Using nanoHUB.org

A fantastic resource for any information pertaining to nanotechnology is nanoHUB.org.  This website has information on just about everything nanotechnology and for this reason has proven valuable to researchers and students worldwide.  Because there is so much on almost every one of its webpages, looking for something specific on nanoHUB.org can be very time consuming.  This post serves as an introduction to using the available material nanoHUB.org to one’s advantage.

A Short Introduction to nanoHUB

While nanoHUB.org advertises itself as the primer place for computational nanotechnology research and collaboration, also on it are many resources that are handy for both educators and any student looking to groom themselves for a career in advanced materials and the semiconductor industry.  On the site is a massive amount of simulations and presentation materials.  nanoHUB users have the ability to access and use any of the simulation tools or hundreds of resources.   Users can also to create new simulations or upload their (typically research oriented) work in a format that is easy to share electronically.

Over 400 Simulation Tools                     

Most nanoHUB simulations are open to the public and listed under “Tools” accessible from the “Resources” tab on the home screen (https://nanohub.org/resources/tools).  Primarily these simulations illustrate the physics and behavior of materials at the nanoscale.  I have used four of these simulations for class projects.  Other graduate students I know have used nanoHUB tools to supplement their research in nanoelectronics.  In my opinion, these tools are very useful for small simulations for class projects or to review a specific topic.

To access these tools, users need to log in.  Anyone can sign up.  To display these tools, users should make sure they have the latest version of java installed in their computer.

Educational Materials

nanoHUB.org has a good group page devoted to education. Users looking for educational material should start by visiting it: https://nanohub.org/groups/education.

For anyone willing to sleuth through all the resources available, nanoHUB.org has the option to search its gigantic database of devoted Teaching Materials  and Learning Modules.  To find something on a specific topic, I strongly recommend using the “Search” function on the top right corner of the nanoHUB.org home page.  Writing from personal experience, looking through any of the gigantic databases on this site for something specific is VERY time consuming.

For more focused, educational material, I recommend nanoHUB-U which contains self-paced courses on advanced topics pertinent to nanotechnology.  Additionally, many nanoHUB users, including myself, have assembled collections of the resources we found most relevant to specific topics.  Users may browse through these too.

Collecting, Collaborating, and Sharing

NanoHUB allows its users may collaborate online on devoted projects and form groups.  Both features create devoted webpages.  A project page includes space for its collaborators to create to-do lists, notes, and devoted “resources” and “publications” pages for references.  Group pages are like miniature collaborative sites that have the option to create and manage multiple projects, along with an internal message board.

In my opinion, the easiest way to share content from nanoHUB.org is to create “collections” of resources available.   nanoHUB.org has a feature that allows that which is similar to Pinterest.   Accordingly, creating a collection is similar to creating a Pinterest board.  These collections then can be shared externally by providing a link.  As an example, here is one I made to share with several friends looking for nanotechnology related jobs.

 

For more information, visit https://nanohub.org/ and begin looking around.

A New Directon

In the past, this blog has been my assessment and editorial opinion of nanotechnology education.  From the feedback I have received from several readers and new resources I have found recently, I now will use this blog to cover the commercial adoption of advanced materials and nanotechnologies and how to navigate the transition from graduation to employment within industry or entrepreneurship.  Please stay tuned.

Are There Enough Nanotechnogy Jobs?

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A week ago, I was chatting over social media with fellow undergraduate nanoengineering alumni. Many of our fellow classmates are struggling to find employment and some have for over 2 years. Others are underemployed or working as technicians who happen to hold with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering. Our luckiest classmates either pursued graduate education or trained for work in other fields not directly related to nanotechnology. This begs the question, where are all these nanotechnology jobs we were told needed to be filled? Are there enough of them?

Why Nanotechnology Breakthroughs Have not Become Jobs

While some of the struggles of nanoengineers may be attributed to an overcrowded job market and lackluster economy, the reason for the lack of true nanotechnology jobs in industry is because they have not materialized yet. The ones currently available approach the development of nanotechnology from a functional or market-driven approach as opposed to an academic one. These jobs often work with technologies that are still under development and most often require engineers to hold graduate degrees and technicians to have several years of experience. I have written about the experience requirements here.

The adoption by industry of many advanced materials and nanotechnologies has been hindered by bad application development. Instead of technology being developed to solve a problem, many nanotechnologies are developed to demonstrate they are possible with little regard to how they may be used. As a result many of these technologies or methods, and the associated intellectual property, are not brought outside the laboratories they originated in, despite their potential. The most advanced nanosystems I have reviewed are at technology readiness levels (TRL’s as defined by NASA) between 4 or 6 but may need to be at TRL 8 to be commercially viable.

