Spotlight: Rami Khoury
August 28, 2023
Name: Rami Khoury
Graduation Year: 2012
Degree: Chemistry, Concentration in Secondary Education
- Senior Optical Engineer at nLight
- Principal Optical Engineer at Spectra-Physics
- Chemistry PhD in 2018 at Louisiana State University under the advice of Dr. Louis Haber
- Research Associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Labratory
Q: What do you do in your current position, and what makes you happy to be doing it?
- A lot of people are interested in the whole mystifying thing of working on classified projects, and that's not what I enjoy about this job at all. What I first and foremost enjoy is managing people and not because someone told me to. As you go on through your career, definitely take the jobs you want and try to be slow on the jobs you don't want, so that eventually you only have the jobs that you want. The one that I want is to be able to manage people.
- But on the technical side of things there is a lot of benefit to working in R&D (research and development). Part of what I do is having to build intricate prototypes that may only be built once. They may blow up. They may not blow up. Just the adrenaline and the risk/reward of building something that probably no one else in the world has ever built is the fun part of it. We're working and figuring out why something may have broke. It's very much like Legos and building with adult toys. So that becomes really fun. But you know, doing this for 10 years now, it's not as fun as it used to be. What makes it fun is seeing the younger folks have fun doing it and letting them have a new project that you know they want to work on, and you say, 'You know this project that's being worked on? We're gonna kick it off in August. I think this is something right up your alley.' Them being excited is what's exciting for me...Them being super excited is what's important to me now.
Q: What are some highlights that you have experienced in your career?
I think most people would expect me to lean on when when I got my PhD or when I got my first job, you know, but I'm going to lean on this one because it was more recent, and it kind of means a lot to me.
In a job like this, there's lots of science and engineering going on. There's also lots of pressure, for money and revenue, and that's part of my job too. So, things can be really high pressure.There's certain quarters where there's a demand for something, and we have to meet that demand. And there has been times where I take that pressure a lot on myself. And, when things are getting down to the wire, you know, I tend to shield the younger engineers away from a lot of that pressure.
And recently...I'll take a load of that on my own, and I'll have some of the younger guys come up to me and say, ‘Hey, we appreciate everything that you you're doing right now. And this is not all on you. This is on all of us. So we're going to take some of this load off of you.’ It's really nice to be in a position where you feel like you have an effect on people such that those people come up to you, step up, and take some of that burden off of your shoulders.
I've definitely had, you know, a lot of interesting four-star generals come through, but what really means the most to me is how the guys under me feel. Ultimately, they can go work for anybody that they want, but they're still working for me. So I'm super appreciative, and I feel very comfortable/safe knowing that. The gentlemen who report to me are really appreciative of what we all do together, and they buy into this idea that we're all just trying to learn and claw our way through this company together...I like to make sure everyone's involved, we're talking about [our work], and no one person is making a decision.
And for me when I started at this company, that wasn’t the case, you know. I was being told what to do. I was being told someone made a decision...when doing your PhD, you’re kind of on your own. At the job that I was at in California, I was definitely in a vacuum on my own. I'm in a position now where I'm required to actively manage things involving money and people who say, ‘Hey, we're gonna take some of this off of you’. [It] is pretty encouraging, at least for me, in terms of what I'm doing for them.
Q: What were the most significant takeaways or benefits you gained during your undergraduate experience?
A lot of people had concentrations in biology or something related; you feel like you're missing a small piece of what someone else may have experienced…But when going to a university, I definitely think that it's easy for one to lean on the fact that they're missing that [other content] concentration portion of their bachelors.
But I ultimately think what makes the difference between getting a lot of these jobs is attitude, and I’d say most people going through the GeauxTeach STEM program, with instructors like Ms. Besson and Ms. Carlin, learn how to generally be a good person…but I am where I am because I have a good positive attitude, and I take pride in what I do, and I care about the people who work with me.
It's a really powerful tool to have a beginner's mindset. I think it is considered a weakness by a lot of people, but having a beginner's mindset, having that mindset of, ‘I'm gonna listen before I start doing things.’ or ‘I'm gonna listen before I speak.’, having that kind of learner’s intuition of listening; observing; and thinking before you take action is what the GeauxTeach program revolves around. It’s about the intention on what you're doing...and having a good attitude.
I can't tell you how many people I turned away in interviews, and it’s not because they weren't incredibly smart. Most people are going to be incredibly smart, and most people are going to have amazing resumes…It's more than likely [they were turned away because] they have a bad attitude, or they weren't able to interface and and relate with someone across the table from them. And I definitely think people going through this program, won't have that issue.
Tour of Haber Lab at LSU
Q: What did you learn in GeauxTeach STEM that informs how you think about teaching or how you approach your job? What skills did you learn in GeauxTeach STEM that have benefited you in your career?
- It's more evident now than in my first 3 years of of employment. The first 3 years of employment you just kind of tried to make a name for yourself in a technical way and tried to show that you know you have abilities/can solve technical problems. But now, the expectation is to be able to use the people I have around me to help me do that...I have engineers who want to mentor [one of my engineering technicians] as well, and it's super awesome to not be the only one to do that…[Highly technical] explanations mean absolutely nothing to this technician, and that's kind of the approach that some of the engineers have towards explaining things. They won't even attempt to think about what someone’s background might be…They won't even go through the motions of trying to understand where the learner is coming from. They'll just think, 'Hey, I'm the teacher. I'm the authority. I'm going to explain it to you how I would understand it.' Well, it’s super easy to explain something to someone who already understands it…But I try to understand and project things in terms of how I would want to understand it if I knew nothing about the topic, and if someone knows something about the topic, then I restructure how I explain things.
- And everyone always wants to go from the ground level to the top level [of understanding]. There are lots of things I don't have the time to sit and understand all the way at the top level, but I know that when I give a presentation and talk about something, I give an explanation at my level of understanding. If there's someone who interjects that has a parallel understanding, I am happy to entertain their sort of experience and perspective they have on the issue. So, recognizing what/where you are is also quite helpful. Because if someone knows more than you, then you might actually learn something from them, and hopefully, at some point, you increase your knowledge level just through passive learning.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
The most enjoyable parts of my job are basically centered around teaching and mentoring people. I don't think that's by accident or by chance...And it's super important not to forget the ability to teach people is not just strictly relegated to just a classroom...When you remove the boundaries of the classroom and start to realize that teachers themselves don't just teach in the classroom, then it hopefully opens up the world to realizing that engineers are basically teachers, too. And you know, vice presidents probably have people that are under them. They're probably teachers too. They have to teach somebody something; someone's eventually going to take their job. They have to teach.
So everyone has the capability and the platform to teach. It's just whether they have the experience to do it enough to affect someone else, feel positive about it, and continue to do it. Ultimately, the goal is that the people who enjoy doing it, whether they're in the teaching field or not, have enough positive feedback so they continue to do it. And those people that they teach will also teach other people. [It] just lends itself to a more positive learning environment as a whole.