I'm from Europe, for context.

Very soon I will graduate with a Computer Science Master's degree. I have a paper as a first author at one not-so-famous conference, but I also have a paper at a NeurlIPS conference as the last author.

After my master's degree, I would like to go into the industry for 5-10 years and then later on pursue a PhD. Assume that I won't publish anything in the period of 5-10 years when I will be in the industry.

We thus get to my question: Can I do a PhD after being out of academia for 5-10 years?

I know that I most likely won't be accepted to a prestigious university like Berkley or Harvard, but, that doesn't seem to matter that much, if I will produce quality work.

What do you think?

  • 1
    Do you want/expect to be paid during the phd?
    – user111388
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 17:56
  • 1
    @user111388 I expect to fund my own PhD. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 20:40
  • Well, I did it, seven years after the master's. Not Berkeley not Harvard, as you say.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 22:28
  • @BobBrown Did you get paid during the PhD? his ties into what user111388 said - can I take (for example) 7 years out of academia, apply for a PhD and expect to get paid doing it (but purely research, no teaching assistant duties)? Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 22:26
  • @TransientBeing Like OP, my Ph.D. was self-funded. I was teaching at a different institution during that time, and got paid for that, but no support for the Ph.D.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 14:56

3 Answers 3


Why would you want to do the PhD?

I don't ask this question to be nasty, but you really do need to know why you want to do it. I am currently working for a PhD in subjects that I have not studied or practised for 50 years (yes! 5-oh).

I could not have afforded to interrupt my reasonably successful professional career to take on academic research that would not have enhanced my subsequent career, but, in my case, having ended my professional career I was free to pursue my academic interests.

I know why I am doing it, and am very happy with that choice, but the crucial thing is to be really clear with yourself about your motives.


Yes you can. Absolutely. You'd be very qualified and the industry experience will not be held against you.

But, you probably won't. Not because you wouldn't be able to get into grad school but because you no longer want to do a PhD.

  • Why wouldn't they? If @BobBrown can do it, why not the OP?
    – user111388
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 22:35
  • @user111388 I'm kind of with user2705196 because I'm in a similar position. A PhD would be a nice to have but, after years in industry, my priorities have shifted and the PhD doesn't have the same value or even the cachet that it once would have. Obviously, this won't be everyone's experience but I suspect it will be a common one.
    – G. Allen
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 23:34

You get no guarantees five or ten years in advance. You can try, of course. But what you do in those years and what happens in the world and in academia makes for too much uncertainty.

Others have done this in the past, of course, but, again, that gives no assurance about the future.

One of the things that will change in the interim is that your income expectations will probably change. Will you want to go back to being a poorly paid doctoral student after bringing in the big money for a while?

If you want to make this happen you will need to make smart decisions constantly to keep the dream alive.

But doing the doctorate immediately provides a much less risky path.

  • The income expectations is a good point. Another way of looking at it: You would have fewer worries about money as you are more secure financially.
    – user35129
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 18:30
  • 1
    @CoderInNetwork, only if you save - a lot. I was actually worried more about lifestyle expectations as your income rises.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 18:34
  • @Buffy I want to self-fund my own doctorate. Thank you for your perspective, I will try to avoid the lifestyle expectation pitfall. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 20:43

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