Meaningful Career Spotlight: Karen Trovato, Philips N. America
Thirty three years, dozens of roles, and nearly 50 inventions later Karen Trovato continues to improve the world by making the impossible possible within the disciplines of robotics, navigation technology and healthcare solutions at Philips. As a member of Philips Research team (based in Briarcliff Manor, NY), Karen is currently working on what could potentially be her greatest all-time career achievement. That’s huge, considering that she has already been named the ‘2005 Inventor of the Year’ by New York Intellectual Property Law Association, received Philips Research’s prestigious Extraordinary Product Development Award in 1995, and her Electronic Pill invention has been recognized across major networks such as CNN and the New York Times in 2007.
If successful, her current project could prevent 100,000 deaths a year by enabling early treatment without invasive surgery of lung diseases and cancers before they get to an advanced stage. Clearly, Trovato has found a winning recipe for combining technical skills and passion to achieve meaning in her life and her career. So, what are her recommendations for others seeking a career that delivers both a sense of achievement and fulfillment?
BE A PERSON BEFORE A PROFESSIONAL
Karen defined who she was as a person, and what her passions were at an early age. Growing up in an inventive and technical household, she earned an Amateur Radio License by the age of 9! While others her age were playing with Barbies, Karen’s idea of fun was helping her father build and fly a ski-kite. With limited financial means, Karen recalls doing a lot of ‘tinkering in the basement’ out of necessity. “If I wanted a car that ran, I had to learn to fix its brakes, exhaust, engine valves – everything. It made me curious about how the world works.”
She has continued to take inspiration from her personal hobbies to fuel her professional interests over the years. For example, she became the inventor of the Electronic Pill in 2007 after reading Michael J. Fox’s biography and subsequently became deeply interested in his struggles with Parkinson’s disease. The Electronic Pill is a major advancement in medicinal technology that uses computer controls to accurately deliver medication when and where it is most effective. This technology can be put to use in a variety of important ways ranging from more efficient drug development to personalized solutions for oral drug therapies. It could allow Parkinson’s disease patients a better quality of life through a pill that is taken before bed, but programmed to start dispensing before waking for it to be effective when awake. Likewise, one of her early inventions led to technology that allows a car to park itself. The underlying path planning algorithms came to mind when she was supposed to be engrossed in watching a football game with her family. Her family forgave her.
IDENTIFY YOUR PERSONAL DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
While Karen has a natural love for math and science, her passion is solving problems for people. Constant growth and freedom to ‘think outside the box’ makes her research lab a perfect match for her. At the age of 21 she arrived with a Bachelor’s degree in Math and Computer Science, got a Masters and ultimately a PhD with Philips support. Each new project teams her with diverse, top scientists.
While the projects she has led within the Philips research team have ranged across Philips Consumer Lifestyle and Healthcare product portfolios, Karen feels it is the healthcare work that really keeps her going, “I have always wanted to improve the quality of life for those that need it most during their worst times. When you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll go above and beyond to make things happen. And that is the breeding ground for success.”
MAKE THE ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ POSSIBLE
Karen’s greatest and most meaningful inventions have come after several of her colleagues have claimed that her idea ‘will never work’. She actually relishes that feedback, as she states in a very matter-of-fact manner, “24 hours, 7 days a week, my brain is switched on to making the impossible possible. If people aren’t telling me that I am crazy, then I am doing something wrong.” For Karen, whether the idea is crazy or not, if it solves a real problem, it’s a real win.
To this day, Karen uses her voice of influence to help girls get comfortable with technology at a young age. “I want our daughters to know that there is nothing inherently male about technology, and that any mind can use it to do great things.”
Perhaps most remarkable in today’s generation of career mobility is the fact that Karen has enjoyed most of her achievements across dozens of projects all under one roof at Philips. “The great thing about working in Philips Research is that I feel like I’ve changed positions a dozen times without leaving this location”, shares Trovato. And a great career she has experienced, as she lists working with the best and brightest individuals in the world on a daily basis, comparing her lunch table to a ‘miniature UN’, and working on cutting edge – sometimes bleeding edge solutions, as what she has enjoyed most about working for Philips over the years.
For Karen Trovato, a meaningful career is one where you’re continuously learning and able to use your creativity to solve problems. She has always wanted to work on things that have never been done before, and that’s exactly what she does as a Principle Member Researcher at Philips. What does a meaningful career look like for you?
Karen Trovato represents 1 of 122,000 employees at Philips working together to improve the lives of 3 billion people a year by 2025 by delivering meaning innovations that matter across the Healthcare, Lighting and Consumer Lifestyle industries. Named one of the Top 50 Happiest Companies in America in 2013, Philips enables its employees to create a legacy in life through their work and supports their development through people-centric learning, total rewards and personalized development planning programs.
AT PHILIPS, WE DON’T NEED EMPLOYEES. WE NEED PEOPLE.