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Thread: A Career Playing with Lasers

  1. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Nebraska
    Posts
    168

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    If I could pick a masters program after I graduate, I would go to CREOL at UCF. A Ukrainian physicist once told me its the best optics school in America. Its not that I take all my advice from men with thick Ukrainian accents, its just that if one is speaking directly to you, you listen.

    I'm halfway through my EE undergrad, and I already feel well prepared to learn most anything I desire for this field as well as related ones. Heck, I got an internship at Vishay for the summer. My boss called me in for the interview because of my research experience, but I think he called me back because he wanted someone that he didn't have to teach the LASER acronym to. Now I'm laser trimming ceramic resistors for the summer. Not bad.

    Being domestic to your current residence seems to help as well.


  2. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Charleston, SC
    Posts
    2,147,488,804

    Smile My $.02 on the laser career path...

    Quote Originally Posted by Eidetic View Post
    I'm wondering what advice one would give to the youth of today wanting to work with laser, but more specifically visible laser light.
    The answer really depends on what sort of "work" they want to do with lasers. If they want to do research and muck around with million-dollar optical tables, they should probably stay in Academia. If they want to cut and burn things, they should focus on industrial and medical applications. Both of these career paths would benefit from a degree. But if they want to learn about light shows, they should try working for one of the larger laser show companies here in the US as an intern first.

    Of the three, I think working for a laser light show company is probably the easiest to get into. Most companies will take just about anyone regardless of their education, and if you want to learn more, they will feed you all the information you can handle. Of course, you probably will end up working for free at the start, and all you'll be doing is grunt work (hauling gear), but eventually you'll be moved up to working on the lasers, and even to operating the console. And they'll start paying you, of course. Not a lot of money (it's a sad truth that there isn't much money to be made in the industry), but enough to get by on. (And you'll be doing what you love, so there's that.)

    This is the same method I used to get started in the business. I worked for free with another company for several gigs until I had proved my worth. At that point, they started paying me for gigs, and they also started letting me run the console. Eventually I got good enough that they would let me run things on my own. Then came Photonlexicon, and the whole Laser Enthusiast's Meeting concept, which taught me even more about how to set up and tear down from a gig. Now I have my own business and my own variance... It's a long road, but there are very few barriers to entry this way.
    Is there an educational path to becoming a laserist?
    Not if your primary focus is to be the guy operating a console at a laser show, no. A degree might be marginally useful, but if you talk to professional laserists, you'll see that if they have a degree at all, it's usually in something like business or engineering or computer science. I don't know any professional laserists who have degrees in physics or optics. (And damned few of them have degrees at all!)
    Is there an art school that incorporates laser light as a medium?
    There might be, but again, I don't know anyone in the industry who has gone down this route. Not sure it's really the ideal path...
    Are there any apprenticeships or internships available? I'm thinking about those who don't want to go through 4 to 6 years of education and its attendant outrageous debt.
    Exactly! And yes, most laser companies will take on an unpaid apprentice if the candidate is passionate about lasers and has a reasonable work ethic. You've got to prove to them that you can handle the dirty work (rolling up hoses and hauling cables and trussing at 4 AM after a gig) before they will spend time teaching you how to actually run the console. But at some point they will start talking about the lasers, and if you pick up the information, they will keep feeding it to you. Eventually they'll start paying you, and from there it's up to you as to how far you want to take it.

    I probably worked 3 or 4 unpaid gigs before I started getting paid. But I already knew a lot about lasers (I had been a hobbyist for nearly a decade prior to this), so I picked up things pretty quick. I was running the console (under supervision of course) by my 3rd gig, and after a year or so, they started letting me run the console by myself while they would go check on other things. I learned a lot from those early gigs, and when we weren't on a gig I would go up to the garage where they had the gear stored and spend time with the guys going over different lasers and learning as much as I could.

    I don't think my experience is anything out of the ordinary. I know that lots of companies have expressed interest in this idea. Example: Jim Martin runs Peach Tree Laser company in Atlanta. He has posted on the ILDA list several times asking for people who are interested in getting started in the industry to contact him. I know of two people who have learned the basics from him, and one of them now runs his own laser light show company in Knoxville. Also, X-Laser has taken on interns from time to time as well, though those positions were less about performing shows and more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a show (or a projector).

    Bottom line: I think getting a degree is probably a waste of time and money for someone who wants to get into laser light shows. It would be better to just approach a light show company and ask for an unpaid internship...

    Now, if they're looking to get into medical or industrial lasers, then a degree makes more sense.

    Adam

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