Melissa Valdez (BSc 2015) says her UWindsor physics degree gave her the confidence to explore various career paths, and she cannot wait to see what other opportunities await.
Following completion of her undergraduate degree in physics with a minor in computer science, Valdez entered master’s study at York University where she got to work on a project at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, exploring antimatter.
Melissa Valdez says her UWindsor physics degree gave her the confidence to explore varying career paths.
After graduation, she took a full-time position with a science outreach group she first volunteered with at UWindsor, a national charitable organization called Let’s Talk Science.
“We launched a neat collaboration in a historically underserved community in Toronto. We provided a full year of hands-on science activities at an after-school program for 100 kids in kindergarten to grade eight,” says Valdez.
“It was a successful partnership, and we had a lot of fun. The initiative is still going on today; it continued right through the pandemic. I was excited to be a part of it.”
Next, she sought out a technical role where she could use her physics and computer science background. This led her to a three-year position as a consultant at IBM in their Cognitive and Analytics practice.
“That is a group within IBM focused on bringing AI solutions to their customers — I focused mainly on conversational AI, so chatbots,” she says.
“We launched two chatbots into production in the Fall of 2019 just before the pandemic exacerbated logistics challenges and increased wait times to reach customer service. This additional contact channel was a relief for our client and such a success story for their customers.”
In 2022 Valdez found herself in a new challenge, working at the Vector Institute, focused on machine learning research and commercialization.
“I got to be a part of a program that helped upskill mothers on maternity leave,” says Valdez.
“So, when they returned to work, they had a machine learning skillset to use — perhaps in a different position within their company, or to take on new responsibilities.”
Valdez says she attributes the skills and confidence she gained at the University of Windsor for her career success.
“Because of Science at UWindsor and the smaller class sizes, I knew all my professors and all my classmates so there was a sense of community and support — there was a lot of opportunity for me to develop academically,” she says.
During her undergrad studies, Valdez completed an honours thesis with professor Chitra Rangan running computations to determine how adding gold nanoparticles to solar panels could make them more efficient.
She adds that there were also plenty of opportunities to explore extracurriculars.
“I loved giving back and was energized by the outreach work, which helped balance the many hours of studying alone in my room.”
Through Let’s Talk Science and the Physics Club, Valdez took on leadership roles where she helped co-ordinate and engage others.
“I think that is one of the main skills that I’ve taken with me into every one of my jobs.
“I’ve naturally gravitated towards leadership roles, and I think those skills I have were fostered at UWindsor. My extracurriculars definitely helped establish my confidence after graduation.”
Valdez says next she would like to pursue a job in quantum computing.