Alumni Profile Series: Dr. Wolfgang Konrad (GS '93)
Name: Dr. Wolfgang Konrad
Class Year: 1993 (GS)
PhD: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Current Residence(s): Switzerland
Current Position: Head of Business Unit, Metco Aero and Energy at Oerlikon
Dr. Wolfgang Konrad GS has had a distinguished career in the aviation industry. He studied mechanical aerospace engineering in Darmstadt, a town thirty miles south from Frankfurt. In 1986, he was one of the first students admitted to a new exchange program with Cornell. After enjoying his time studying in the US, he decided to pursue a PhD at Princeton.
After leaving school, Konrad went to work for a joint venture between BMW and Rolls Royce. He was part of the team that developed the first certified civil jet engine in Germany: the BR710. After this, he spent two years working in the space industry in Augsburg, ten years as an engineer at BMW, and three years at Siemens. Since 2016, he has been working for the Swiss company Oerlikon.
Konrad has worked closely with David Fisher and the Summer Work Program to find STEM internships for Princeton students. By Konrad’s estimates, the program has been successful. Many employers have asked to rehire the same students in the following year. Before the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a student was set to repeat an internship through the program.
Navigating the pandemic has been a challenge for Konrad. Fortunately, Oerlikon’s employees were able to avoid exposure to the virus.
“We came out well in terms of health. We did not have a single infection at work,” said Konrad.
On the business end, however, the situation was less rosy. An aerospace factory lost more than 50% of its revenue and has begun downsizing.
The pandemic has also had an impact on Konrad’s style of work. He prefers doing business in person and enjoys traveling, which has become all but impossible. Working from home proved challenging at first.
“It’s more intensive,” said Konrad. “At the office, you don’t sit at your computer in the office for ten hours. You go to meetings. You get lunch”.
As Germany cautiously reopens, Konrad is feeling good about the country’s future prospects.
“I can’t help it; I am optimistic. I think Germany has come out well so far,” said Konrad. “Yes, the industry and the economy will be hit, but less than other countries because we are diverse in what we do.”
Konrad did express concern about brewing trade wars and protectionist policies, which he believes are fundamentally harmful.
“That’s no good,” said Konrad. “You read about how many foreign students cannot get into the US again. When I was in grad school, 50% of the students were foreigners, and that was almost thirty years ago.”
For students about to enter the labor force during these difficult times, Konrad still advises them to follow their passions.
“You should do what interests you. That’s what I did,” said Konrad. “I did a PhD in supersonic aerodynamics, and who needs that? But there are tools to stick it out. Most PhD students don’t end up working in their area of expertise. Do what you enjoy, take a few courses outside of your specialty; you won’t find the time later. Learn a foreign language – it’s a huge asset.”