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My partner has a PhD in Semiconductor Physics from one of the best universities in the world and extreme interest in low level electronics engineering. His research career fell through a few years ago (that's the tragic state of research funding these days) and he's spent the last few years dealing with depression surrounding this and just tinkering/building devices for a portfolio.

He has no professional work experience in electronics engineering (despite living and breathing it on the daily) and cannot get any firms who do electronics or any employment agencies interested in talking to him about a role in any capacity (even just to get experience). He hasn't tried that hard though and needs more advice/input.

Questions:

  • What "stepping stones" are there between no experience and professional positions?

  • Are there any firms, or class of firms (anywhere, but we're in Australia but can easily relocate O/S for his career) that would be sympathetic to people in his position?

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NB: Question here is about getting work experience, we've taken this question in to consideration: Omit a doctorate from resume if overqualified?

  • Low level electronics? What does that mean? Can he repair things? Electronics field is huge and lots of jobs available. – Kilisi Oct 8 '17 at 22:49
  • The "stepping stones" are to get more relevant things to put on his resume (either education or personal experience) and networking. How exactly to go about that or what those things are would depend on him and the field he's trying to get into. The answer to this seems the same as what it would be for the more general "how do I get a job in some field" - seems too broad and too specific to the field. – Dukeling Oct 9 '17 at 2:49
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    Many many big (huge) semiconductor companies are in Asia (Taiwan, China, South Korea and Japan). Did your partner try them? – scaaahu Oct 9 '17 at 3:35
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    To answer your second question. From TSMC page, the Workforce table shows that there are 1983 PhDs among their 19645 professional workers, that is, 10% of their professional employees are PhDs. – scaaahu Oct 9 '17 at 4:51
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    Has he ever applied for a postdoc? That's how I bridged my career between 7 years in academia and a fresh start in the private sector. – angarg12 Oct 9 '17 at 8:58
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I also left research when i was 35, and had no big problems - but I was always more a broad type than a specialist.

  • Make sure that you are addressing the right problem with your actions. Instead of considering to move, first seek outside comments on the CV, and possibly ask for professional advice. I receive a lot of applications from scientists who want to leave, and the CV should not look like "disappointed and waiting for a chance to come back to science", and during interviews he need to be prepared for HR probing in that direction

  • Your partner needs to accept that there will be a step down in the career for some years - i did that and i am happy

  • I am absolutely sure that during his PHD your partner gained a lot of other skills (e.g. Simulation/Programming, Project management, Cleanroom experience, intercultural experience, writing, Data acquisition and evaluation, quality control, examination/analysis of solid state circuits, system simulation, etc.) List these, and look for a job where they can be applied (for me it was simulation/programming which go me an interesting job)

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Possibly he is setting his sights too high. Electronics is a huge field and if he is practically competent he can get a job or start a business almost anywhere.

He needs to think of it from the employers angle, a PHD is really good if you're looking for a PHD, otherwise it's not worth much especially when other candidates have more directly relevant certifications. So apply for any jobs to get your foot in the door, and then work your way up just like everyone else.

When composing CV and doing the interviews etc,. it's fine to have a PHD but don't stress it, because it's irrelevant. You focus on the skills and experience you have that are relevant to the job. Keep in mind that because this is just to get your foot in the door, you don't go crazy on the salary negotiations either. Accept lowish pay just to get started, think longterm.

I've moved to different countries a couple of times. When I get there I'll take ANY job at ANY (legal) pay just to get my foot in and start networking a bit.

  • Thanks for the answer. Problem is in his experience so far, he can't get a foot in the door, he needs to figure out how to do that. His maturity (30s) and pieces of paper are potentially blocking him from that. A foot in the door is what he wants at this stage, would be grateful for any recommendations on how to do that in this field. – Williams Oct 8 '17 at 23:08
  • What field? Electronics covers a huge range. Lots of tech jobs at entry level. I went that route in my 30's. Entry level, then got certified on the job and just kept moving forwards. – Kilisi Oct 8 '17 at 23:37
  • Low level: PCB design, assembly, analogue devices. gregjolley.github.io – Williams Oct 8 '17 at 23:49
  • He's willing to send his CV anywhere/everywhere just don't know how to set tone to get entry level job. – Williams Oct 8 '17 at 23:50
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    Yes, first step is all it takes. Jump in with both feet, entry level is easy, you rise extremely fast if you have a solid background knowledge and work ethic. My last manager started his career as the guy who drove the techs to worksites. Last I saw him he was the head engineering manager of an ISP – Kilisi Oct 8 '17 at 23:57
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It seems to be difficult for him to get a job by cold application. The next thing to try is networking.

Is there an active maker/robotics culture in your area?

If so, he could get involved in that. He could both help with projects and teach. The more practical skills he can develop and demonstrate the better.

There are two ways that could lead to a job. Some amateur projects turn into start-up businesses. Many people who are influential in high tech development also participate in the maker culture as a hobby, and might think of him when they need to hire for something they know he can do.

Even if it does not directly lead to a job, he will be practicing applying his skills and working in a team. Even a successful amateur project would be material for his resume that might help convince potential employers of his practical skills.

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I was in a similar situation a few years ago. It took me some time to land a stable job and I don't have any easy solution or very original advice but I can tell you a bit about what did work and did not work for me.

Specifically, I don't think “setting your sights too high” is a problem or that seeking entry-level positions is a good strategy. It sounds like common sense and possibly dovetails with a stereotype (that of the arrogant academic expecting everything to come to them for free) but it just doesn't work in my experience.

I applied for many of these jobs, was genuinely enthusiastic about some but if you are overqualified, employers will always be concerned about the fact you could be unsatisfied with the scope of the work, the compensation package, or be eager to run away at the first occasion, etc. That's an obstacle that's very difficult to overcome, no matter what you say or do.

By contrast, I had more success in my applications with top-level employers (think Google, Microsoft…) and finally landed a great job in a R&D lab for a large European company. Having a PhD was explicitly listed as a plus on the offer and many of my colleagues came from a similar background. From there, I was in a perfect position to move to a more traditional career closer to the business and have a lot more opportunities now. So, whatever else you do, keep an eye open for this kind of positions and keep trying.

Beyond that, the things you could do are pretty obvious: network as much as you can, don't make your resume too research-y (no list of publications!), emphasise any business-relevant experience you might have (internships?), keep applying to hone your interview skills (even if that can also be frustrating and depressing) and try to find something relevant to do in the meantime (privately-funded applied research at the university?)

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