Women of Quantum Technology: Dr. Kristin M. Gilkes of EY
While many studies have shown the importance of powerful female role models in inspiring others, individuals like Dr. Kristin M. Gilkes, the Global Quantum Leader for Ernst & Young (EY). Kristin also experienced this inspiration firsthand. For Gilkes, these role models were a high school teacher and a sports coach. “Miss Riggs was the most amazing science teacher ever, and physics was her favorite topic,” Gilkes stated. “And Coach Pearce (now Young) was also really into physics. Their passion and roles as strong, amazing women paved the way and made it fun for all of us.” Through her teacher and coach, Gilkes found a gateway to learning more about physics and saw that anyone could learn science. “I still have lifetime friendships with both teachers,” she added.
Thanks to these role models, Gilkes graduated with her Ph.D. but realized that academia was not her calling and instead decided to transition into industry. “I first went into the steel industry,” Gilkes elaborated. “That was one big physics-based field because you have to melt the steel just right. It’s more of an art than a science, but I enjoyed it.”
After a brief stint in the steel industry, Gilkes transitioned again into finance. With her mathematics background, she found herself thriving in finance, eventually becoming “the chief data scientist at Morgan Stanley for a global division,” she added. Then in 2016 Gilkes began her career at EY, one of the leading global services companies in the world.
Since 2016, Gilkes has grown in her role at EY, with her current position as the Global Quantum Leader. “I’m really just fortunate with visionary leaders at EY,” she said about helping to get the company interested in quantum technology. “I am grateful our executive leaders invest in the next generation technologies. I am proud to represent women in a global capacity and in an emerging technology field.”
Because EY has such a global presence, Gilkes felt that the company’s interest in quantum would make a significant statement to other businesses interested in the technology. As the Global Quantum Leader, Gilkes understands that she, in part, helps to curate this message. “I run a community of quantum enthusiasts,” she explained. “I intentionally put feelers out at the very beginning to look for people who were physicists who had some tangential background or solid background. It was mind-blowing the response that we were getting. But when you think about the global capacity of our firm, there were a lot of people like me; academics who wanted corporate-world experience.” Having the privilege of managing this quantum community, Gilkes oversees many of the quantum-focused projects EY is working on. She added: “I have a team that focuses on solid research and interactions with quantum hardware. We’re trying to get that hybrid balance of getting the most efficiency as you can out of a quantum system today. So we at any given time have five research projects we are doing; as one finishes, we add another to it.” These projects range from common use cases like quantum optimization to DNA sequencing. “Our EY team also picked DNA sequencing because no matter who you are in the world, no matter what position you’re in, you can respect the complexity of DNA sequencing,” Gilkes said. “It’s really fun.” Besides leading this EY community, Gilkes does more hands-on work like algorithm and circuitry design. She finds it helpful to inspire other women on the team with her many different roles.
Beyond her work to inspire women and other underrepresented groups within EY, Gilkes works to inspire others in the wider quantum ecosystem. “I have found the quantum community to be very open,” she said. “So I really encourage women to watch educational YouTube videos, find the women that inspire you in this space, and send them an email or LinkedIn message. We all respond; we actually respond; we’re real human beings passionate about this.” In addition to sharing this message and encouraging further connections, Gilkes also tries to promote more diversity and inclusion in the industry by highlighting the lack of it in the industry. “I tried to do two things with that message, we need diversity in this space; we need to have more women in this space,” Gilkes stated. “But the diversity is also diversity of thought and background,” she added. “So we need the journalists, the scientific journalists, we need the marketing, communications experts, who are willing to, to give quantum a chance. We need computer scientists, to come along the way, we need program managers. We need diverse thought, we don’t just need physicists, we don’t need just mathematicians. We don’t just need PhDs. We need the undergrads we need the whole gamut.”
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, quantum computing, and AI. Her work has been featured in Scientific American, New Scientist, Discover Magazine, Ars Technica, and more.