Friday, April 15, 2011

CRA-W Grad Cohort: Non-academic Career Paths

Becoming a professor isn't the only option after getting your PhD.  There are plenty of non-academic options in both research and non-research areas.  Take a look at the following advice from the 2011 CRA-W Grad Cohort and consider your options.

  • Software/hardware or services companies
  • Start-ups
  • Research labs
  • Other industries (such as banking, insurance, telecom, etc)
Your thesis may need to be shaped to suit industry if you are considering any of these options.  It is also important to do internships for both the experience and to see what kinds of positions you might be interested in.

What Might Get You Hired
  • Having a PhD means you are intelligent, analytic, are persistent, and can work on a big project
  • Your specific skills might be desirable or just these characteristics
Things to Consider When Choosing Research vs. Non-research
  • Prototyping vs. industry-quality code
  • Creative ideas vs. coding
  • Are you interested in well-defined goals and project deliverables? Deep technical support and debugging? Working on deep research problems?
  • Publishing vs. patenting
  • Do you want the option of returning to academia?
  • What pace of career growth do you prefer? Hierarchies in research labs are pretty flat - expect more promotions in non-research
Things to Consider When Choosing Academic vs. Non-academic
  • Unlike academia, there is a wide variety of how jobs work in industry
  • Network to find out the culture of various options
  • If you want flexibility to go in and out of research, consider a company with research arms so you can switch groups (but note that it can be hard to go from R&D to research unless you publish)
Preparing for Non-academic Careers
  • Try to do at least one internship:
    • experience counts a lot
    • adds credibility to real-world connections with your thesis
    • gets you contacts
  • Build your professional network, make yourself visible
  • Build a list of references
  • Keep your web presence up-to-date (such as a website with your publications)
Becoming a Leader
  • Increase your technical breadth and depth
  • Determine what your research brand will be
  • Up your credentials (patents, publications, awards)
  • Hone your communication skills (be correct, concise, clear, and able to match form and style to the occasion)
  • Build your basic skills: business sense, prioritization, analytic and negotiation skills, leading without power
  • Have good character
Do you have specific advice for choosing between academia and industry, and how to prepare for the latter?


Brian said...

Many people start their PhD thinking that they will continue with a career in academia, whereas in fact only a relatively small proportion of PhDs end up in long-term academic careers (think about the number of PhD students at your institution, compared with the number of lecturers)
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