Preparing Science Grad Students for a Career Away from the Bench

Office of Technology Development

By: Sara Love, associate director for business development in the Office of Technology Development

What happens when you receive the degree you’ve worked so hard to achieve but realize you do not want to spend your career teaching or working in a lab?  There are a lot of great career options for individuals with post-graduate degrees in the sciences working with industry.

As a student, you are in a great position to explore various career paths. You have flexibility, access to a wide variety of resources, and you are surrounded by extremely talented individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The best way to understand what you like and what you don’t is to experience it! Get out there and expose yourself to a variety of career paths.

In today’s economy jobs are constantly changing and evolving even in academia. According to a recent report in The New York Times, 75% of college instructors were full-time tenured or tenure track professors in 1960, but only 27% are today.

One career pathway students in the science are exploring is staring a company or working at a start-up company. Entrepreneurship is rapidly growing in popularity at colleges and universities.  And rightfully so—research institutions nationwide are prime locations for groundbreaking research on the newest and latest technologies which start-up companies are formed on.

Students are also exploring entrepreneurship as they realize there is not always going to be a “cushy” job at the end of the graduation rainbow. In order to be fulfilled they may need to create their own job…or company.

techcelerator_logo_penn_state_hersheyColleges and universities have begun offering courses in entrepreneurship for students of all backgrounds, business plan competitions and pitch boot camps. The Office of Technology Development at Penn State Hershey gives graduate students a glimpse at what a career as an entrepreneur or working at a start-up company might look like with the TechCelerator Program.

The TechCelerator Program, taught by Ben Franklin Technology Partners, is an eight week ‘boot camp’ designed to expose individuals to the realities of starting a company. Each week individuals meet to learn from industry experts on topics such as identifying the market for a technology, legal issues, funding issues and defining the business model. At the end of the eight weeks, each company pitches their company to a group of local investors for a chance to win $10,000 in funding to move their technology to the next step.

Whether you are interested in starting your own company, working for a start-up company or have an interest in entrepreneurship, the TechCelerator program is a great way to “test the waters” while you are still in school.  The program offers the opportunity to network with entrepreneurial colleagues and meet industry experts from venture capitalists, intellectual property attorneys and successful entrepreneurs. Ben Franklin Technology Partners is specific to Pennsylvania; however, you can find similar programs at your local colleges and universities or economic development organizations in your state.

In the end, if you realize life with a start-up company is not for you, the experience is valuable and the skills are transferable. You will understand the role and importance that entrepreneurs and start-up companies play in the development of new technologies, a competitive marketplace, the workforce and the economy.

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