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I'm a last year PhD student; I love doing research and mentoring younger researchers. I'm looking to apply for faculty this Fall. In my field, there are also multiple companies where you can currently publish and do open-ended research. I'm strongly doubting between both paths: more money, and more time for life&individual research (i.e. my own ideas, letting my students mostly come up with their own) in industry vs. more mentoring opportunities, and research freedom being assured for all my career [modulo tenure&funding].

My questions are not about the doubts, but about applying with these doubts:

  • Do people often reject offers from top universities to go to research positions in industry? Is it badly regarded? (Professors in those universities would still be my research colleagues if I go to industry)
  • Is it ok to ask for significant help (letters of recommendation, feedback on statements, invited talks, emailing PIs of other universities ...) if I think the probability of me eventually wanting a faculty job is between 10% and 40%?
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    You are probably wrong about work-life balance. The people I know in top industry research positions don't just punch a clock and go home. Their lives are pretty much as intense as any university researcher. Lots of conferences, for example. Likewise probably wrong about more time for personal research. They have a boss and the boss has an agenda. A tenured prof is much more free to set their own path.
    – Buffy
    Aug 28 at 20:38
  • Please ask one question per post. Aug 29 at 1:29
  • @Buffy Thanks for your comment. Re work-life balance: having done internships and studying in a university similar to those I'm applying, at least in my university, faculty do have much less time for personal life. Re personal research: I misspoke, I meant ideas coming from myself, assuming I want my students to have their own ideas. I edited the text to clarify. Aug 29 at 5:29
  • @Buffy: Hmm, I believe without a doubt that what you write is true for certain "top" industry research positions - but from the question, it doesn't seem completely clear to me what precisely the OP is looking for. For instance, I worked for one and a half year in automotive development (but admittedly this was really development rather than research), and I indeed had much more spare time there than I do now in a postdoc position at a university. Aug 29 at 16:44
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    I think there is a wider diversity of experience you can have in industry research, than what you see in academia. "Industry job" is really far to broad a category for what are really many different careers; there are jobs where you will punch a clock, and others where you will spend a lot of your time working. In academia, there's really essentially one job, and there is a standard set of expectations around what you do (teaching, research, service) -- the exact breakdown may vary, but the amount of variation is small, relatively speaking. This is not "good" or "bad," just an observation.
    – Andrew
    Aug 29 at 18:29
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Do people often reject offers from top universities to go to research positions in industry?

It happens. I don't have any statistics about whether it happens "often," but I also don't think this is relevant. You should make the decision that makes the most sense for you.

Is it badly regarded? (Professors in those universities would still be my research colleagues if I go to industry)

Anecdotally: I recently left academia and the response I had from professors and other researchers in my field was almost uniformly supportive.

My general take: People generally want to see you succeed, and have are busy enough with their own problems that they aren't going to bother holding a grudge. If you are able to productively collaborate after you leave, most people will care much more about the work than your position. The few that do care, are not worth keeping as collaborators.

Is it ok to ask for significant help (letters of recommendation, feedback on statements, invited talks, emailing PIs of other universities ...) if I think the probability of me eventually wanting a faculty job is between 10% and 40%?

Yes. First, I don't agree with the framing that this is significant help, because every faculty person is fielding requests like this from many people every year, and not all of them will end up in academia. Second, you have to advocate for your own best interest. If you don't make these requests, you are 100% certain to not get a faculty job. If you have even a 10% interest in a faculty job, then not asking for letters, etc, is working against your own interest.

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It's currently August. At least in North America, if you want to start a new job in the next three months, you might get hired into an industry position but you are unlikely to get a faculty position because they do not hire in that time frame. If you want to start a new job in 13 months (September), you might get a faculty position, but you are unlikely to get an industry position now because they do not hire that far ahead.

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  • I know; I meant applying to start next September. I've already started working on my application for faculty, but I don't plan starting to apply to industry until Spring to be able to decide simultaneously. Aug 29 at 5:33

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