Paving the Way: How Dr. Gil Delgado is Blazing a Path for Hispanic Representation in Physics
Dr. Gil Delgado is a physicist who serves as Nova’s VP for Advanced Technology in the Materials Metrology Division. Gil shares how his path to success wasn't a smooth one, marked with language barriers, absences from formal education, and a lack of Hispanic role models working in physics. Today, he uses his story and passion for representation to not only position Nova at the forefront of tech advances but also inspire other underrepresented people to pursue careers in physics.
Gil, Your story is truly inspiring. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in a very small town in Mexico. It was extremely poor, and formal education was difficult to come by. When I was seven, my family moved to the US so my father could find work. But we regularly went back and forth between the US and Mexico, so I was in and out of school constantly. It wasn't until I moved to Mexico City when I was 14 and enrolled in high school that I attended school with any regularity. So, I was very behind in most subjects.
Though I was behind, I worked hard to catch up. Science and Math were especially appealing to me. Most students have already taken Geometry, Trigonometry and Algebra which I have never even heard of these subjects before. I taught myself algebra and worked diligently to improve my math skills, putting in many extra hours to learn outside of school.
I remember a pivotal moment: my first physics lecture. From that day on, I was focused on physics. The way the subject connected with my childhood curiosities and interests and lit a fire in me was unreal. So that lecture was important because it changed the course of my life and was instrumental in my pursuing physics as a career.
What an incredible journey! Tell us a bit about your educational background after high school
My high school physics teacher saw my potential and encouraged me to pursue a physics degree. He suggested I attend college in the US since that’s where the best educational opportunities were. I followed his advice and came to the US after high school.
College in the US was very expensive, and I did not qualify for financial aid or scholarships because I did not attend high school in the US. I had to work three jobs to sustain my college expenses, but it was not enough.
After a couple of years in junior college, I was burdened with student loans and decided to join the Navy where I worked as an aviation electrician aboard an aircraft carrier and eventually became a plane captain.
While I enjoyed my life in the USA, I was homesick, so I returned home to Mexico to marry my longtime sweetheart.
After my Navy service, while my wife was pregnant with our second child, we both decided to enter the university.
It was challenging, but our hard work paid off.
I got straight A’s and was awarded the outstanding student title two years in a row. I eventually earned a bachelor's and master's degree from CSU Fresno and later, my Ph.D. in physics from UC Davis.
Can you tell us a bit more about your time working on your master’s and Ph.D.? I understand they opened your eyes to Hispanic representation in physics
Yes, it was an eye-opening experience. While working on my master's at UC Fresno, I quickly realized I was the only Hispanic student in the program. I did some research and discovered that in 30 years, I was one of five Hispanics who graduated from the physics program. And when I looked into the rate of graduates of Mexican descent for Ph.D.’s in physics, there are only, on average, five graduates per year.
I also felt that there was general discrimination towards Hispanics in the sciences, especially physics. But I think it's partly because there are so few examples to look to. These trends can shift if we can recruit more Hispanics into the field.
All of this was astounding and discouraging to me. I know there’s a lot of talent in the Hispanic community and representation matters. I knew that if we could get more representation, those numbers could improve.
So, I took it upon myself to serve as a mentor and advocate for Hispanics in physics. I tried to tell as many friends and acquaintances as possible about the opportunities available, to increase awareness. And I’m always thrilled to serve as a mentor for someone considering a career in physics. It’s through this type of mentorship and advocacy we can start to see change in the field.
Your support of future physicists is admirable. Now tell us a bit about your work at Nova.
I currently serve as the VP of Advanced Technology Development in the Materials Metrology product division. In this role, I lead the division’s technical vision and technical development roadmaps. It’s truly exciting to me because I’ve always been someone who has sought a challenge in my work, and I enjoy being on the cutting edge of the industry. I like to work on the most challenging problems that most people would not take on. This is what makes it exciting. In this position, I am challenged daily as my team and I look to create new technologies in XPS, XRF, SIMS, and X-ray metrology.
How would you describe the culture at Nova?
I’ve been impressed with how focused everyone is on getting to the next level. Every team member works together for the greater good of the company’s mission in an effort to ensure we remain on the cutting edge of our industry. You don't see such cohesiveness in a lot of companies, so that's been refreshing. Everyone is continually searching for bold solutions to move us forward.
Nova's commitment to hiring and advancing underrepresented talent is also appealing to me. They've made a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion, and as someone who advocates for the underrepresented Hispanic community, this means a lot. The company's values align with mine in these regards, as I believe that our differences in background and perspectives only make us stronger as a team.
It sounds like Nova is a great professional fit for you. Now for a personal question: What does your life outside of Nova look like?
My wife, children, and grandchildren are very important to me. I like to spend as much time with them as possible.
As far as hobbies go, I used to play soccer until an injury sidelined me. But I still enjoy watching the sport. I also enjoy hiking and go as often as I can. My wife and I enjoy being outdoors, so hiking allows us to get outside and spend time together.
Thanks so much for your time today, Gil. To wrap up, what advice would you have for someone wanting to pursue a physics career?
Look for great mentors. Mentorship is invaluable and can give you insights you might not get from a college classroom or textbook. Especially for those in underrepresented fields, mentorship matters, giving them hope and encouragement. Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential mentors; many are willing to give their time and advice to help the future generation of leaders in the field.