If I explain to someone (particularly in a non-STEM field) that I have worked in nanotechnology, I get a fairly consistent response which is something along these lines:
“Wow! That’s cool! I have barely heard of that – what is it?”
The fact that mostpeople have heard of the field but know next to nothing about it has mixed implications. On one hand, it means that the job market is hardly glutted so if you have the experience and education background, your chances for employment are increased. But down the line, if there is controversy or legislation aimed at regulating nanotechnology, the public is in a poorer position to make decisions and may give in to fear and ignorance.
But this page is not really designed to educate the general public so much as to give input for those already in the STEM fields who are interested in pursuing this career path. I recently had a reader with a nanoscience education background ask me: (and I am paraphrasing a bit) “Can you suggest the requirements for working in a nanotechnology company and how should I prepare myself for the same.”
Another good question that deserves some thought, so I will be answering this incrementally as I process the fundamentals and nuances that I have found to be important.
First, nanotechnology is a largely interdisciplinary field so the broader AND deeper your understanding of the sciences, medicine and mathematics, the better the chance you have of breaking into the field. A typical minimum is a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, biology, physics, etc. but you can get a job as a technician with the right A.S. degree. One local community college in the Dallas area has a degree program in nanotechnology at the Associate’s level.
Second, some parts of the United States or world have a much stronger concentration of companies/potential employers than others. It helps to live in a large metropolitan area, and some notable examples are Boston for biotech, Houston for biomedical, and Silicon Valley for semiconductor science. Some countries are known for burgeoning biotech industries such as Ireland and Cuba. So it is not just the size of the town, but also the location, particularly with respect to the proximity of nearby academia and research facilities that focus on materials science and nanotechnology.
Having hands on experience is a huge plus, but this begs the Catch 22 of how do you get any experience if you don’t get hired in the first place? The answer is to look for internships or an opportunity to work in a research lab at school. It may pay little or nothing at first, but those are the dues to break into a career with high level entry requirements.
FINDING AN INTERNSHIP
The best place to start is at a university that has an established nanotechnology program. Even if they don’t, if they teach any of the STEM fields and have a career center, there is a chance that an outside private employer may call on the school looking for interns.
But before that day comes, you need to have a few things already in place:
1) At least ONE (you might want to have more than one version to answer a range of different job openings) good to great resume with NO typos and excellent formatting. (there are already a lot of resources for this, so I won’t reiterate what is already out there)
2) A reasonable to excellent understanding of one or more of the hard science fields plus some knowledge of a certain area of nanotechnology. (like nanophotonics, microfluidics, graphene, etc.)
3) It would not hurt to have a strong LinkedIn profile. (again, building a good profile is discussed on that site and elsewhere) While I would not depend too strongly on this getting you a job in itself, it does help you to frame / structure your resume and also gives you a glimpse into the career paths and characteristics of other professionals. Also there are a number of organizations you can join that will push breaking news in this field and even advertise jobs.
4) Have business cards with your contact information and one or two points of interest about yourself relevant to the field. Make it something attention-grabbing in a positive sense that would compel a potential employer to at least get in touch with you again, if not consider you as a potential hire. It can even be a well done graphic, as long as it works. If someone takes your card and looks at it for an extended period of time, you probably have a winner.
5) Get to know the companies that are out there including their business focus and culture to the point to where you can be conversant about them.
6) SECRET HINT: The best jobs I have ever had all came from my school connections which is why I believe in going to a physical school as opposed to an online university. There is something about face time with the faculty and other students that engenders more trust and opportunity than using purely electronic means to communicate.
In that vein, one of the worthwhile tactics I use when I am at school is to do a “walkabout” of the hallways – paying particular attention to the bulletin boards and TV screens announcing courses and talks by guest speakers. I have found organizations, individuals and knowledge that I would never have found out about otherwise by employing this method.
- What areas do you specialize in?
- The Ninja Skills in Nanoscience That No One Talks About