Kurt Lehovec had a background in physics and material science. European-born, he passed his passion for the sciences onto his daughter Susan.
The two played chess together, and the conversations often turned to the sciences.
Susan, who eventually became Susan Maher, found the conversations engaging. After all, it stirred her curiosity in understanding how things worked.
“I can always remember being interested in why things were the way they were in nature,” she said. “My father was a scientist and he really encouraged that in me. Growing up, at his direction my mother would buy me science kits to grow things, chemistry projects or biology projects at home.”
Maher carried that interest into high school, where she took advanced placement classes in science and math.
“I had fun with them,” she said.
Her father was always against Maher pursuing biology. He wanted her to follow a course in the hard sciences, where there was more certainty and no “mutations,” as Maher called it.
Circumstances would shape her destiny. When she went to college at the University of Southern California, Maher was unsure of if she wanted to major in math or physics. The school, she said, had weak departments in both subjects, so she chose chemistry.
Maher would go on and earn her Ph.D. from Princeton University in surface chemistry.
After Princeton, Maher was hired by Riber, a division of Jobin Yvon, a company HORIBA Scientific would eventually acquire. She was an applications scientist - a scientist familiar with technique of an instrument. They can demonstrate the instrument with a client’s samples to show how it would perform for their applications.
“I had a lot of friends in graduate school who went on to teach and be at universities,” she said. “That never interested me. I always wanted to learn more. I came here to be an applications scientist and probably the others did as well, because here you don't become a specialist in one little narrow area. You learn a lot about all sorts of different things going on in your field. I attended many conferences, met with a lot of people and learned about their applications.”
When that division was sold off, she was given the option to move to Texas to continue in her position. She and her family opted to stay where they were.
“I did freelance sales for surface analysis companies or five or seven years,” Maher said. “Along the way I got approached by the Raman division of Jobin Yvon, to see whether I would be willing to sell some of their equipment. I said, okay.”
She did that for a couple of years until Jobin Yvon asked if she would work for the company again, doing direct sales. Maher returned to the company to work in the Raman division. Surface analysis was, for the time being, in her past.
She worked in the Raman division for years, then in thin films and Raman until she was dedicated to thin films. HORIBA acquired Jobin Yvon and she’s been with the company for an accumulated 25 years, give or take a year. Maher eventually moved to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) division of HORIBA.
Today, as the OEM Accounts Manager with HORIBA Scientific, she works with customers and their current projects. In one, she’s working with a manufacturing company to orchestrate the materials flow to the company to avert production hold-ups.
Maher’s maternal grandmother earned her Ph.D. in Germany before 1900.
“She was really an odd ball, she would tell me,” Maher said.
An oddball as a woman in a male-dominated subculture in a point in history just preceding the suffragette movement. But not Maher. She’s never felt the slightest discomfort in being a woman scientist.
She tells people to follow their passions as she did.
“You'll spend most of your life pursuing whatever career you choose early on,” she said. “And if you have to spend at least eight hours every day of every week day doing something you hate, you're going to have a miserable life. So don't care what anybody else says. Do what you want to do.”
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