Exciting career path for physics students
A physics degree can lead to unexpected opportunities for science-loving students who are inventive, willing to explore entrepreneurship and equipped to communicate in an increasingly north-south business world. But students can’t be asleep to possibilities. Consider the treasure chest of truth in the Spanish dicho, “Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente,” which roughly translates to “The current carries away shrimp that sleep.”
Birth of a tech nation
As National Public Radio noted in its 2012 story about the birth of Silicon Valley, a sea change has taken place in the sciences since the mid-1950s when physics students anticipated careers as academics, researchers and corporate employees. At that time, farms and orchards covered what would become Silicon Valley and physicists rarely considered creating their own companies. However, expectations began changing in 1956 when Nobel Prize-winning physicist William Shockley opened a laboratory in Mountain View, just northwest of San Jose and on the southern tip of San Francisco Bay. Shockley hoped to make transistors out of silicon. Soon, he attracted other brilliant scientists to the project. In time, this created the exciting career path of entrepreneurship for physics students and engineers.
Career and grant information
Visit the websites of university physics programs, such as the one at Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship offers a variety of competitions for grants, such as one for new ventures in nanotechnology. Another example is Carnegie Mellon University’s start-up grants that are intended, in part, to help faculty and student lab research find its way into the marketplace.
Websites such as Deborah Kluge’s ProposalWriter.com can help students and graduates learn how to obtain research and development grants from government and private sources. Kluge provides a wide variety of completed sample grant applications for study before seeking funding. Another grant portal at the Online Education Database provides a list of 100 funding sources from the federal government to foundations.
Advice for avoiding shrimp nets
The first step toward becoming an entrepreneur is to obtain advice from folks with experience, such as University of Oregon physics professor Stephen Hsu. To help physics students stay afloat in the tech start-up sea and avoid getting caught in the shrimp nets of humdrum careers, Hsu organized a PowerPoint lecture called “Startups for Physicists.”
Hsu founded a computer-related security company called SafeWeb that he and his partners eventually sold to Symantec for $30 million. Aside from a great idea and solid scientific know-how, Hsu emphasizes a physicist-turned-entrepreneur needs to learn business skills, such as estimating cash flow, negotiation, sales, motivation of staff and clear, concise communication.
Some of the first steps toward success for a physics student include taking basic business and communications classes. Being aware of current events is also important, because it can make students aware of expanding markets. An excellent example is the rapid growth of high-tech industry in Brazil, which is encouraging Argentina and Chile to move in that direction as well.
Portuguese: The new power language?
Spanish is already an important language for commerce. However, the vigorous growth of Brazil’s economy and its emphasis on technological research and development may make speaking Portuguese another must-have ability for high-tech entrepreneurs. In spring 2012, World Finance reported Brazil is trying hard to “climb the economic ladder a dozen rungs at a time” by investing in the development of what may become a number of silicon valleys. Brazil is encouraging this growth in a number of ways. It has earmarked $2.2 billion for science and technology scholarships through 2014. The nation is also trying to attract high-tech businesses worldwide by providing financial incentives.
Science aficianados with an interest in entrepreneurship would be wise to keep their options open, from career possibilities with all manner of companies to enrolling in Portuguese and Spanish language classes. The next big idea is just around the corner for the student who takes the time to go searching for it.