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Front Range Industry and Postdoc Summit

Welcome, everyone. As we get started, I particularly want to acknowledge Tom Livelli of Promega and Mike Gazarik of Ball Aerospace for their sponsorship and participation in the program. Also, Dan Powers of CO-LABS is here. Dan, thank you for your support for the universities and federal labs in Colorado, which produce such outstanding postdoctoral talent for the state and our nation.

NIST is honored to be co-sponsoring this event with CU, and we’re grateful to the university for hosting us. Our partnership with CU and with JILA is fundamental to NIST’s identity and success in accomplishing our mission. Collaboration with outstanding academic organizations like CU, with U.S. industry, and with the wider science and technology community, both nationally and worldwide, is deeply embedded in NIST’s DNA. 

Most people know of NIST as the nation’s measurement experts — the people who give you accurate atomic timekeeping and help ensure you get your money’s worth at the gas station. Colorado is proud that America’s reference standard for the atomic clock is right here at the NIST laboratories in Boulder.

NIST traces its heritage to the very beginning of this country — to Article 1 of the Constitution. But we were re-established in 1901 with an even bigger purpose: to continually advance the nation’s technology base, our innovation and industrial competitiveness, and very specifically U.S. manufacturing technology.  

Why is this so important? Because nations with access to the best technologies and who make the best products create economic growth and a higher standard of living. 

And this also explains why networking events like this one are so important. U.S. industry, academia and government are three essential pillars of American technological innovation, each with different cultures and goals. Events like this one connect us and emphasize what we have in common. I hope the discussions, connections and new contacts each of you make today will pay off in job interviews, new research collaborations, better insights into each other’s perspectives and many other tangible benefits.  

For industry — you will have the chance to meet with early career professionals who have dedicated themselves to excellence in research. They are conveying more than the specific research and opportunities, but also who they are, in the nation’s next generation of leaders. 

I was particularly pleased to see the Elevator Pitch portion of your program for today. This is sometimes underrated, but it is really an important competence for researchers to have. As you may have gathered from Callie’s introduction, I am someone who has both run venture capital and who has been an entrepreneur and founder of multiple companies. I’ve heard lots of pitches, and I’ve also delivered many. 

All of us want to make a positive difference in the world. You can do outstanding, groundbreaking research, but if no one knows about it and it’s never used, you will not be making much of a difference. So it’s great that all of the postdocs and early career researchers here are now honing this skill. 

Too often, by the time someone has worked so hard to get a Ph.D. and go deep into a field as a postdoc, they can get a bit too comfortable with always talking to others in the same field or at least to other technical experts. But it turns out that the real payoff to all that hard work often comes to talking with industry experts, marketing or financial experts, research leaders, communicators, elected officials and others well beyond your field. It’s also about being able to communicate with members of your family and your friends about your work, why it’s important, and why others should care.

At NIST, I’ve found that some of our best scientists are also our best communicators. And it’s not a coincidence that these two things happen together. Take one of NIST and JILA’s own Nobel laureates, Eric Cornell. He’s one of the smartest, busiest, most productive researchers I know, and he’s also one of our best communicators. 

He not only can create Bose-Einstein condensates, he can also quickly explain why they’re important to a fifth grader. He’s particularly good at finding the intersection between unlike things, say BECs and fifth graders, because that’s how he got that Nobel Prize in the first place. 

He and his Nobel co-winner, CU’s Carl Weiman, creatively found new approaches in the lab. They saw new ways to make the interactions required for BECs possible that no one else could see. A related S&T corollary to this is that often the most exciting research advances happen at the margins between disciplines. 

They call it the cutting edge for a reason. The scientific frontier is constantly being extended with new insights at the outermost margins of what we know, and at the intersections between domains. So if you want to make discoveries at the outermost reaches of what is known in your field, you’ll need to get good at communicating to others in different research areas. 

Finally, I’d like to thank all the industry representatives who are joining us today. As Callie noted, I spent most of my career in industry and found it very rewarding. It is just as possible to make a difference in positive ways working in industry as it is working in academia or government. And there are many mentors in industry who give generously of their time to help early career researchers learn how their research efforts can inform better manufacturing processes or lead to important patents or to products that improve life, and other great outcomes. 

In summary, my message for everyone here today is reach beyond your comfort zone, make connections, start conversations, learn from your colleagues, find a mentor, build your network! These are the first steps to making great things happen. 

Thank you. 

Created October 15, 2019