For PhD students in machine learning, academia vs. industry is an increasingly strange choice. Getting a faculty job at a good university is still quite hard, but the pay is hugely lower than in industry (~ 120k for an assistant professor job at a top 10 school, vs. ~ 500k for a research scientist position at Google/FB/Amazon for a similar candidate).

What is the allure of academia? It comes with grant pressure, teaching huge classes, and huge opportunity cost in salary.

  • 1
    Salary isn't everything. Different people choose different jobs.
    – Jon Custer
    May 14, 2021 at 13:11
  • 3
    I question 500K$ for a starting salary.
    – Buffy
    May 14, 2021 at 13:29
  • 1
    For entry level I doubt the 500/120 ratio. Each comes with different kinds of pressures, expectations, and longevity. And you'd be mistaken to imagine the competition for a position you might hold at Google, FaceBook, etc., isn't fierce year after year. May 14, 2021 at 13:41
  • 2
    Tenure is a big draw - note that nobody has worked an entire career at Google yet. Teaching can be very rewarding. And don't forget that the professor's salary is a 9-month salary and they can consult (both in the summers and otherwise) which can substantially increase their income if they are in something like ML.
    – Jon Custer
    May 14, 2021 at 13:45
  • 1
    @MLStudent - some professors I know make more in consulting than from their university salary. Or their start up companies. Lots of freedom in the university job, much less in an industry job.
    – Jon Custer
    May 14, 2021 at 14:09

1 Answer 1


Other engineering disciplines can have a vaguely similar pay gap, especially when comparing with a top industry job as you describe (and doubly so when comparing living in SF to a college town)

A common argument is for the freedom offered in an academic job. Another is that industry jobs are often more boring. I think there is also something to be said for being able to potentially "leave your mark" in academia in a way that isn't necessarily possible working an industry job. Lastly, I'll point out that some cultures think very highly of professors, in the same way US culture tends to think most highly of doctors.

  • Does that imply that the US culture doesn't think highly of professors (as opposed to doctors)? May 14, 2021 at 18:34
  • No. Just that doctor is pretty much the undisputed most prestigous job, according to popular opinion. If you do some quick searches, you'll find various surveys that back this up. Scientist also ranks highly though. (Do people consider a professor to be a scientist? It's not entirely clear from the surveys)
    – Taw
    May 15, 2021 at 1:52

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .