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Suppose, I want to add machine learning proficiency to my current skillsets. What should my strategy be like? I already have done two machine learning courses on Coursera, but without doing actual projects, I have nothing to show to my future employers. That should be one of my targets during my next 1 year.

What other things I should do? Basically, I have now come to my senses about the reality of the world and I have realized that I could have prepared well for it. But I don't want to live in regret and be in same position after a year too.

I understand that the question is vague. But specifically, I want advice of improving my profile for (1) an academia future (2) A fallback option of industry.

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    I do not see how you can get good advice from people who do not know your record in detail. Ask faculty who know you well. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 8 at 22:02
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If you want to stay in academia, you should keep working on your research portfolio. Ideally, you should do that as part of a full-time occupation, such as being a postdoc in an university or a scientist in a research lab.

Given that you have already studied the basics of machine learning, I believe that using machine learning in your research projects would be a good way to acquire further practice, since you will be driven by a research question and will end up getting hands-ons experience with ML techniques as you try to tackle something you care about.

That said, you should keep in mind that carving a niche is very important to succeed in academia. Hence, as you consider new topics to master, you need to think about how they would fit with what you have done up to this point and what kind of academic position would that lead to.

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Even if your Ph.D. is less than stellar, you can still have a career in academia. In the US there are many lesser universities, where the emphasis is on teaching rather than research. This can still be an intellectually rewarding career for many.

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    It depends on the field, but the competition for jobs in teaching-oriented colleges and universities is usually also quite stiff, and people who were average as PhD students probably aren't competitive for these jobs either. – Alexander Woo Apr 8 at 16:52

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