First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:John Vig

IEEE Award Recipient Series: Q&As with Icons of Engineering and Technology: 2020 IEEE Richard M. Emberson Award Recipient

Full Name

John R. Vig

Birth Date

05 31 1942

Place of Birth

Budapest, Hungary

Where did you grow up


Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession

Father: high school graduate; wasn't allowed to go to college because of official anti-semitic laws, the "numerus clausus" laws.

Mother: formal education stopped after 4th grade - which was typical in Hungary during the early part of the 20th century.

Sister: masters degree in psychology; Brother: B.S. in physics.

What did you want to do when you grew up?


What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?

I had a small family because the Nazis murdered most of my family in the Holocaust. Fourteen close relatives had been murdered, including a grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)

Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?

I played soccer.

Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?

My family came to the US when I was 14 years old. I had part-time jobs; the most unusual job was to inspect fallout shelters in New York City.

Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?

Family vacationed in Lake Placid, NY and Wolfeboro, NH.

EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

Favorite subject was math - because it didn't require memorization.

Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?

Least favorite were subjects that required memorization, such as languages.

Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?

For B.S. I went to City College of NY because it was tuition-free in those days. For my Ph.D. I went to Rutgers U. because they offered me a graduate teaching assistantship.

Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job

First job: US Army officer (finished as a Captain); spent military career performing R&D in a research lab in Fort Monmouth, NJ, USA

Has your career turned out as you expected?

Sort of...

Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?

I joined IEEE later than most because my degree was/is in physics. I joined because a friend asked me to join the technical program committee of an IEEE conference that needed someone with my specialty. I eventually rose to be IEEE president - for reasons I can't explain. Not once did a N&A committee nominate me for a position. Not until I became a candidate for IEEE President did I ever campaign for a position.

You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?

It's good for my ego.

What other associations have helped you in your career?

Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?

Be flexible. Go with the flow. I did my Ph.D. thesis research in low-temperature physics. I wanted a job in low-temperature physics. I ended up spending my career in an entirely different field of research, "frequency control," an area with which I was hardly familiar before I got the job offer. The new area turned out to be more interesting than low-temperature physics, so, I spent the whole rest of my career, 30+ years, performing R&D in frequency control.

Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?

I have no regrets.

Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?

When I proposed that IEEE form a Sensors Council, one of the TAB leaders/elders told me that I was out of my league, that I "just didn't understand the complexities of" what I was trying to do. Most of the presidents were opposed to creating a Sensors Council. A year later, TAB approved the formation of the Sensors Council with only one dissenting vote.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

It's a tie between the creation of the Sensors Council and becoming IEEE President & CEO.

Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?

My wife and I are avid ballroom dancers. I have served on the Colts Neck Township Environmental Commission for 48 years.

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

Becoming IEEE President & CEO. And a real personal achievement is that my wife and I have been married for 56 years. (We started dating in high school and got married between the junior and senior years in college.)

Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?

I grew up eating Hungarian food; still love chicken paprikash and palacsinta.

Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?

Classical. Favorite pop song: What a Wonderful World as sung by Louis Armstrong. Favorite classical: the chorus, Va, pensiero, also known as the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves", from the opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi.I have seen Nabucco twice. Both times, the audience gave the chorus a standing ovation and kept standing and clapping until the conductor agreed to repeat the chorus. At the end of the repeat, the audience went wild again. It was an emotional experience, especially because my wife's Italian aunt told us once that the chorus had been an anthem; used in Italy during WW II to protest Mussolini's rule.

Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.

The UFFC-S Cady Award. It is about an 8" diameter quatz crystal ball on an engraved wooden base.

What are three things people may not know about you?

That I survived the Holocaust thanks to my mother's fast thinking.

Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)

What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?

My PC.

Anything else you would like to share about yourself?