From my analysis, the main roadblocks to the widespread industry adoption of many promising micro and nanotechnologies appear to be problems relating to any these three factors:

  • Repeatability and stability of results
  • Integration with current technology
  • Manufacturability using state of the art processing methods

What Can Be Done?

In the long term, nanotechnology jobs may result from nanotechnology application development focusing on addressing specific needs. In other words, more effort needs to be made to bring advances in nanoscience or new micro and nanotechnologies out of the research labs they originate in and into industry and society by developing them to target identified needs. This may even be turned into class projects for a nanotechnology education program.

Near term, nanotechnology education programs and their students are wise to prepare for the current job market. Nanotechnology is multidisciplinary and a nanotechnology workforce may require multidisciplinary training. However, nanotechnology appears to be applied to very specific niches in each field it is used in. These niches each require a very specific set of skills that is not always similar to the others. A generalized nanotechnology curricula may not cover these in enough detail on its own. For the reasons mentioned earlier, there may be few attainable jobs that are direct matches to the background provided by nanotechnology education. Students therefore will need transferable skills and experience working on challenging projects to enter the technical job market and must prepare to take jobs in field other than nanotechnology specifically.

Some of my fellow classmates become materials engineers, biomedical engineers, quality engineers, and even data scientists after graduation. I ended up working on projects related to semiconductor devices and business development during graduate school and in space exploration during my internship. One of the uses of my nanotechnology education recently has been to figure out how well nanotechnology education aligns with industry expectations and how its students can become more job ready.

Until the technical issues holding micro and nanotechnologies back from widespread industry adoption are overcome, there will not be many jobs directly applicable to a nanotechnology degree. Success starting a career with a nanotechnology education appears to be about taking skills learned and applying them to another field, for now.

Why Don’t Many Students Study Nanotechnology?

This post is in response to a recent question I was asked about why not many students choose to study nanotechnology and what can be done to make nanotechnology programs more attractive.

According to its proponents, nanotechnology has so much future potential. They prophesize that it will be everywhere and leave few disciplines untouched. They were right. Nanoscience enables many breakthroughs and technological advantages. However, few people go to school to study nanotechnology. Why?

The problem is the way nanotechnology is often taught. This, is narrowly focused on the nanoscience and its applications while breezing over the fundamental physics, chemistry, and often biology, which enable these. Without knowing these fundamentals in some detail, it is hard to understand how to use nanoscience to create valuable products. All these, however, can be very difficult to cram into a limited curricula.

Compounding the problem, many nanotechnology programs choose not to teach hands-on engineering skills to make room for all this theory.  The hands-on skills, however, are what wins students interviews and job offers. Nano education instead focuses on specific scientific phenomena and technologies instead of a discipline, which is why nano programs often come short on teaching the transferable skills needed to work in any specific discipline.

Now, almost every scientific and engineering discipline has work at the nanoscale. Transistor technology, for example has been nanotechnology for decades due to the dimensions of modern transistors. The field of cell biology has used nano-sized viruses to perform gene editing for decades and many chemical products used in daily life have nanoparticles in them. An education in science now inherently implies some training in nanotechnology. Therefore, many students wonder why they should choose to study nanotechnology specifically when they also have the option to study a specific discipline, develop transferable skills in it, and learn something about nanotechnology too.  Working in a more traditional discipline may be also be a fallback for them if a job or career in nanotechnology does not materialize.

 

Attracting More Students to Nanotechnology

As many postsecondary educators know, many of students choose what to study based on how they think it will land them a job once they are out of school. Nanotechnology focused programs are seen as more risky for careers then others. Educators need to minimize this career risk to attract more students.

One way to do so is to give hard scientific or technical problems and have students solve them with support but minimal guidance. Employers will expect this of their new hires. Ideally such a project will involve a lot of lab work and some calculations and simulation directly related to the problem it is addressing.

Another way is to establish connections between a nano program and local industry. In my opinion, this action is beneficial for both if well brokered. These connections should place students and educators in contact with potential employers and create opportunities that benefit both. As an example, I have seen internships and design projects created as a result of the industry outreach efforts by nano programs I have worked with. A program may offer class credit for one of such internships or projects, give students the opportunity to gain industry-like experience, and willing local companies gain potential new hires from them. These connections also ensure local companies the program is trying to cater to their needs. For US based educators and students, a great resource to find local companies working with some form or micro and nanotechnologies is the SCME industry map webpage.

