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As any other late-stage PhD student, I am applying for jobs. But I noticed that my supervisor's behaviour changed a bit after she heard that I want to go to industry, although she has been a great admirer of my work and encouraging me to pursue my academic work. I was wondering if I should be concerned about this or just let it go?

The story: I applied for a few academic positions and my applications were not successful. So, I decided to apply for some non-academic jobs in the industry. Fortunately, my applications received good attention in the industry and I was invited to a few interviews. Particularly, one of the companies responded very quickly. They have even called my references immediately after interviews. I felt that my supervisor's behaviour has changed ever since I told her about this. She saw me on the campus and coldly told me: "I just answered a phone call for you.".

Meanwhile, I received two interview invitations in academic positions, and the interviews went quite well. But the areas are not much relevant to my previous research, so, I am a bit hesitant about them (although they are really excellent positions). Besides, the industry offer is much more generous from the financial aspect.

I was wondering if I should be concerned about my supervisor's behaviour or it is a normal thing? Have I done something wrong?

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    If you're as good as you describe, she might have hoped to keep you as a postdoc or to kerp a door open for future collaboration? – ThunderDownUnder Aug 29 '18 at 7:25
  • @ThunderDownUnder I guess you are right. We have a paper in progress that she expects to be finished before I go to industry, knowing that I already got the job offer. Given that my supervisor is aware of my active search for opportunities, I'm pretty sure that I am not considered for an existing position. But, she mentioned that if my search took long, she can talk to the school to open something up. It is risky to count on that though, as the school may load a huge burden of teaching on me. – orezvani Aug 30 '18 at 1:35
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    Careful as your supervisor might give bad references about you because of petty conflicts of interests. – Scientist Aug 30 '18 at 14:06
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    @Scientist I don't think she has done that, as the company called me with the offer and said that the references were very good. – orezvani Aug 31 '18 at 2:47
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It seems you consider yourself to be the one in fault, and consequently induced most answerers to think similarly. I do not share that view. The most likely explanation is that this outcome (you getting offers from industry) goes against her expectations and is conflicting with her interests.

Reasons why her interests might conflict with your interest in industry jobs:

  • your supervisor value in academia depends (also) on the academic success of the people she mentors. If you leave academia, it might be the greatest thing for you, but still be perceived as insuccess by her, or her own evaluators.
  • As a researcher, she might need you for completing existing projects, and might have been counting on your collaboration on future projects once you settled in your next academic position. Those papers and collaborations just vanished.
  • She might even have started to explore funding sources to keep you working with her for a bit longer. She might have perceived that you did not value her effort by chasing other opportunities - although you knew nothing about her effort.

As you can see, none of those explanations imply you have done something wrong. What is most likely happening is that your best-interest (securing a job offer where you feel your skills are properly valued) conflicts with her best-interest (of increasing her penetration and reach in the field through new disciples and collaborators).

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Most people would not consider you to have done anything wrong in applying to industry - but your supervisor might, because some academics consider non-academic careers to be "second-best".

However, are you sure that the change in attitude is because of this? Could it simply be that you put your supervisor down as a referee without telling them about it? That might be considered rude, leading to surprise at getting a phone call about you.

  • I definitely did ask her about it, before putting her name. I also notified her that she might receive a call soon, after the interview. – orezvani Aug 30 '18 at 0:45
  • Your reasoning in the first paragraph is correct, as she asked me if I'm sure if I want to go to industry, and criticised it. It might be due to the fact that she has moved to academia from industry. – orezvani Aug 30 '18 at 1:30
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The simple answer might be, as Flyto said, that she didn't expect the call. Mind you, a part of your supervisor's job description is to provide reference (granted that it's deserved), so she shouldn't be too baffled. Still, it's a good practice to ask upfront about such things, not only out of politeness, but also to describe the company/position so that the reference can be tailored to that.

Academia, however, is a very nuanced environment. There could be a number of things you might have omitted in your explanation that would basically turn the situation upside down. For instance, how much your advisor assisted you with the application process. Because of this, communication with stakeholders is key: you should openly talk to your advisor and ask what the matter is. Always better to err on the side of caution, unless you want to burn bridges.

Also: industry will always pay better. If that's not your main criterion, then you should always aim to go where your skills will be appreciated the most and you feel fulfilled. Only you can decide that, and i'm quite sure that your advisor will understand if you talk to her openly.

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You supervisor should understand that you have a responsibilty to put a roof over your head and food on the plate.

I have a friend who was on a temporary teaching contract with a promise of a full-time contract. The Dean procrastinated for 9 months about sorting it out. Finally my friend gave the Dean notice that there was 14 days to make a decision else my friend would make one.

On the 15th day, my friend accepted the job at a large company with good benefits. The Dean was surprised my friend had not waited -“but we need you...” etc etc How long are you expected to wait while they drift in academic limbo???

So, moral is DO what is best for you...

  • Unfortunately, you are right that the academia is extremely slow in processing. It takes ages to get a position since you apply for it. The academic positions that I mentioned received my application 3 months ago, while the company had two interviews, contacted the references and sent me the contract in only two weeks. This has put me in a bad situation as well, making it hard to decide. – orezvani Aug 30 '18 at 1:41
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An academic may not have realized that in industry it's normal to call references instead of email them (which is the norm in academia). Relatedly she might be bemusedly annoyed with the people who called (rolling your eyes at business-y behavior is common in academia, and vice-versa), rather than actually unhappy with you.

  • Yes, that is why I gave them her email address, rather than her phone number. I am sure that they have emailed first. – orezvani Aug 31 '18 at 2:43
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You did nothing wrong in looking about for suitable employment wherever it might be found. However, if, as Flyto guesses you gave out your advisor's name without permission, then you have some apologizing to do and should get to work on that.

However, the larger question is your relationship with your advisor and you need to take steps to repair that. If necessary, tell her that you are sorry and that your inexperience in these thengs led you to poor actions. Whether her unhappiness is justified or not, you should work to find ways to reduce that. But staying away from her is almost certainly not the answer. A face to face apology is always best if needed.

Of course, you should keep her more informed about your plans and ask her for advice on building a career. She will be your most important advocate for a while.

  • Your points are valid, but I did mention this orally and verbally to her. – orezvani Aug 30 '18 at 1:42

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