Part of The PhD Guide Series
As a soon-to-be graduate, you may have started thinking about what you want to do after you earn your doctorate degree. It’s great to start exploring your options as early as you can because you’ll have more time to talk to people to get advice and figure out what you want out of your next step.
Talk to people on both sides
Reach out to friends, past and current colleagues and alumni who have worked on each side to get their perspectives. A great way to find see what your network is up to is through LinkedIn. People are surprisingly eager to give advice, so go ahead and try to schedule coffee, a meal, or even a phone call with them.
Prepare for these by thinking of questions you want to ask ahead of time. Ask them what their thought process was. Make good impressions, and you may just be referred to job openings through one of these exploratory chats. In this networked age, the truth is that you must network yourself into the best jobs.
Keep in mind that everyone has different motivations and work preferences, so take their advice as inputs into your larger decision instead of letting them make your decision for you. That’s why it’s important to get as many perspectives as you can.
Questions to ask yourself
What do you value in your life? Your work interests? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Spend some time time introspecting, and think about how these play out in academia versus industry. Remember that you can make generalizations when comparing industry to academia, but depending on the company, division, and role, working in industry may not differ much from working in academia.
Do you enjoy the environment that you work in now? Being in academia right now, you have a great perspective into what life would be like if you stayed in academia. Would you enjoy having your advisor’s role and responsibilities? Do you enjoy teaching students? Writing papers and applying for grants?
Work style: Team vs individual.
In industry, you’re likely to work together as part of a team on a day to day basis. Work in academia is much more independent, even when collaborating with others in your field and working with others in your group or lab.
Work style: Flexible work hours vs defined work hours.
Working in teams in industry means that you’ll have to work a defined set of hours so that you can easily chat with your colleagues. This doesn’t mean you’ll work more or less, or that you won’t be working at night or during the weekend, just that you don’t get flexible hours because others are dependent on you being in the office at the same time they are.
What type of work do you enjoy? More theoretical vs. business practical?
In the business world, you’re less likely to be working on things with no foreseeable business-practical application. Companies need to make money in order to pay you and survive, so what you work on should have some timeline to impact the business’ bottom line.
What kinds of things do you want to work on?
In academia, you get control over what you work on to the extent you can get funding for it. In industry, this is not always the case. You’re more likely to be assigned to work on projects, and projects can last from months to years, on things that you may be interested in or not. You don’t get the same autonomy in academia of being able to work on what you want, but it can be rewarding working working
There is no right answer
Your career is a journey, one you’re just starting on, and so you shouldn’t expect to find the mythical perfect job right. If you’re curious about industry, try it out (an internship is an especially great way to do this). If you find at any time that you don’t like it, you can return to academia. The reverse is always true. Don’t feel like you’re making the wrong decision or that you’ll always be trapped based on the decision you make.