I am a former academic who crossed over to industry as of four and a half months ago. Actually, “crossed over” is not completely accurate, since I am not yet done my PhD. Nevertheless, I have joined The Hyve as a software developer / data scientist, and am finishing my PhD on the side (I’m almost done, I swear!).
I am learning A LOT and thinking of side projects that I’d like to tackle once I am less busy with my PhD. There are a lot of software and data science topics that I’d like to start/continue to learn about, including cloud computing, IoT, machine learning and web/app development. I am also interested in discovering ways to both automate daily tasks and be more environmentally conscious. With all of these things in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile to make a website/blog where I can share my knowledge and experiences, both past and present. Since there is no time like the present, I’ll now tackle my first topic: switching from academia to industry.
Goodbye academia, hello industry
Most academics making this switch will probably agree that it can be a challenge in many ways. One of the first steps is making the decision: academia or industry. For some people this is easy, they just know which path is right for them. For others, this is a tough choice.
On the one hand, research can be fun! On the other, academia can be a difficult environment. I most certainly got a taste of both during my PhD. Challenges are to be expected while doing a PhD, but my experience wasn’t easy for all of the wrong reasons. The politics in academia can get ugly. I will spare you the details for now. But it suffices to say that this was a huge factor in deciding to leave. Fortunately, near the end of my PhD I had the chance to get some direct supervision from a really great researcher. With her guidance, I discovered how awesome research can be. But alas, even though I would love to continue some of my research, I realised that at this point in my life I will be happier in a non-academic job.
Once an academic decides which career path they wish to pursue, the next big question is how they can make this a reality. For those wanting to stay in academia, one of the most difficult parts is finding funding. Without that, you can kiss your academic aspirations goodbye. For those going to industry, the challenge is often how to market your current skill set. In my case, I already had some industry experience as a software developer. During my PhD I got a lot of experience in data analysis. Where this left me was with a skill set somewhere in between software engineering and data science. So, I found myself unsure of which jobs to aim for: data science, software development, or something completely different. In some ways I also felt insecure about my qualifications. Were my industry-specific software development skills too rusty? Was my data analysis experience enough to cut it in a “real” data science position? Will my time in academia be valued by large companies? In the end, I found a great job where both my industry and academic experience is valued. Woohoo!
If you are a present or former academic with your own “making the switch” or “deciding to stay” story, please feel free to drop me a comment below.