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Background: I have the opportunity to pursue a Computer Science graduate degree at a well respected program (around top 20). I spoke with the professors at the university and I feel like I am a good fit with their research program. My ultimate pursuits are to complete a PhD in CS. I've done research as an undergraduate and it has only confirmed my notion that I want to pursue a research track career.

More background: I applied to jobs (in case I was rejected to all the programs I applied for) prior to hearing back from my respective graduate programs. I accepted a position for an industry job (this was to secure I wouldn't be both unemployed & not in school).

Dilemma: Turns out my top graduate school is very interested in me, and I'm very interested in them. I would rather go to graduate school than work in industry forever. The industry job pays very well. I am split between A) working for a maximum of 1 year(It would only be 1 year, seriously I do not care about the money enough to work past a year) and B) going straight to graduate school.

My concerns are as follows, if I choose A):

  • Could I potentially defer my admissions?
  • If I am not allowed to defer my admissions, would I have a good chance of re-applying and being accepted a year later?
  • Would my potential advisers look down on me for deciding to work a year?

I already made my mind up it would be a 1 year gig if I decide A). I know some people say once you make money, you may not be able to readjust to the graduate salary pay. But I don't think that will apply to because I'm going to live very frugally with or without industry pay.

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Well before you need to make a decision, you should ask your target department if deferred admission is even an option. –  JeffE Mar 16 '12 at 23:22
    
Hey Jeff, I noticed the school does offer deferment, but it stated many departments only offer deferment for a term only. I guess either 1) I could just go straight into graduate school 2) defer a semester or 3) defer a year and re-apply. The industry job won't strengthen my application (other than saying I worked for a company that I would eventually like to do research in, since they have research positions for those with PhDs). I will talk with the admissions & my professors to make the best decision. –  Ternaryop Mar 17 '12 at 14:15

5 Answers 5

I'm afraid I have contradictory advice.

  • If you've been offered a funded place, there is no guarantee the funding will still be there in a year. What you know is that you are good enough to get into a grad school, but there is a luck component too. The school I went to told us that 1 in 10 applicants was good enough to get in, but less than 1 of 3 of those "good enough" could have places any particular year. This is both because of funding constraints & because supervisors can only supervise so many people well at one time. So you are very likely really deciding whether to work before going through the application process again.
  • Nevertheless, I agree with Sylvain that it is not a good idea to do a PhD always wondering whether you would have liked industry better. I worked for 5 years before doing my PhD, and now I'm an associate professor. Two things make this route hard though: 1) getting used to making money (I addressed this by putting most of my salary in savings) and 2) getting used to being treated as an adult. But there is a big win when you hit the hard parts of your PhD & think "would I be happier in industry? Nah, that was boring." Friends that were academically stronger than but lacked that certainty had a tougher time during the troughs than I did.
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Awesome answer, but one part is confusing: "being treated as an adult"? A PhD program (or even an undergrad program) that doesn't treat it's students like adults sounds seriously broken to me. What specifically did you mean? –  JeffE Mar 18 '12 at 15:57
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Thanks for the complement Jeff. Your question is subtle. It comes down to the mentality of different people & places: are students kids, or are they peers, or something in between? Do you just get told what to do, or do you get reasoned & negotiated with? In my experience, the UK largely treats even undergrads as adults, while in the USA I had grad-student peers come in expecting to party like they were in highschool. It's very much cultural. I do think work experience helps give you give you the knowledge that you can always walk away, and that's a big part of being an adult. –  Joanna Bryson Apr 8 '12 at 19:26
  • You could defer admission, but it's a little unusual to defer for a year. Check with the departmental grad advisor and make sure everything is absolutely clear on this front
  • It's a risk: admissions pools vary from year to year, and maybe the professor who wanted to take you on doesn't have funding, or already hired another student and doesn't have room for more.
  • I doubt any advisor would look down on you for working a year. I don't see why, especially in computer science.

Other questions to ask:

  • will the job make your application look stronger next time ?
  • are you ok with not being able to get into this university and having to reapply and get in elsewhere ?
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In particular, much to my surprise, my department (university?) does not offer deferred admission. –  JeffE Mar 16 '12 at 23:18

I will advise exactly the contrary of what bravo just said in another answer : go for A ! If you don't, there is a good probability that you will ask yourself continuously "was my choice to go for a PhD the best one?". With this year of experience, you will know for sure what you want, this is priceless. And this is the best way to be really focused on your thesis, if you finally decide to go for it.

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On the other hand, many students who go straight from undergrad to grad school get this insight via summer internships. –  JeffE Mar 16 '12 at 23:20
    
Summer internships during the PhD are quite unusual in some countries ;) And maybe an internship and a job do not give the same view of industry. –  Sylvain Peyronnet Mar 17 '12 at 7:28

If I were to make an opinion out of whatever you have said in this post, I will say go for B without further thought :)

Reasons: 1) A one year industry job is hardly helpful as an experience anywhere, let alone for a prospective PhD. There is another question on this forum analysing the worth of job before PhD.

2) You have said you are not too much into money and also live frugally. Bravo, you are tailor-made for the academia! You could surely earn more in the one year after PhD, and ensure you begin graduate coursework at the earliest.

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This decision strongly depends on your character and goals, so you should ask yourself what you will gain and loose while working in the industry for a year / going to grad school right away. What skills will you learn while working that will help you with PhD later? Will you have enough motivation to complete your PhD if you do not take a year off school? Will your college wait for you / defer acceptance? Are you a kind of person for who it takes a while to get into a routine (of a job - or of taking classes)?

I guess these are just more questions rather than answers, but I do not think anyone can (or should) give you a definite "A" or "B" answer.

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