Today, I had a PhD interview and the interviewing professor asked me about my plans after completion of PhD. I clearly stated that I wanted to fund my own startup and setup my own venture, to which he cross-questioned that why do I need a PhD for founding a company. Even though, I tried to to clarify that my venture would be based more on the research that I'm going to do, he seemed a bit unsatisfied with the answer.

Finally, he told me that if I had any queries or had to say anything, then I'm free to mail him regarding this.

My real answer to his question "why do I need a PhD for founding a company" was that "I didn't want my years worth of research work to end up in some corner of an archiving website, where no one is going to take a second glance later. So, I wanted my research to bloom into a company for the public benefit."

But I was extremely hesitant to give this answer to him back then since it could have implied that his work is also in "some corner of an archiving website, where no one is going to take a second glance later" which would be extremely demeaning.

But, now that I think about it, I feel that I should clarify this stating this proper reason in an email which I gave above.

Would it be a wise idea to do this? And if it isn't, is there any other way of putting it to express my idea to him?

All inputs are appreciated.

  • @NajibIdrissi Perhaps, you've a point there. But I was considering a research proposal that wouldn't just stay on the papers and can be transformed into a product.
    – user98798
    Oct 12, 2018 at 14:32
  • 5
    Your answer addresses why you want to found a company after getting your PhD, but not why you want a PhD before founding your company. Oct 12, 2018 at 14:43
  • A lot of faculty don’t think about companies has being for the public benefit. If you turn your research into a company you will likely get a patent on it, or try to.
    – Dawn
    Oct 12, 2018 at 15:03
  • But I was extremely hesitant ... since it could have implied that his work is also in “some corner of an archiving website, where no one is going to take a second glance later” which would be extremely demeaning. Yes, actually it does sound demeaning (not to mention misguided and wrong). Can you explain how you plan to avoid giving that offensive impression in your emailed clarification?
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 12, 2018 at 18:01
  • @DanRomik That's the part where I'm asking for an advice, I guess.
    – user98798
    Oct 12, 2018 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


He is asking you why you need a PhD, he is not asking you why you want to sell your research. So, I think the focus of your response is misplaced; why does it have to be presented in a way that if you're not a CEO + PhD then you're a loser who will spend the life publishing shelf fillers?

Instead of comparing to (you + PhD + company) versus (other + PhD + no company), think (you + No PhD + company) versus (you + PhD + company.)

There are dozens of way you can cast this decision positively without dissing the interviewers:

  • The vigorous training in scientific thinking will enhance my credentials as a CEO.
  • I would love to work more closely with the R&D so that I can better tailor my company's strategy.
  • I love to challenge myself, PhD is a great milestone, a trial for me to hone my grit.
  • I would love to see my research idea turned into a product that people would love, it's always been my dream.
  • There is a lack of research perspective in the current industry, I wish to change that.

Generally, try to project the difference between the normal you and a better you, not a better you and the inferior you. Some of the negative comments, as you said, may be hurtful even it's not targeted at anyone but yourself.

  • 2
    The second paragraph is really good!
    – Tara B
    Oct 12, 2018 at 14:48
  • Actually, I think this might not quite be right. I think the professor is choosing between (you+PhD+company) vs. (someone+PhD+non-companycareer) so that is the relevant comparison. I would agree that the correct answer is a positive one, not a negative one. Instead of "didn't want my years worth of research to [negative thing]..." talk about "I do want my years worth of research to [positive thing]."
    – Dawn
    Oct 12, 2018 at 15:25

First, a direct answer, but watch for caveats afterward. Yes, you can certainly respond to clarify. He has actually invited you to do this. So, there is no problem.

However, from the question and a comment, you seem to have a bit of a misunderstanding about a couple of things.

Least important is that you think your reply will insult him. Under those circumstances you would be unwise to say that, whether it turns out to be accurate or not.

But the most important thing is that you seem to have a misunderstanding about the difference between research and development. You seem, to me at least, to be focused on development, and if that is really the case, it might turn out that the faculty of the institution won't consider the work to be appropriate for a doctorate. That isn't necessarily true, however, but research is about extending knowledge, not about building a product. It would be good if you can clarify that in your own mind before you reply to the professor. Maybe you don't need a PhD, just a development team.

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