-graduation, I studied Electrical & Electronics engineering followed by a master’s in Nuclear engineering, and a PhD in Physical Chemistry. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My parents taught me to be curious and did not stop me from asking questions. They genuinely showed interest in my curiosity and took me to bookstores regularly.

Who inspired you the most? What were the drivers that led you to where you are today?

My physics professor during under-grad and master’s studies inspired me a lot, as well as Sci-fi novels and movies (Dune, Star Trek, The three-body problem, to name a few).

I believe every area of science has its way of approaching a problem and solving it; I wanted to broaden my areas of expertise. These varied areas of expertise – EEE, NE, physical chemistry allowed me to approach a problem with more than one problem-solving mindset. 

However, if you see closely, you will observe that something that ties EEE (Electronics & Electrical Engineering), NE (Nuclear Engineering), and Physical Chemistry together is science. If one deep-dives into any subject in science, the lines that distinguish chemistry, physics, and mathematics start to blur – everything becomes one. 

When I moved to France for my master’s studies and immersed myself in the world of nuclear science, It not only opened the world of science for me but also the cultural and linguistic world. This experience away from home helped me to think about unconscious biases and opened my mind.

I met brilliant people during my academic career who motivated me to explore science for the love of science. These people continue to motivate me even today, even though I have left the world of academia and moved to the business side of science.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

It is important to have mentors and role models. To have mentors, one should know what are the right questions to ask and to know how to ask those questions. The thought process must be streamlined, thorough, and coherent. 

On top of this, pursuing what you love always needs a leap of faith. So, being courageous and taking full responsibility of my decisions, helped me transition though my career moves.

I got the Pays de la Loire scholarship from the French government to do my master’s degree at Ecole des Mines de Nantes, one of the elite universities in France.

While doing my master’s with Ecole des Mines de Nantes, I got in contact with IRSN which is a French public company for nuclear safety. IRSN reports to the ministry of health and environment of France on critical matters. 

In IRSN, I saw an opening for a master’s internship in their ‘severe accidents’ team and it caught my eye. 

Conventional nuclear reactors use water or heavy water as coolant, however a sodium-cooled nuclear reactor (SFR) uses liquid sodium. Liquid sodium is very efficient as a coolant, but it is chemically very reactive, it burns when it meets air or water. The team in IRSN was working on evaluating the aftermath of a potential accident and coming up with solutions to avoid them and make the reactor safe.

My internship work started with imagining a scenario where a nuclear accident has happened, sodium is burning resulting in aerosol formation, and nuclear fuel assembly has been exposed to the burning sodium. The question I answered was – are these sodium aerosols capable of trapping toxic and radioactive nuclear fuel? Aerosols are heavier and can be stopped from leaving the nuclear reactor facility with the help of appropriate filters. 

To know the details of my scientific work, I invite you to read my thesis, I will leave a link here: 


After my Master’s studies, I got a fellowship to pursue my PhD in a public-private collaboration where I was carrying out my research with a brilliant team of scientists and engineers with the French national agency for nuclear safety on a next-generation nuclear reactor project.

My PhD was an extension of the work I did during master’s thesis. I was intrigued by the subject and wanted to spend more time working on it, so I decided to do a PhD.

My PhD was an industry-sponsored one. I was an employee of a company (IRSN), and at the same time I was registered at a university for academic work. This unique combination gave me the opportunity of working in a company and learning how an organization works, and at the same time it gave me ample chances of brainstorming sessions with professors at the university. 

My approach was to be in the company of thinkers, people who made me think, were well-read, and brilliant. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Every challenge is unique. The goal should be to have a problem-solving and logical mindset. The aim should be to have a clear mind and pragmatic thinking. 

How did you get your first break?

Since my PhD was not purely academic, the transition was very natural. I decided to move to the business side as the opportunities were huge and an industry setting was more attractive to me for its flexibility and fast pace.

After completing my PhD, I worked at Schunk Xycarb Technology, a company that makes SiC (Silicon carbide also known as carborundum) graphite products for the semiconductor and optoelectronics industry. A SiC coated product is exposed to harsh chemical and thermal environments during semiconductor fabrication, so it has to be stable and not lose its mechanical/thermal/chemical integrity. As an R&D engineer, my job was to make sure that it stays stable so that our customers (like Intel, Samsung…) can make advanced chips for the world. My hands-on experience with chemistry and process engineering came in handy for this job.

Can you tell us about your current role?

I work with a leading semiconductor company in the Netherlands, Nexperia. My job is to verify and validate new chips that we make. I do this through a combination of simulations and experiments. 

Something I love about my job is – the people I work with, and the impact Nexperia is making in the world of semiconductors through its efficiency-driven approach.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice for parents and teachers would be to make your children/students better thinkers and good human beings first. They will become scientifically/professionally good when they are good thinkers, and most importantly good humans first. Treating others as equals, opens the gateway to ideas and support that others are willing to share with you.

What do I mean by a good human: a person who has a critical mindset, is flexible when it comes to dealing with diverse information and even more diverse sources of information; a person who respects differences in opinion without compromising on his/her principles. A person with her/his values and principles and is kind not only to people but to animals and the planet; a person who is not limited by his religion, caste, nationality, or gender; a person who can see the world beyond these constructs. And still holds his/her identity intact. 

My advice to students: Read. Read a lot of books; don’t limit yourself to scientific or academic books but you should read fiction, biographies, sci-fi, authors from other countries so that you expand your horizons and are not limited to only one side of the world. Read Chimamanda Adichie, Haruki Murakami, Swami Vivekananda, Abdul Kalam’s work. Autobiographies are perfect for students; you should yourself choose your role models.