Because nanoscience underlies so many advances in technology, teaching it well is important. Giving students project experience and exposure to industry can be immensely helpful. As a student, I did not fully understand nanoscience or engineering until I started working with it in a lab and interacting with entrepreneurs working with MEMS and nanotechnologies. To increase student employability and attractiveness of nanotechnology as a separate field of study, it needs to be taught in such a way to make it practical and relevant to current technologies.

Why “Entry-Level” Jobs Require Experience

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The most common concern I hear from educators and career-minded students is about how to enter industry when all the “entry level” jobs they see posted require at least 2-4 years of experience. How many of these supposedly “entry-level” jobs posted are written gives the impression that companies are looking to poach each other’s employees instead of hiring new graduates. Yet many of these companies send representatives to university career fairs and tell eager students to apply online only to have such jobs posted on their “careers” page. If recruiters are open to considering new graduates yet their companies would prefer to hire candidates with several years of experience for every job, what does this mean for recent graduates?

I have asked this question to several industry professionals whom I have been in contact with. From what I have been told, some reasons their companies post jobs that require years of experience are:

  • More experienced candidates presumably do not need to be trained as much and are less likely to be bad hires.
  • Many managers do not know exactly what they are looking for and use years of experience in a specific field to gauge the general competency of job candidates.
  • Employers can use a candidates past experience, or lack of it, as a way to maintain the upper hand in salary and hiring negotiations with the selected job candidate.
  • Relevant experience can be a way to filter and rank job candidates in online applicant tracking software.
  • Miscommunication between managers looking for new employees and HR within a company on expectations.
  • There are still many experienced individuals who are unemployed and willing to take a reduction in salary for a stable job.

According to these same professionals, just because a new graduate may not have 2-5 years of previous paid employment does not mean they are not considered. In place of such, many hiring managers are looking for proven technical competency, effective teamwork, initiative, and willingness to learn.

Obtaining Experience as a Student

The students I often meet are technically competent, team players, and are willing to put the effort into learning the skills that will make them successful. The thing they are most concerned about is the experience necessary for a supposedly entry level job, and how to obtain it.

Many employers, including several whom I have asked, consider past internships, class projects and extracurricular activities as a worthwhile substitute to industry experience but within reason. For any of these activities to count, they must require brainpower and original thinking to complete.   Mindlessly following instructions or a set procedure does not demonstrate initiative nor is a good indicator of technical competency. The best ways to demonstrate such is to successfully complete open-ended projects to solve a recognized problem faced by the industry. Better yet is to identify a problem then initiate an effort to find and demonstrate a possible solution. For it to count, students should be able to claim at least a year of such “experience” if not more.

Announcement

To address some confusion, the content of this site relates to micro and nanotechnology and how to receive an education and begin a career in them.  The “nano degrees” referred to are nanotechnology programs offered at universities and community colleges.  These are not the same as the “nanodegrees” offered by Udacity and others.

Engineering Job Search Myths

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Many students come into technical fields convinced that finding a job once they are done will be straightforward and easy. For most, it is not. Some may claim these job search difficulties are because of a stereotypical lack of “soft skills” and limited social skills attributed to scientists and engineers. However, such claims do not fully explain why many have difficulty finding employment. Often, technical job seekers fall prey to several myths about STEM hiring, especially when they are new to the job market.  Others have not yet built up the courage to leave their comfort zone and use these myths an excuse not to.  Here are the four most common myths about the finding a technical job and why they are not true.

Myth 1: All you have to do is visit job boards and apply online

The advice many students receive from recruiters at career fairs and career services offices is that if a job is posted online, the student is wise to put together a resume and cover letter and apply right away. What they do not tell students are the low odds of getting that job. In fact, on average 250 applications are submitted between when job is posted online and when it is filled. Assuming all 250 candidates have an equal chance, this means the odds of an applicant getting the job are only 0.4%.  Furthermore, company “careers” webpages are often outdated, meaning the job postings they advertise may already be filled according to careerealism.com.

Some companies have policies that obligate them post all new job openings online.  Many other companies only post job openings online after the hiring manager or recruiters determine they cannot find someone from inside the company or whom they know personally to fill it.  Even after a job is posted, someone who the hiring manager knows, or who is referred to them from someone else they trust, are given stronger consideration then a stranger who applies online.

Myth 2: It’s a numbers game

Even though the odds of finding a job online may be low, many job seekers feel that they may improve their odds of getting any job by applying to as many as they can. Applying to more jobs online at large companies is like buying additional lottery tickets with the intention of increasing one’s chances of winning. Regardless of how many tickets one buys, the chances of winning the lottery are still low. The same is true with filling out many online job applications. There have been many stories of job seekers who apply to over 200, maybe even as many to 500 or 600 jobs, and still have no offers.

