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I'm a postdoc based in Europe working in a theoretical/computational field with a background in physics and am considering leaving academia. There are various reasons for this, but most importantly I have not made as much progress as I had hoped and am pessimistic about my long-term chances of getting a tenured job.

Now I am close to 2 years into my postdoc, and my contract runs for another full year. I have an individual fellowship that has allowed me to work flexibly and start various collaborations, but due to a few setbacks none of these projects has been published yet.

My plan would be to work in industry, perhaps as a data scientist or to work on AI/machine learning. I already have some skills that would be directly relevant for such a career (Python, R, machine learning knowledge), and have some experience applying these to data in my research. But I have no experience outside academia at all and don't have a clear idea of what working in industry is like.

Unlike for PhD, there's no clear endpoint for a postdoc. So I am considering what the best exit strategy would be.

  1. Should I stay longer (perhaps until the end of my contract) and try to finish my projects and write up the results?
  2. Or should I try to leave as soon as possible?

Arguments in favour of (1) are:

  • It would be more responsible and less problematic for my supervisor and collaborators.
  • I would have a sense of accomplishment if I manage to get a few papers out before I leave.
  • I could use the spare time to acquire more skills relevant to e.g. data science without pressure of immediately delivering anything.

Arguments in favour of (2) are:

  • Another year in academia would potentially make me less attractive to industry.
  • I am afraid that my supervisor might lose interest in mentoring me if I tell that I will leave academia.
  • Better compensation in industry (though I am satisfied with my current postdoc salary).

As for my personal situation, I'm in my late 20s and am unmarried and without children, so from this perspective everything should be relatively uncomplicated.

Do you think these are fair and valid arguments, and what would you do if you were in my situation?

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  • Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Nov 22 at 14:47
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    I don't understand what is unclear about my question. I'm asking for feedback for making an important decision. Nov 22 at 14:49
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You present two option:

  1. Should I stay longer (perhaps until the end of my contract) and try to finish my projects and write up the results?
  2. Or should I try to leave as soon as possible?

I would take a third approach based upon the answer by toby544. I would figure out what type of industry job you want and what skills are need for that industry job and then work as hard as possible to develop them while still working as a post doc.

The best time to apply for a job is when you already have one! I would even consider starting to apply now and keep on applying as you build your skills. You will keep on building your marketability.

Ideally, you could double dip and learn the skills during your post doc. For example, maybe you see that the industry jobs you want you to use machine learning with R. Figure out how to do a project that helps your postdoc mentor while learning those skills. Also, some industry jobs such as research positions, favor publications, but many if not most do not. There are other posts on that topic on this site (e.g., https://academia.stackexchange.com/search?q=industry+publishing). Also, checkout posts on imposter syndrome (such as How to effectively deal with Imposter Syndrome and feelings of inadequacy: "I've somehow convinced everyone that I'm actually good at this"), you probably know more than you think.

Lastly, check out resources like Build a Career in Data Science. I suspect this book has resources that will help you on your journey.

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Find out more about jobs in industry. It will be very helpful to have some idea what it is like when you apply for jobs.

Could you get an internship in industry for a few months? If not, there are probably many other ways to find out about these jobs.

I don't understand the point about your supervisor losing interest in you. I don't think you need to tell your supervisor that you are leaving academia until you get a job.

If I was you I would start applying for jobs now. If you get interviews, you will find out about the culture and get more idea what industry is like. If you don't get interviews, you will know you need to improve your applications in some way, and you will be glad that you started applying soon.

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  • Thanks! I personally feel that it would be better to coordinate my departure with my supervisor. In my previous lab, I witnessed a conflict arising over a student who suddenly quit his PhD without prior notice. But at the same time, I fear that there might be a stigma against people who have already decided to leave academia but are still around. Nov 22 at 15:32
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    @Postdoc_temp - the job of a postdoc is to get a permanent job. You've been there 2 years, whether applying for industry or academia it is time to be applying.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 22 at 15:40
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There is a clear endpoint for a postdoc - the end of your contract.

You can search for a job and set the start date to the end of your postdoc contract. Six months before the end of that contract is a nice time to start: it takes time to conduct a job search, then to schedule interviews, technical tests, and whatnot. Then when you are asked when you can start, quote the end of your postdoc contract.

Should you leave right now? That's up to you. There shouldn't be anything special about leaving now that can't be foreseen: you tell your supervisor (how they react you will know better than most people), you trigger the exit clause on your contract, and you search for a job. Ideally you leave your postdoc only when you have a job lined up, because job searches can take a while. But you can also leave without having a job lined up - you just become unemployed for some time. The major difference would be that you start doing something different sooner rather than later, and how valuable that is to you only you can know.

One suggestion: job searches can be scary if you've never done them before, so talk to people you know who have. Your peers who did undergraduate studies with you and are now in the industry are a good candidate, as are your parents, family friends, etc. You should also make use of is your university's career center, if there is one - they can offer a lot of practical help.

-1

While it's plain sad to say things like that... Leave asap.

Time is precious. Every day you spend on something you think is a dead end is a day not spent on something better.

Sit down with yourself, think long and hard about what you actually want out of your life, then go after it. No job title is ever a goal in itself, it's just a shorthand for some other things you value. Think about things that excite you in this moment. Think about things that are likely to bring you joy and comfort as you'll be looking back at those years. Weigh your options, be also wary of the midlife crisis possibly looming over you.

These decisions are probably the hardest in life. But if you have firmly decided to quit, just quit.

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  • Why quit without something new lined up? How is this person to pay his or her bills?
    – Dawn
    Nov 24 at 13:28
  • @Dawn that's fair but not what the question was about. In the question, the choice is between finishing the current project vs not: it's detrimental to wait before even starting to seek offers IMO.
    – Lodinn
    Nov 25 at 11:10

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