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I'm doing a PhD in Engineering and want to have a career in academia. I've been learning some people in engineering are able to do so-called industrial PostDocs where you do research in a company.

However it seems that most people who do this then go on to work in industry. Is it possible to do an industrial PostDoc then go back to a university and get an academic position? What are some factors to consider?

I'm guessing that doing an industrial PostDoc would hurt your chances to later get academic positions because you wouldn't have the same teaching experience. I actually can't think of any way in which is could help more than doing a normal PostDoc in a university lab.

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Pros:

  • Builds connections (which will be useful no matter what)
  • Experience with a different kind of science
  • More money (and you can probably leverage the higher salary into more money if you go back to academia)
  • Many academics think patents are magic and if you hold some you're a sorcerer

Cons:

  • Runs time off your post-PhD funding clocks
  • Some academics think industry is beneath them
  • Not being able to talk openly about your industry work can adversely affect your ability to even get another academic job

Teaching is irrelevant unless you want to only teach, in which case you can just teach a night class as an adjunct while holding your industry job. Many PIs will not approve you teaching as an academic postdoc because they feel like they own you and it's a waste of your time.

It is, generally, possible to come back to academia after some time in industry, but does have some drawbacks (and you'll have to work harder after you come back to catch up a bit with your competition that stayed on a purely academic track). If you can catch up, it does actually look good and you will be competitive.

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    "Teaching is irrelevant unless you want to only teach" Strongly disagree. At least half the academic research positions I have seen this year have wanted evidence of experience and skill in teaching. One even asked for examples of innovation and creativity in teaching. – Clumsy cat Mar 16 at 15:43
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    In virtually every case those are boilerplate and will contribute nothing to the actual decision. You just have to be able to write a teaching statement that doesn't sound stupid. – user133933 Mar 16 at 15:45
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    "hose are boilerplate and will contribute nothing" I don't know how far I trust that idea, but lets take it for granted. Being able to "write a teaching statement that doesn't sound stupid." or even a more direct question on teaching experience presumably requires some undergraduate teaching at minimum? – Clumsy cat Mar 16 at 15:48
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    Most research funding for late-stage postdocs or early-career PIs is tied to your PhD date - the NIH, for example, has a strict 4-year clock for the K99, and a 10-year clock for early-career status (ESI) associated with R01s. The DOE has a 10-year clock for early career grants, the NSF just has non-tenured though (which is nice). This is also true for several european funders as well. – user133933 Mar 16 at 16:55
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    @Libor: Concerning the boilerplate requirements for teaching experience. The general attitude among hiring committees that I experience in Germany is as follows: "Teaching is important for your application in the following sense: good teaching experience alone won't qualify you for the job, but lack thereof will disqualify you." So I wouldn't count on the claim that it doesn't matter at all. – Jochen Glueck Mar 16 at 22:38

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