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Would a PhD program be beneficial to me?

  1. Jun 23, 2013 #1
    I am an Undergraduate in Electrical Engineering. I have been in an internal struggle about a PhD; I am particularly interested in Applied physics programs since traditional physics programs bore me, and my interests include medicine. I have taken upperlevel physics in mechanics, E&M 1,intro Quantum, Optics, and photonics, so I am no stranger to the basics.

    The root of my dilemma comes from a biosensor which I designed. The university gave me a hard time with this intellectual property; however, I had proof of it being designed solely by me outside of university resources, so I am no longer being harassed by the patent lawyers. I originally wanted to attend a graduate program where I can perfect the software modeling for the device; however, my experience has me concerned about a graduate program if a university can just claim it; I have a vision for this device that I want to protect. Does anyone have experience with universities and their inventions? I want to hone my skills, but what does grad programs do for people? Does a PhD program hold any value for me?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2013 #2
    While grad school might be a good opportunity for you to hone your skills on many fronts, you might run into some issues with intellectual property. Particularly if you think your research in the program is going to be directly related to your side project. Think of it this way: If you are being paid to do research by the university, why should you own the rights to the research.

    That being said, I don't know if all universities operate this way; some might be more liberal with intellectual property. But if you think you have an idea which might make you money, I don't think working on that idea (directly) in graduate school is necessarily a smart plan. Like I said though, you might get a lot out of graduate school that might help you in the long - I don't know.
  4. Jun 25, 2013 #3
    Unless you come pre-funded with a multi-year fellowship, it is VERY hard to get a professor to agree to supervise you to do whatever you want. Typically you have to work on a problem related to his-or-her research program. Also, where Universities stand on intellectual property is all over the map, you'll have to ask each University separately.

    I don't think it is practical to expect to perfect your device on the University's dime. You might be better off without a Ph.D. since you have an entrepreneurial spirit. A good Ph.D. program gives you the depth and breadth to be an effective researcher, but there are a million skills you will need in the cut-throat world of business that a Ph.D. won't help you with.

    As an aside, I made an invention during my Ph.D. studies and my Professor and I fought the funding agency of my Fellowship to allow us to place the invention in the public domain, which we did. The invention is now being used in industry. It is my sincere belief that if we had patented my invention my work may have been forgotten. Most patents go nowhere.

    One last thing to keep in mind: Even if you did your work 100% on your own, I promise you that your biosensor is in violation of dozens of patents, at least. This is because the USPTO allows patents that are incredibly broad so it is almost impossible to do work that is not in violation of something. Therefore, you will need a shield before you take you invention to market. Have you talked to any VCs yet? Patent protection is one of the most valuable services they offer.

    Good luck!
  5. Jun 25, 2013 #4

    D H

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    Huh? No employer or school thinks that way. If you are being paid to do research, they own the rights to that research. The only issue is what you do on your own time, with your own resources. To a good number of employers and universities, they own that too. The standard IP agreement says they, not you, own every idea you come up with during the term of your employment, 24/7/365. Getting a waiver to that standard agreement and staying employed is a tough nut to crack. Claiming that every idea is yours: You'll be unemployed ASAP.

    So do most ideas placed in the public domain. It's a conundrum.
  6. Jun 25, 2013 #5
    I think you misunderstood me. I was saying that if you develop an idea on the university's dime, you (most likely) won't be able to claim ownership.
  7. Jun 25, 2013 #6

    D H

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    Ah. Yes. I misread the "why should you" as "you should".
  8. Jun 25, 2013 #7


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    But here's the thing -- many high-tech (including biotech) start-ups are founded by researchers at colleges/universities based on research they have conducted there. Among the most high-profile examples is Google, founded by 2 former CS PhD students, based on their own research on databases (which were paid for by fellowships granted to them, if I'm not mistaken).

    As for biotech start-ups, consider these slides from an MIT researcher on the formation of the biotech sector in Boston:

  9. Jun 25, 2013 #8

    D H

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    Stanford held the rights to that initial work, even after Google was founded. Google gave Stanford shares in the company and paid Stanford royalties until 2011 in exchange for exclusive use of that initial work.

    Google made Stanford rich. Richer, that is. Stanford was already rich.
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