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I have heard that it would be a bad idea to take up a post-doctoral position, if your ultimate goal is to work in industry. The basis of this maybe that it is harder to be hired for an opening at a company, maybe because you would seem unsure of your direction, or would be over qualified for a junior role.

If there are no ideal jobs available at present, should I take up a post-doctoral position as a safe option, or easy way out, in the meantime?

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When I was a young undergraduate, the word of wisdom is that of economics: the more time you spend in academia, the later you enter the industry's pay scale. So compared to other individuals with the same number of years of experience total, you'd be paid less. (It was used to illustrate the Dean's point that you shouldn't go into a PHD program for the money: a BSE with four years experience often ends up better paid then a freshly minted PhD.) I don't know how much of that is still true now. –  Willie Wong Feb 17 '12 at 10:23
    
@WillieWong: now if I could only get to find a job outside academia, I would really love to follow your advice, but apparently with my skills it's rather hard, and I am constantly forced back in. –  Stefano Borini Feb 17 '12 at 16:04
    
Thanks for the advice all –  CptLightning Feb 18 '12 at 12:05
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5 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Well, clearly, it depends on many factors (my answer is probably strongly influenced by the Computer Science field).

  • If you want to apply for a non-research industry position, then clearly, the postdoc might not appear as a strong point, unless you can travel, attend conferences, manage a budget, develop an application/software/experiment, apply for patents, etc, in general any transversal skill that you can justify. But if the postdoc is just sitting in an office writing theoretical papers for a couple of years, then it's probably not the best choice.

  • If you want to apply for a research industry position, then a postdoc can be a good point, although of course, the closer you can be connected to industry, the better it will be.

  • Ideally, you could do a postdoc in industry (in CS, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, HP, and many others offer this possibility).

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No. There are many reasons you may want to do a postdoc; gain experience in a particular subfield, get to know the research of a particular advisor, work with a particular research group or department, or even to work with a industry group, in the case of industry-sponsored postdocs. You may be asked why you chose to go the postdoc route when you are eventually interviewing for industry positions, but it is by no means a declaration that you are going "academia-only". Note that this is particularly true during recession periods; it's much easier to get a postdoc than a "real job".

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In what field is it easy to get a postdoc? –  Anonymous Mar 11 '13 at 23:50
    
@Anonymous - In almost all academic disciplines that I'm aware of it's obtain a postdoc position than a professorship position. –  eykanal Mar 12 '13 at 0:22
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I'm writing in from the biotech industry. I hold an MSc, but obviously I work with a lot of PhDs and have observed many PhD hires. Most PhD level industry positions REQUIRE time spend at a post-doc position. This would be either in academia or industry, but academic post-docs are infinitely more common. If you are being hired at a company straight out of a PhD program, that position will (9 times out of 10) be a temporary post-doc position itself.

Be aware that there have not been nearly enough PhD positions in industry to go around for the last 5 years at least. And many companies have strict policies against hiring PhDs for non-scientist positions. I've seen many times a research associate (BS/MS) position post, and we receive up to 100 applications from PhDs that go straight to the trash.

My recommendation for a transition into industry would be:

Do your PhD and post-doc research in the most prestigious labs possible and publish in the most prestigious journals possible. This is because other PhDs will hire you and be impressed by your boss' name and publication record - so it's the same idea that holds if you were to stay in academia.

Skill set is important, but in most cases is not what gets you hired. It is assumed that you can be trained to use any protocols or equipment in house.

Maintain contacts with everyone you know who is or moves into industry, including people at the BS/MS level. Referrals are extremely important and sometimes the only way to get in. Seek out projects that are collaborations with industry labs and go to every industry-sponsored event on your campus. Ask the professors in your department if any graduates or former post-docs moved into industry and try to get in contact with them.

And bottom line: no hiring manager will blink if they see a post-doc on your resume, as long as it lasted less than 5 years and you have results to show from it. And in many cases, managers expect or require some type of post-doc experience for a career position.

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I am currently involved in a Marie Curie financed Academia-Industry collaboration. I am doing one year in industry (hired as a software developer) then two years in academia (hired as a postdoc) then one final year back in industry (again hired as a software developer). I have no interest in an academic career path for a plethora of reasons that I won't delve in.

The point is that academia has no alternative contractual access for project-oriented hiring (I call them "disposable scientists") hence the "postdoc" is basically a catch-all contract type to get someone to work on an academic project within academia. It can be intended as a professional step to establish yourself on an academic career path, but by no means it must be intended only as such.

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Does doing a postdoc mean a commitment to an academic career?

No. However, if your goal is to work in industry, that is where you should be looking for work. A post-doc would be better than a stretch of unemployment. This is because many companies treat recruiting like dating in high school: you are desirable if you already have a date/job and you have cooties (or something else is wrong with you) if you are single/unemployed.

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