Deconinck, Wouter - University of Manitoba


From physics lab to start-up: how innovation & entrepreneurship experiences will improve your prospects for every career path!


The majority of physics students, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, will build their careers outside of academia. In fact, only 5% of all physics bachelor graduates will become physics faculty. Typical job titles for physics graduates include the words analyst, developer, specialist, or engineer. Compared with other STEM disciplines, physicists are typically better at formulating solutions from first principles and at situating their work in a broader context. Physicists are inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs at their core: observing the world around us, we notice where problems exist and we develop solutions based on our understanding of the laws of nature. It is no surprise then that successful innovations such as the laser, transistor or optical fiber were developed by teams of physicists. However, physicists also lack valuable experience in project management, communicating to non-technical audiences, working in interdisciplinary teams and understanding business concepts. How can you use your unique skills as a physicist-innovator to become more employable, outside and inside academia? Innovation and entrepreneurship activities actively prepare you for many future careers by providing exactly the experiences that employers value. Student makerspaces, fab labs and design thinking studios on your campus will help you learn project management and iterative design cycles. By participating in ideation workshops, design sprints and pitch competitions at the entrepreneurship center on your campus you will learn to communicate your ideas to anyone, from the general public to investors or funding agencies. Through these activities you will hone the skills that will make you a better employee, graduate student, or even academic researcher. You may even find yourself the CEO of a start-up!

Short bio

Wouter Deconinck is an associate professor at the University of Manitoba, with a research program in subatomic physics that focuses on precision measurements of the electroweak sector of the Standard Model at electron accelerators and at neutron facilities. With a M.Sc. degree in engineering physics, he has a strong interest in the connection between engineering and physics, including how innovations and research make it from the lab into commercial products. After nearly a decade as a faculty member in the US, he moved to Canada in 2019. Through makerspace, fabrication labs, design competitions, and connections with business incubators and local industry he is aiming to augment to traditional physics education to train students better for their careers as future innovators. He was a core member of the 3-year federally funded US-wide APS PIPELINE effort at developing new approaches for integrating innovation & entrepreneurship education within undergraduate physics programs. He has used agile management approaches to help students run innovation start-ups, build Fitbits for sharks and design NASA satellite components.

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