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What Nanotechnology Employers Want

In polling the opinions of employers looking for nanotech savvy employees, we’ve found two distinct schools of thought. One group wants an interdisciplinary education resulting in nanotechnology credentials, but the other prefers people with a solid understanding of their specialty, such as chemistry or biology, with some nanotechnology courses included in their studies.

One reason for the latter approach may be that scientists and engineers in general learn the discipline of learning. If they get that skill, they can broaden their knowledge to related areas when needed to take on a new job or solve a perplexing problem.

Some companies are de facto in the business of nanotechnology, such as major manufacturers of computer chips. These products are all manufactured at the nano level. If such a company hires a promising engineer fresh out of school, for example, the company has all the tools necessary to help that engineer learn to use nanotechnology techniques for a particular position, whether that person has a degree in nanotechnology or not.

According to Justine Johannes of Sandia National Laboratories, “We want graduates to have more breadth and depth than they would likely have otherwise, so they learn how to work with partners on multidisciplinary teams as well as accumulate both technical and business experience.”

Stan Williams, a nanotechnology researcher at Hewlett Packard, is often asked about how to prepare for working in the nanotechnology field. According to Williams, “I tell them to figure out what they like and get good at it, and to take communications courses, whether writing or journalism.”

For our money, you should also consider communications courses such as public speaking. The ability to clearly and concisely communicate, whether written or verbally, with your coworkers, bosses, and customers can make a big difference in your career prospects.

Ken Smith of Carbon Nanotechnologies stresses the importance of interdisciplinary studies. According to Smith (specifically referencing Rice University’s offerings), “Individuals with an educational background in these interdisciplinary areas are very few in number. Rice University's idea of combining a rare and highly demanded technical education with a modest exposure to training in business will produce students who are truly unique, and these students will be highly recruited by industry.”

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