PhD evolution: From PhD to Science based Start-up


There’s a moment in a PhD student life in which a thought pop up in mind. I don’t know exactly how it works, if it is a sudden jump on a Monday morning, or maybe a low voice arising slowly day after day, but it is a fact, sooner or later your research will be kicked off from your mind by another question: “what’s next?”

First option: post-doc. Are there more funds available for me? Is my group able to offer me a post-doc position here? Yes, but for how long? One year? One year, renewable? Three year? Should I look for a different research groups? But where? US? Canada? Switzerland? France? And then? How long should I move before getting a Tenure-Track… The deadline is approaching!

Second option: industry. Maybe I can leave academia and find a good position in a company. Yes, but which one is doing business in my field of research? I would prefer to continue working at least within my field of interest… Am I going to stay stuck in desolate R&D department where they are not really aware of what science means? I’m sure there are good companies where I can continue developing the projects I am interested in, but how to look for them? Which are the tools available for a successful job search? Which keywords shall I use? And then… how to explain who I am? How to give the right value to my profile?

There’s a third option: am I able to pursue my research project and transform it into something useful for people now? Usually research produce huge impact of people’s life, but in 10-15 years, and what about now? Now that I have to reinvent myself and my career? Can I try and give value to people with my research?

I am going this way. I am a PhD in Physics, I have worked for more than 3 years on neuromorphic circuits, trying to develop algorithm for hardware based neural networks. Now my PhD has ended, so how to use all these competences? I am trying the start-up way!

Because of a Master of Science project, I entered the world of medical ultra-sound diagnostic and I grasped the idea of applying concepts of machine learning to medical data. So I took again that project, evaluated the work done and called back the guys I worked with a couple of years before. Shall we work again on this?

A journey started to discover who would get more benefit for such a science based offer. I started discussing with a lot of medical doctors in my town, studying their activity, their daily life, which are the problem they are facing in order to perform good and reliable diagnosis. Technology is there, ultra-sound scanner are really powerful instruments, so what’s the issue? It is only talking with them that I discovered that the first obstacle stays in recognition and interpretation. Such a machines are powerful, but only if you know what you have to look for. That’s the opportunity I was looking for, where I can apply my skills and create a positive impact on people now. I created a team, that now counts five people, four of which are PhD! Technology is not an issue with such a strong team of competencies, but rather the methodology is. We as researcher tend to deeply investigate each feature of a topic before planting It down and build on it. Start-up is the complete opposite: they say fast-prototype and fail fast. Actually it is true! Before developing a full solution, an entrepreneur has to test the robustness of the problem he/she aims to solve and how appealing a solution can be on his/her customer! Fully develop a product is only a waste of time if you still have to test its traction on people.

This is only an issue that a good team has to face and to overcome in order to reach the goal, but actually, science based start-up is the closed thing to a PhD research project I found.


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Daniele Conti - PhD Candidate in Physics

PhD Candidate in Physics