Interview with Derek Miller

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Derek Miller

Employed full-time as a Research Scientist at a large semiconductor company. In my spare time, I’m launching Genius Lab Gear.

This post originally appeared on The Professor Is Out.

Tell us about yourself?

I finished my PhD in Materials Science & Engineering in 2017 and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina (USA) to start my first full-time job as a Research Scientist in product and process development at a large semiconductor company. The job has been challenging since Day 1 but has brought out the best version of me. I felt like I needed that challenge toward the end of grad school. It’s also exposed me to real-world production challenges, to the business/marketing side of research and to a pace of progress I had not thought possible. (Read more about this in my blog!) Outside of work and Genius Lab Gear, I’m passionate about the role of science in our society. I’ve been an avid participant in K-12 science outreach, including leading the design of a Materials Science Demonstration Kit in 2013 that has since been donated to over 500 classrooms around the world! I’m also passionate about the role of science in public policy decisions and have been to Washington D.C. to advocate for evidence-based policy to several Senators and Representatives. To take a break from science, I love playing volleyball, traveling around the world and going on hikes with my amazing girlfriend and our rescue dog Luna!

Why did you start your side hustle?

I’ve never really been satisfied with the laboratories that scientists and engineers work in. They are too often dark, boring, cluttered and uninspiring. I’ve worked in three different NASA labs and five different university labs at two different major research universities. The professors or PIs make little effort to improve the working conditions past “acceptable”. The major supply companies (Fisher Sci, Sigma Aldrich, etc.) sell products designed for the research, not the researcher. Companies like Apple and Google have transformed the company work environment to boost productivity and employee satisfaction with revolutionary office designs and employee experience. Why hasn’t anyone done this with research labs?

What is your side hustle?

Genius Lab Gear creates laboratories that researchers love to work in. It started with an idea of a few simple gadgets to organize a cluttered fume hood and has since blossomed into a team of scientists redefining what a laboratory should look like. We are currently evaluating manufacturing prototypes of innovative laboratory supplies (patents pending!) and expect the first two products to launch this fall. We’re simultaneously creating fun, modern and motivational wrapped canvas art to enliven the barren and pale walls typically covered with old posters in most labs. The next steps are to deconstruct and re-think every common object a researcher uses and over-engineer a new generation of laboratory supplies specifically for the user experience. We’re bubbling with ideas and are spending every minute outside of our full-time jobs making this happen!

What advice would you give others looking at starting a side hustle?

Start now and figure out if it’s viable as quickly as possible. There’s nothing worse than procrastinating on an idea and half-heartedly working on it for years only to find out later that it’s not possible or has already been done well.  Most successful people work through several failing ideas before they find one that works. The internet is filled with resources for starting your own website, app, service or small business. Just Google it. I also wish I had read the blogs on The Professor Is Out a long time ago because they have been invaluable in shaping my mentality and vision on growing a small business while maintaining a lifestyle that makes me happy.

What does an average day in the life look like for you?

I typically leave around 8:30am for work and get home around 7:00pm. My girlfriend and I will make a quick (usually healthy) dinner and entertain our new rescue dog Luna for a short break. She’s in medical school, so we both try to squeeze out another 2-3 hours of productivity each night. I had to give up most of my TV shows, social media, and web browsing to free up the time required to make Genius Lab Gear work. We really had to re-think everything we do from prepping meals, batching chores and optimizing errand runs to cut out wasted time. Those 2-3 hours consist of replying to our manufacturing partners, implementing design improvements and self-directed learning at starting a business. I’m fortunate to be young enough and have the stamina to work on my dream company after a full day of an extremely challenging job, but I know it will be worth it in the end.

How can our readers find out more about Genius Lab Gear?

The best way to stay up-to-date is to subscribe to the mailing list at geniuslabgear.com (at the bottom). We let our subscribers know every time a new blog post is published or a new set of products are launched.  We’ve also curated a list of resources for doing your own science outreach! This week we’re starting a series of IG posts (@GeniusLabGear) showcasing the most beautiful laboratories around this world. If you’re interested in my personal journey since finishing my PhD, definitely follow me on IG @LifeAfterThePhD! I try my best to answer everyone’s questions regarding graduation and career advice, so please reach out but be patient! Thank you for your continued support and feedback as we improve the laboratory experience for researchers around the world.

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