“Constantly learning new jargon – that remains challenging”

Project manager Sandra Guns has a PhD in biopharmacy. Most of her colleagues are seasoned physicists. Yet she feels like a fish in water.

“As a project manager, I’m involved in two lines of research. In the first we’re exploring the possible use of Raman spectroscopy in the diagnosis of skin cancer. The second is QuTech, a long-term collaboration with Delft University of Technology in quantum technology. We’re on the point of developing a quantum computer – very exciting. The challenging thing about my job is getting a complex project properly on the rails and giving it form and direction. Stakeholder management is a crucially important part of that.”

Odd one out

“As a pharmacist, I’m very much the odd one out amongst all the physicists I work with. I’m professional and I pick things up quickly, but of course I can’t match their knowledge of that subject. I do know the medical world, though, and that’s an advantage when it comes to my contribution to the Raman spectroscopy project.

“Pharmaceutical sciences in a broad degree course in Belgium, and I’m still benefiting from what I learnt on it about materials science, for example. I realised quite soon that I didn’t want to go into pharmacy proper, but into the research side instead. That was something I had in me from an early age: as a child I dismantled everything, even my Game Boy.”

Heaven on earth

“With my background, I always more or less assumed that I’d end up in the medical world. That was until I met some TNO people at an international conference while I was still a PhD student. They were using the same analytical techniques as I was, but in very different disciplines. Even for defence applications. I’d never thought that possible. Working at TNO sounded fantastic, but I thought they’ll never take on a pharmacist. It turned out nothing could be further from the truth. Later, someone from TNO asked me if I might be interested in a job here: they were looking for a specialist in my field. So I was able to apply my knowledge in a totally new discipline.”

Valuable traineeship

“My career path at TNO has been an unusual one, which has brought me a lot. I’d already been working here for almost two years before I began a traineeship. I’d always thought that I wanted to be a researcher, but I came to realise that a leadership role might suit me, too. The traineeship gave me the opportunity to scout out where my heart really lay: in leading a project or more in the substance of it. That finally became clear to me in the final phase of the traineeship, at TNO Optics, where I still work.”

New jargon

“As a project manager, I connect people and help create a climate in which our scientists can excel, for the customer and for society at large. That energises me! In future, I wouldn’t rule out leading projects in a totally different field. Because that’s possible at TNO. Constantly learning new jargon – that remains challenging.”


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