How to return to academia from the industry

Eva Lantsoght
5 mrt ’20

Are you currently in an industry position, but wondering what it would be like to return to academia? Are you a PhD student wondering if you can return to academia after time in industry, and how to do this? Then read on - this post is for you!

While I haven't made the switch to industry and back to academia in my professional life, I've observed others doing so, with success, and am giving you here my observations and lessons learned from their stories.

1. Go part-time

In most cases, I've seen that people go to academia from the industry on a part-time basis. They may be working 2 or 3 days a week in their regular office, and the remainder of the week at university. If you are interested in returning to academia, but you're not sure if you want to take the dive for 100%, then try a short-term part-time contract. Make sure that you can return to your industry job fully at the end of the short-term contract, so that you keep your options open: either keep the part-time combination of both, return to industry, or dedicate yourself fully to academia.

2. Volunteer in committees

In my field, most technical committees are made up of academics, practitioners, and government workers. If you are interested in contributing to your field in a practical manner, volunteering in a committee may be the right way to go. You'll learn what academics in your field are currently working on, you can volunteer to help out writing technical documents, and you can serve your field.

3. Publish

If you want to return to academia, your publication record may or may not be important. In my field, traditionally, publications are not the driving factor for universities to hire somebody: the driving factor may be your practical experience, or your knowledge in a particular topic. As universities move towards one-size-fits-all requirements for hiring and tenure, however, a simple publication count may be part of a grading rubric that determines whether they want to hire you or not. If you want to increase your chances, publish from your thesis, and publish case studies you encounter in practice.

4. Teach a course

If you want to know if lecturing is for you, or you want to strengthen your profile to return to academia, you can teach a practical course. You can teach for example in a Master of Engineering program, or an online program, or a practical short-term course. You can also teach one semester of a course at a university (if they are in need of a lecturer) as an adjunct to see if it's something you'd like to do more of in the future. Don't go for a full-time academic position on an adjunct salary though, with vague promises of getting on the tenure track "when an opening comes".

5. Show up

Show your face, make sure people know you are interested in current research, and possibly interested in returning (part-time) to academia. This strategy may not land you a job today, but your former colleagues may keep you in mind when they need somebody to cover a course, or when there's an opportunity to hire somebody.

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