February 1, 2023

Hands-on lab skills key for Quantum jobs

Quantum physics courses need updating, according to researchers who interviewed representatives from 21 US companies that specialize in designing and building technologies for quantum applications. The interviews suggest that those graduating with bachelor’s degrees in physics may lack the skills they need to enter the quantum workforce. Changing that, the researchers say, could completely alter the face of physics courses and help make the subject relevant to a new generation of students.

Most of the companies that the team consulted are part of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), a group working to grow the US quantum industry. The representatives were largely direct supervisors of entry-level technical staff, rather than top-level executives.

In the interviews, which each lasted about an hour, the representatives were asked questions aimed at uncovering the scientific, technical, and “soft” skills required of new hires, as well as the needed quantum-specific knowledge. The interviews also covered hiring practices and on-the-job training opportunities.

Analyzing the answers, the team found two common threads. First, companies were often looking for people that were quantum “aware”—they broadly understood the concepts behind quantum computing, sensing, or communication, and they could talk about those concepts effectively. The candidates didn’t need a deep knowledge of the nitty-gritty equations and theory, however. Second, candidates with hands-on lab skills, such as the ability to make electrical devices, were favored over those with none.

But bachelor-degree graduates with those two skills can be hard to find. Undergraduate physics majors generally have very little experience with building electrical or quantum devices, while engineering undergraduates often have little to no exposure to quantum mechanics.

The problem lies in the design of quantum courses. Quantum physics is typically an advanced course, requiring many prerequisites, which can limit access to majors outside of physics. The content of the courses is also outdated, focusing on the quantum physics of the early 1900s rather than the “more exciting” advances of the last decade. Another issue is the hands-off format of most introductory quantum classes; laboratory training often comes at the Ph.D. stage for students who specialize in condensed-matter physics or in atomic, molecular, and optical physics. (APS Physics)

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