When Mark Spencer left MIT in 1983 with a PhD in chemistry, he began a career track that included two postdoctoral fellowships, two stints in R&D companies, and a NASA research job. But that was just his first pass through MIT: in 2009 he returned via a program offered by MIT Professional Education. Today he is realizing his dream of entrepreneurship as the owner of a company that manufactures water-quality instruments.
At NASA, Spencer had specialized in high-resolution gas phase spectroscopy for a decade at the Ames Research Center in California. Then, in the wake of a self-described midlife crisis, he turned his love of photography into a new career by launching Carriage House Photography in Andover, Massachusetts, a studio that specialized in large, high-end portraits. After 14 years, though, he wanted to return to science. As he was considering his options, he found MIT’s Career Reengineering Program, which offered both career reëntry skills and the opportunity to return to the classroom. He took a course called Experimental Atmospheric Chemistry and targeted a career choice that would involve both science and management.
What was it like to be at MIT again? “It was like Rip Van Winkle waking up and now doing coursework requiring Google, Matlab, and Excel—tools we did not have when I was in graduate school,” he says. “That really helped me update my skill set.”
Even before the 10-month program was complete, Spencer had landed a job that offered a blend of management and technical responsibilities at Agiltron, a contract research and development company specializing in optical technology. While working on diverse projects there, he decided to go into instrumentation manufacturing. He looked for a small company for sale and eventually purchased Aquametrix, a Toronto-based company that designs and makes equipment for water-quality analysis. It became the basis for his own 12-person company, Water Analytics, which operates from the former Andover train station that housed his photography studio. The company manufactures all the Aquametrix products and is developing new products.
Spencer is not all business, however. He and his wife, Audrey, live in Andover with their three kids—Leah, 18, and 14-year-old twin boys Cole and Jason. He will begin his term as president of his town’s Rotary Club in June and he serves on the board of Habitat for Humanity.