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I am towards the end of the first year of my PhD where most of my time went towards doing courses and a small research project in our lab. I plan to continue in academia after my PhD and aspire to get a good faculty position sometime in the future. Is there a stark difference in the way one should approach a PhD if they want to go in academia versus if they aspire for an industry research position ? What do universities look for in a PhD which might be very different from what a company looks for in the same candidate and what can I do at my level to tailor my PhD research towards the direction I want to go in.

  • You need to demonstrate the ability to attract funding; writing good proposals (post-Ph.D.) is a huge advantage. – owovrokfop May 21 at 6:22
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If you want to stay in academia, these are some of the elements that prospective PIs/Institutions will be looking for: 1) published material; 2) conference participation; 3) ability to attract funding; 4) prizes/awards (although this should be of low priority if you are an early-career researcher, given how unlikely it is to get a prize at that stage). You should also focus on showing that you can have original ideas and that your PhD wasn't simply doing what you have been told to do. Other thing that is important, and I cannot stress this enough, is networking. No matter how ridiculous or incorrect it may seem, the people that you know will make a difference in getting jobs and positions.

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You approach it as training for a job, or even better like you are already an academic. In the same way a caprentry apprenticeship teaches someone solid woodwork skills, a PhD teaches someone to conduct research in a rigorous, appropriate and professional manner. You need to hold yourself to high learning standards, not only on the object of research but also on how to do research: problem solving, networking, gathering information, writing etc.

The big difference is tied to what PhD supervision is technically about: it leads to the completion of a thesis. It does not lead, or have to lead, to publications. You would be interested in conferences, spend a lot of time learning to write academic papers (even the writing style of different journals), network and gather professional information and transport your thesis to publishable journal papers. An industry oriented candidate does not have to worry about such things, unless there are explicit requirements for graduation. This means less polished work in academic, but not necessarily in absolute standars. Of course, publications are of little practical use to a non-academic and serve only for prestige.

Clarification: I suppose the above is a contested point. In my environment, the requirement for getting a PhD for both traditional monograph and paper theses is to pass the viva or defend it. It is not subject to having academic publications, although that is often a parallel pursuit. If there are different practices elsewhere, e.g. you do not get your PhD without X journal publications, I would be very interested in a discussion. For what it is worth, while I identify the professional advantages of a paper-based thesis, I prefer monographs as I find their bottom-to-top process to better reflect the critical development of an idea and of the person writing it. I just like books, I suppose.

Does this mean a difference in quality and, more importantly, in the criteria? This is debatable. A supervisor should hold both at the same level. However, the demand for an industry oriented candidate to understand every theoretical nook and cranny and mechanic of their work is not there at the same degree. The weight is on proper application, not on proper application and thorough learning and understanding. Crudely, if you know how to setup X correctly and press the red button, you are OK - you do not need to know how X works, why X works, the working principles of X and wht happens if you press the green button. Both candidates, however, get results by pressing the red button on X. Nevertheless, in terms of scientific rigour both works should be at the same level, which means correct and honest. What changes is the candidates. This is the second major separating point, because the latter is crucial for a future academic: if he has failed to do both, he does not know how to do his job in the most literal terms. This is also why the expectations on people who want to stay in academia are much higher from supervisors and other academics. On the other side, this is also why many academics, or even PhD students, appear to scoff at or "go easy" on industry oriented people: some demands are not there and they are not seen as future colleagues.

A final caveat: none of the above is absolute and I am very willing to discuss the grey areas. Student and supervisor attitudes change during a PhD, and opinions do vary. I tried to provide a general outline of related issues and highlight behaviours that I have seen come up. My strictly personal opinion is that a PhD is much about learning and both types must learn the same. However, the pursuit of quality publications is something different and perhaps beyond the strict scope of a PhD.

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