I have been working as a Senior Engineer in Industry for about 13 years since I graduated. However, I am seriously considering applying for a PhD program, because I am feeling acutely unchallenged in my job and I am very interested in getting involved with cutting-edge research.

So, I am wondering how common it is for people to do a PhD after first doing a stint in Industry? Roughly what percentage of PhD applicants are coming from industry?

My impression is that a large proportion would be applying to do a PhD course straight after their undergrad degree, but I would like to know if that is true.

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    Why is an answer to this useful to you? How common it is, or not, doesn't affect you, at all. If you want it, do it. It is possible, certainly, to make that switch.
    – Buffy
    Jul 21, 2019 at 12:22
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    @Buffy I'm just curious. Isn't curiosity enough to justify a question on SE?
    – Time4Tea
    Jul 21, 2019 at 13:02
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    @Buffy perhaps there is some data, or studies that have been done into the proportion of PhD applicants that come from different backgrounds.
    – Time4Tea
    Jul 21, 2019 at 13:22
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    @SolarMike I will apply, regardless of the answer to this question. Again, I am just curious. If it's rare, that might even give me an advantage, because my application will stand out more :)
    – Time4Tea
    Jul 21, 2019 at 13:25
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    It is sufficiently common as to be universally recognizable as a thing people do, yet it is still a minority of applicants that are doing it. I've not met a single person that thought it was a negative - many professors at R1s even give advice for people to try industry first before applying to graduate school. Going from industry to academia because you find jobs not very challenging or interesting is perhaps the #1 most common reason given for doing so, so don't worry - they won't think you are an alien for the decision :)
    – BrianH
    Jul 22, 2019 at 17:43

2 Answers 2


I am about to go into a PhD (Computer Science) after a year in industry. During my campus visits at one large public and one small private University, I was the only prospective student that wasn't straight out of undergraduate. I did meet one graduate student who had been in industry for a year or two. So my experience confirms your impression.

  • Thanks for your answer, it sounds like it is even rarer than I was expecting :-)
    – Time4Tea
    Jul 21, 2019 at 19:36
  • @Time4Tea I thought it might be good to give an update now that I am a year into my program--I've now met at least 3-4 people at various stages of the program that like me, worked in industry for a while and got bored and decided to pursue the PhD. I'm still not sure what the percentage is though, as there are hundreds of grad students in my department of which I've probably only properly met <50. Apr 28, 2020 at 21:14

The fraction going into a Ph.D. program directly from undergraduate/masters vs. spending time in industry or other areas varies wildly by field. In STEM fields, where a doctorate is typically a paid position, it tends to be a very high percentage going directly from prior education. In my graduate department, for example, I would estimate that approximately 10% came in from industry.

In other areas, such as liberal arts, I believe it is much more common to have to support oneself for the degree, and thus students are more likely to be working a degree part time or later in life (though I do not have hard statistics for either).

That said, the professors will definitely have experience with students coming in from industry, and in many cases will actually prize such students for being (on average) more mature and self-directed.

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