The reality is that job seeking is not purely a numbers game and job boards should not be exclusively relied on by job seekers to identify openings.

Myth 3: There is a widespread STEM shortage

There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Cherry-picked data is often used to claim there is a widespread “STEM shortage” for political gain even if only a handful of specialized technical fields have a shortage of workers. One report I read categorized both electronics engineers and sociologists as STEM. The economics that drive employment in one field are entirely different than those of the other. If one field experiences a serious shortage of qualified workers, and another has as an oversupply, analysis of each together will not accurately describe the conditions of both. An excellent and still relevant article on this was published by the Atlantic. In fact, there are more STEM graduates then there are jobs available.

Furthermore, the workforce demands of any field can vary geographically. For example, semiconductor companies in upstate New York and Idaho may be having tremendous difficulty finding enough people to fill their jobs while others in the Silicon Valley may not. Just because several face a shortage does not mean that every company in all “STEM” fields cannot find people fast enough.

Students pursuing engineering or any other STEM degrees are best advised to do their own research and determine if there are jobs that match their skills in areas which they want to live in.

Myth 4: That jobs will come to you

Too often I have observed engineers and technicians get cocky about their technical skills and achievements, then overconfidently assume that they will have no difficulty finding employment. To some, job hunting is for losers who are not good enough to get noticed. Once they join the job market, reality sets in and there appears not to be anyone in their network who can help.

If there is a supposedly widespread STEM shortage, then why can’t a job seeking engineer or technician kick back and let the jobs come to them? Unfortunately, chances are this will not happen. Instead a job seeking engineer or technician must be proactive and seek out potential employers. The best way to be considered for a job is through referral to a hiring manager (or anyone else who makes a decision as to who gets in). The best way to eventually obtain a referral is to grow and maintain a network by going out and meeting people. This is not something that only those supposed losers who do not have what it takes to get noticed must do. In fact, it is often not what a job seeker knows that gets them an employer’s consideration but who they know.

Summery

The reason many engineers, technicians, or other STEM professionals struggle to find jobs is not always that they have bad people skills or are generally inadequate. Instead, many I have interacted with have bought into one of the above myths, and adjusted their job search accordingly. Several unsuccessful attempts later, they were still on the job market.  The best way to find technical jobs is to be connected to someone who is hiring.  Creating these connections is called networking.

If you are looking for technical employment at the time you read this post, do not make the mistake of believing these myths.  Instead, get outside of your comfort zone, and go meet people.  Good luck in your job search!

The Nano Student becomes the Nano Professional

I am still here. In the last several months a lot has happened. I have completed my graduate degree, defended my Master’s and moved to another state. On top of all of this, I held part time position focusing on industry analysis and mapping of micro and nanotechnologies, attended conferences and industry networking events, and worked to develop and patent a new MEMS sensor.

As a result, I have a lot to write about but until now, have rarely been able to create the time and focus to post these on this blog.  Aside from finishing my degree, many of my recent activities have focused on career, technology, and business development.  New posts are coming soon. Please stay tuned.

How do We Explain Anything Nano?

What exactly is nanotechnology, and how does one explain it to others from more traditional backgrounds? I get that question often, especially from students hesitant to reach out to employers on this subject. Earlier I wrote about doing so.  This reblogged post contain my advice on how to communicate ones knowledge on anything nano.

The Nano Professional

I remember at a job fair once overhearing a group of my fellow classmates in our undergraduate NanoEngineering program expressing their frustration over not being able to describe their budding careers in nanotechnology to recruiters. How do we micro and nanotechnologists explain our work in a way that the rest of the world can understand?  Finding a way to do so in a concise, but detailed, manner is a challenge.

In the previous example, the most readily available piece of career fair, and networking, advice at my alma mater was to have a prepared “30 second commercial” to recite – like an entrepreneur’s elevator pitch.   Brevity and depth during this exercise may seem at odds and one classmate felt compelled make “tradeoffs” between each.

The question of how to explain micro and nanotechnology to the layperson and keep it short and sweet has come my direction before. My answers are…

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How to Categorize a Nanotechnology Company

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One question that comes my way often is how can we explain what a “nanotechnology company” is? Secondly, what would they look for in a new hire in terms of education and technical skills?

To answer these, first it needs to be recognized that nanotechnology is interdisciplinary. This means that work related to micro and nanotechnologies uses ideas and concepts typically associated with several different fields of science and engineering. For an example, look up BioMEMS. Because nano is indeed interdisciplinary, many companies will hire teams of engineers from various backgrounds (often electrical, chemical, and mechanical) to work on nanotechnology related products.

