Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in physics (liveblogging from #AAPTSm17)

by Stephanie Chasteen on July 24, 2017

I’m at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting this week, and will blog about a few sessions while I’m here.

In a talk by Crystal Bailey (American Physical Society), she argued that we need to more explicitly teach Physics Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PIE) to our students.  I find this a really valuable message; having resources on how to better prepare students for the realities of working within the corporate sector can benefit our students, and also draw more diverse students into physics.


There has been a recent groundswell of interest among physics educators in teaching innovation and entrepreneurship within physics, as more attention is being paid to the future career preparedness of physics graduates. There is evidence to support that adding workforce-relevant learning to the physics discipline could not only enhance physics students’ career preparedness and workforce confidence, but could also attract a larger and more diverse pool of physics majors. The NSF-funded PIPELINE project brings together efforts of six institutions to create and document new approaches to teaching innovation and entrepreneurship in physics which will be shared with the broader community.

Many physics graduates go on to work in the general STEM workforce,  and studies of physics graduates show that employers value many of the things in physics majors (problem solving capability, ability to analyze data, ability to learn new things easily), but they also fall short in several areas:

  • Physics graduates can’t typically design a system to suit a specific need
  • Physics graduates aren’t often able to function well on multi-disciplinary teams
  • Physics graduates don’t typically have strong leadership skills
  • Physics graduates often lack familiarity with basic business concepts (such as cost-benefit analysis, funding, project management)
  • Physics graduates often lack communication skills, including the ability to tailor a message to an audience.

So, how can we make graduates better able to excel in these areas of training and experience?  She discussed the APS PIPELINE project, a network of institutions developing explicit entrepreneurship elements of their program.   Entrepreneurship should be a natural part of physics education.  The PIPELINE project is developing a set of resources and researched approaches on how to do so.

Projects include:

  1.  New curricular development (technical entrepreneurship course, prototyping and design thinking course, experiential learning spaces)
  2. Curricular modifications
  3. Certifications and focused tracks (e.g., entrepreneurship track, industry track)
  4. Co-curricular activities (e.g., technical speaking, industry co-op program)

This is a pretty new project so they’re just getting going.  There is a newletter for PIE (see their website), they are building a library of such innovations, and building assessments.  There are also webinars available for learning more about how to incorporate these.


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