Dr. Trinh Cong (Photo: vietnamnet.vn)

Dr. Trinh Cong, born in 1983, is a former student specializing in Math of Hung Vuong School for the gifted in Phu Tho province. However, he chose chemistry and won the second national prize for this subject. The achievement also helped him be directly accepted into the talent Bachelor of Chemistry at the University of Science under the Vietnam National University –Hanoi.

However, Cong gradually realized that this environment was not suitable for him.

“I expect more at this level of education. But what I learned there is just solving more difficult problems, balancing more complex reactions. After a semester of doing homework, I felt disillusioned,” Cong said.

That is also the reason why he determined to find ways to study abroad.

With almost zero English, it is impossible for him to apply for a scholarship to study in the UK, Australia or the US.

“I looked for information in many places. Fortunately, at that time the Government had a policy to grant scholarships for some of the best students of universities to study abroad. So, I set a target to be in the group of excellent students,” he said.

As expected, in 2003, he was chosen to go to Russia to study at Chemical Engineering of Saint Petersburg University.

At the new university, Cong had to "struggle" with language learning. At all times, the Vietnamese student also brought with him two heavy dictionaries to learn Russian. With his knowledge of Mathematics since his high school years, Cong regularly taught difficult math lessons to Russian students; in return, his classmates taught him how to learn the Russian language.

After nearly a year of studying Russian language and the major, when his Russian language was gradually becoming fluent, Cong began to go to laboratories to apply for research.

The study environment was not heavy in theory, prioritizing practice to make Cong feel like "offload". During his years studying at university, Trinh Cong was the main author of four scientific articles.

The professors at the university said that this was the outstanding achievement of a university student, especially an international student, facing a language barrier. In addition, he also won the first prize in the student scientific research competition at the university level in his 4th year.

Everything went well, making Cong sure that he would stay in Russia and continue his doctorate studies. But at the end of 2006, during a time representing his university to attend an international scientific conference in Finland, Cong had the opportunity to interact with a number of students, he later said: “I like enlightenment".

“In Finland, I met an Asian student with a beautiful, thin and light laptop. Curiously, I also approached, using my little English to ask what kind of machine this was. This student gave a very long answer that I barely heard: "Apple". That night, I spent all the night searching the Internet for what "Apple" was. After that night I thought, "American science is truly superb."

“The machine, according to the student, cost 2,000 USD. Meanwhile, my scholarship in Russia was only 300 USD/month. The student said that this machine is only equal to a month's scholarship in America. At that time, I learned that there was more money to study for a PhD in the US,” he said.

After that trip, Cong was determined to find a scholarship to study in the US. Up to now, he still thinks that it was a rather "reckless" decision at that time, when his English was almost zero.

Giving up desire of a professor to be an engineer

Returning to Russia, unable to study English at centres due to high cost, after many hesitations, Cong decided to buy books to study by himself.

“Talking about learning English also has many memorable memories. I buy all the books, from TOEFL, English Grammar in Use, VOA Special English to learn English online for 15-20 USD/month. In order to have more money to learn English and buy materials, every day after school and to the lab, I opened a barber shop in my dorm room for half the price of outside barbershop.

After over a year of practicing by himself and standing in front of the mirror to learn pronunciation, from zero, Mr. Cong achieved a score of 92/120 TOEFL iBT and could write a letter to apply for scholarship.

Thanks to a strong profile, the Vietnamese man was accepted by 6 universities in Switzerland, Germany and the US. In 2008, he decided to study doctorate at the University of Southern California in the US for the reason of "being fascinated by a professor of the university".

“When I learned about the university, I know him - a scientist who has very real studies on OLED screens and electronic devices from organic materials. So, the first day of going to the university, I went straight to his lab and made a suggestion: ‘I choose this university because I like your lab so much. I look forward to studying here.”

Thanks to that, he was accepted to work in the lab and started researching from the first year to America.

But the research didn’t give immediate results. After 3 years of hard research with many failures, Cong twice wanted to stop studying for his doctorate.

“After 3 years of failure, I decided to spend 2 weeks thinking about the projects I had done, analyzing the reasons for failure and decided to stop all projects that had no potential, in spite of very much regretting the effort I had put in during 3 years,” he said.

He talked to professors in the faculty, other researchers and outlined two new research directions. He also exchanged with professors more often so that his ideas were always open and accepted to listen to comments and suggestions.

After 6 months, Cong's new research direction had good results and received his first patent by accident while arguing with a researcher at the same lab.

During the last 2 years of the graduate program, Mr. Cong made a breakthrough with 3 patents and 6 published scientific articles. Among the patented studies, there is a research focusing on solar cells made from organic materials.

“While the traditional solar cells are made of Si material, which is very big and heavy, with this technology, the cell will be very light, can be hung on glass windows and allow to see through. It can also be used as paint generating solar power to cover outdoor items,” he said.

Everything went well, but Cong said, with his major, if he returned to Vietnam, it would be very difficult to have a working opportunity.

“I also didn’t want to participate in teaching or research. After studying, I wanted to apply the knowledge I learned into practice immediately. So, I set the goal to go to Silicon Valley - a good land for tech talent and a development land for startup companies for technology,” he said.

He set foot in Silicon Valley in 2013. Eight years later, he became a senior manager of a product research and development group at Applied Materials - the No. 1 supplier of semiconductors in the world with revenue of nearly 20 billion USD.

“I had worked very hard even on weekends. I always volunteered to do difficult things. However, that was not enough. I realized that I must have teamwork skills, use my knowledge and understanding to make an impact,” he stated.

He spent a lot of time training new engineers, even though he wasn't paid or assigned. This is how he creates influence and wins the trust of his colleagues and leaders.

Dr. Trinh Cong is currently the owner of 15 patents and is awaiting patent approval on advanced nano materials and semiconductor processing. His invention has been used by many big groups to make core chips, process OLED screens in smart phones and computers./.