In most cases that I have observed both through analysis and contact with industry, a “microsystems” or “nanotechnology” company will base its operations around a core set of technical competencies to develop their products.

To identify these competencies (and the skills a new hire may need), the Southwest Center for Microsystems Education has counted over 2700 companies within the United States alone with work on the micro and nanoscale and is in the process of compiling industry maps for all 50 states. See here for more details. I have been part of this effort.

From my analysis, most micro and nanoscale work performed in industry can fit into one of seven categories:

  • Semiconductors
  • Materials / Chemicals / Nanomaterials
  • MEMS including Bio-MEMS, Microsensors, and Medical Devices
  • Electronics / Electronic Components
  • Optics and Photonics
  • Research and Development / Laboratory Analysis Services
  • Tools and Capital Equipment

Each has its unique technical competencies and approach to the development of commercial products, with unique skills and education requirements. A generalized description of each category is given below:

Semiconductors

There has been work at the nanoscale within the fields of semiconductors and microelectronics for many years, just it has not been called nanotechnology.  In fact, the feature sizes of many microelectronic devices are on the order of nanometers and are fabricated using combinations of advanced chemical and top down methods in cleanrooms. Employment may be found at chipmakers and other large semiconductor manufacturers. Understanding of semiconductor physics and experience in the fabrication of devices is desired for employment in this field.

Materials / Chemicals / Nanomaterials

Within nanotechnology, there is often overlap between chemistry, materials science, and biochemistry, especially with work related to nanoparticles and nanostructured materials. For example, many new drugs incorporate chemically synthesized nanoparticles to target specific diseases. The functionality of many engineered materials is also determined at the nanoscale. For this reason, this category encompasses companies that work across a variety of industries from composites to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. A background in chemistry, materials science, biochemistry, or chemical engineering and experience in a chemical laboratory are desired by employers in these fields.

MEMS including Bio-MEMS, Microsensors, and Medical Devices

MEMS stands for “microelectromechanical systems” which is broad and interdisciplinary itself. MEMS are widespread across many fields, enabling the development of wearable electronics and the tiny sensors that enable the internet of things. In, biotechnology mems and bio-MEMS enable many genomic and medical devices. Work related to MEMS requires an understanding of how devices function at the nanoscale, and how to engineer them and their fabrication process to maximize performance and output. MEMS, including bio-MEMS utilize many of the same fabrication techniques as semiconductors. Cleanroom processing experience is a plus.

Electronics / Electronic Components

This category is devoted to companies that use micro or nanotechnology enabled components to make functional electronic devices. Because of More’s Law, the size of transistors is decreasing, forcing many electronic components to shrink to the order of nanometers. Electronics assemblers and packaging companies are adapting to newer, smaller technologies. This category is differentiated from “Semiconductors” which stands for the creators of the electronic components themselves, working to engineer their properties at the nanoscale. A background in electronics engineering or assembly is ideal for employment in companies categorized under this field.

Research and Development / Laboratory Analysis Services

Companies with a heavy emphasis on research and development are often early-phase startups aiming to bring a new technology to maturity.  Large commercial or government research facilities are included in this category.  Also included are companies that contract analysis or laboratory services and technology incubators providing lab equipment to entrepreneurs aiming to develop new technologies. At large research facilities, a PhD in a technical field is often required to become a member of the technical staff. A Master’s degree and/or several years of industry experience may be required to become a process or development engineer. Smaller companies may need technicians to run lab tests.

Optics and Photonics

Optics and photonics covers the manipulation and control of light using nanoscience.  Equipment produced by companies specializing in optics or photonics very often incorporate lasers and materials selected for their optical properties.  Companies in this category may create specialized materials or devices that guide light “signals” or detect them.  This category has overlap with semiconductors and tools and capital equipment because numerous electronic devices and microsensors make use of optics or photonics.  Related employment may be found at many companies specializing in microdevices, including producers of medical devices, electronics, and specialized equipment for nano work. Prior experience working with optics either through employment or coursework is a plus for job seeking students.

Tools and Capital Equipment

This category covers the tools used in the research, development, and production of micro and nanotechnologies. These may include electron microscopes, optical spectroscopic equipment, or any machine tool used in the production of semiconductor devices. For micro and nanomanufacturing, the work must be performed at nanometer precision over millions of tiny devices.  This requires specialized equipment and has led to an entire industry devoted to tools for micro and nanotechnology.  Often, employment related to nanotechnology tools and capital equipment is found at specialized companies that build and repair them. Understanding of how to design, operate, and construct tools for micro and nanoscale work is desired by employers in this area.