What to do after your PhD: Academia vs Industry

Pranav S. Kulkarni
18 mei ’23

Stay in academia or not? This is one of the most important questions that every PhD candidate deals with when they reach near the end of their PhD trajectory. Essentially, it is the question of whether to continue research in the traditional sense where you are attached to an institute or a university or whether to switch over to another sector such as the private sector where you work in a for profit organisation. The dilemma arises due to the fact that both these trajectories have their own pros and cons. Today, I’ll share my perspective with you.

Academic Research

Intuitively, this is the traditional route for anyone looking for a career in research. In this track, you continue into a postdoc or a research associate position where you sharpen your skills in planning, conducting, coordinating, and publishing research projects while being attached to an institute or a university. You might also take up some teaching and admin duties to make yourself a full rounded academic. The end goal of this track is to secure a tenure track position as an assistant professor which culminates into a tenured professorial job.

The pros of this track

  1. Intellectually gratifying work within an innovative work environment. Philosophically speaking, you are on the frontiers of the existing human knowledge in your subject area
  2. If successful, a tenured position grants you immense freedom to pursue research of choice in your favourite subject
  3. Comes with teaching and interactive duties that keeps you engaged in education and knowledge domain throughout your career
  4. Helps create a big network of fascinating thought leaders that you collaborate and compete with
  5. Exposes you to a global audience through research and its dissemination in public via conferences, symposia, and other meetings

The cons of this track

  1. Most likely, the salary is less than what you can make in industry
  2. The chances of success in terms of attaining a tenured position are limited depending on the saturation in your subject field. Promotions and appraisals are also slow compared to the fast-paced competitive environment of the private sector.
  3. Since your work is research based, you face constant critique and reviewing that your work must stand up to
  4. Securing funding for your next project is a big part of the job and the competition for the grants is quite tough (depending on your subject area)
  5. Responsibility is a large part of the job. You are responsible for the consequences of what you discover
  6. Specialised research can be socially isolating sometimes. Maintaining work life balance can be a struggle

Industrial research or other private sector jobs

This is the parallel vein to the academic track which PhDs can jump into. Primarily, you will work in a private (often corporate) organisation. The main aim of your job is to make money for the company and the research you conduct will be oriented towards that aim. Some of the roles in this track are as a scientist, a consultant, a statistician, or an analyst, as a scientific manager, etc. The end goal of this track is to establish yourself in the industry as a private scientist with marketable skills and knowledge.

The pros of this track

  1. Financially rewarding work with generally higher pay scales compared to academic jobs
  2. You are part of a specialised team or a group of highly motivated individuals conducting cutting edge work in the domain
  3. Very gratifying work if you like problem solving and finding solutions
  4. Helps create a big network of fascinating thought leaders that you collaborate and compete with
  5. You contribute to an innovative and a market driven endeavour

The cons of this track

  1. Lack of freedom in choosing your topic of research
  2. You might have to perform tasks other than your main work as and when required.
  3. You must maintain your relevance to and compete for the benefit of the company you work for. Your job security is at the mercy of the market forces, your corporate standing, and other external forces
  4. Maintaining work life balance can be a struggle if you don’t have structured working schedule
  5. You are not allowed to publicly discuss aspects of your work that can be commercially vital.

Would you like to explore career paths in different sectors and learn from other researchers’ career journeys? Try out the Career Navigator! It gives you information about jobs in six sectors in the Netherlands and experiences from researchers. Besides academia and industry, you can also discover what it’s like to do research for the Dutch government, at a not-for-profit organisation, at a university of applied sciences or in an entrepreneurial setting!

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