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I have chosen money over h-index / google scholar profile fame. Now I am working on applying the things in reality, giving me a big chance of a great contribution to the company. However, I am not feeling very well as I know that I never will publish a paper, never work on improving algorithms, and never read the current top-tier conference proceedings.

I am in fear of losing the cutting edge knowledge and decreasing h-index, and not being able to show the world what I am working on via publishing papers. I will use more established technology to apply it to the problems.

How to deal with not publishing anymore, losing my cutting-edge knowledge and decreasing of my h-index?

I am not confident about my decision. The team will not publish any papers. What are good arguments for persuasion, and how can I still remain visible in the academic environment?

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    Why would you care about your h-index?
    – TimRias
    Oct 19, 2022 at 9:39
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    Your h-index by definition cannot decrease unless papers start getting retracted: it can only stop going up, and even that may not happen immediately. Oct 19, 2022 at 9:56
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    Acceptance, of the fact that you can't have the cake and eat it. Oct 19, 2022 at 10:46
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    For what it's worth, the fact that when you talk about academia you talk mainly about your h-index, "achieving maximum reputation", and "showing the world" something, whereas when you talk about your new job you talk about making a contribution to something, makes me think that you probably made the right choice. Oct 19, 2022 at 11:52
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    Even if you stay in academia, why do you care about your h-index? It just pushes you to publish low-quality papers, self-cite your papers, ask people to cite your papers, etc.
    – Yacine
    Oct 20, 2022 at 12:17

11 Answers 11

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I think it's very telling that you mention things like "h-index" and "showing the world what I am working on". These are signs of external validation and prestige, and academia has a highly structured, very inward looking ranking system (nobody, and I mean nobody, cares about your h-index outside of academia, and relatively few within it, actually) that people tend to internalise to the point that they can feel diminished as a person if they are not successful in those specific metrics.

If you had said "I'm worried that I won't be allowed to pursue non-conventional ideas" or "I will miss theoretical discussions with other really clever people", I would perhaps try to reassure you that these things exist in (parts of) the corporate world too. But you didn't. So my recommendation is: make like Elsa and let it go.

Personal anecdote time: some years ago, I slowly became aware that I did not, in fact, relish the idea of leading a research group. But I felt that not pursuing a PI job would prove that I was, after all, a failure; that all the work I'd done until then was for naught. Those are not good reasons to stay.
Shortly after, I left academia, and I am now a clinician. Because of my field, I actually have a lot of chances to contribute to publishable research. I rarely do it, because, to be honest, it's the least interesting part of my job. I have stimulating conversations with clever colleagues from much wider fields than before. I do novel stuff - not high-impact-factor novel, but this-didn't-exist-and-now-it-does novel. I've not looked at my citations in years, and my h-index is probably stuck - I've no idea. I still lurk on Academia SO because I like to be reminded that my decision was right :)

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    Not only do people outside academia not care about your h-index, but the overwhelming majority of them won't even know what that means.
    – bta
    Oct 19, 2022 at 22:19
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    @bta They won't know it means outside academia, although it's quite quick to explain what it is.
    – Tom
    Oct 20, 2022 at 14:53
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    @Tom They still won't care. Saying "I work at company x" or "helped build product y" is more important for the vast, vast majority of people. Oct 21, 2022 at 13:24
  • @Tom you can easily explain how it's calculated. "What it is" isn't quite as easy - a (crude) metric of publication output? Of research seniority? Of employability in academia?
    – Ottie
    Oct 21, 2022 at 17:09
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    @Ottie I mean, it's fairly clear that physicists who write a lot of extremely influential papers have extremely high h-indices. Not hard to explain how it is a decent metric for a person's ability to balance both quantity and quality in their research publications, you would have to be deliberately trying to not understand.
    – Tom
    Oct 21, 2022 at 17:26
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You cannot do both. You made your choice by joining a "non-publishing group". In all likelihood, you will find your new career to have many challenging problems to solve. You will not loose your edge in thinking and problem solving and you will have to continue to learn new things. The relative paucity of people trying to join academia from industry is witness to life in R&D to be interesting and rewarding.

Please remind yourself that an h-index is not a measure of happiness and of personal worth. In fact, if you derive your feelings of self-worth from work, you are running big risks of being unhappy for long periods of your life. Some people need therapy to get over bad thinking habits like that.

All big decisions usually involve moments of regret for the path not taken. Your feelings of regret are normal.

Industrial R&D is not a prison. There are examples of people leaving industry in favor of an academic career or within industrial R&D choose a less remunerated job with more interesting tasks.

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    There's an old proverb: "You made your bed, now lie in it". Historically at least, there were companies that had research journals (IBM, HP) and companies that didn't (Burroughs). But retrospectively there are people in both groups who are recognised in making significant contributions (e.g. Waychoff in the Burroughs case) not to mention those who manoeuvred themselves into consultancy roles and got the best of both worlds (Knuth, Dijkstra, Barton). Oct 20, 2022 at 10:34
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If you are considered highly valued by your company and you live in the right place you can, in fact, do both to some extent. I don't know (or care) about h-index, but you can keep your skills up. It involves getting yourself associated with a university as a "highly valued" adjunct instructor/professor. I've known people to do this.

Some people in large corporate research organizations, who don't publish there, negotiate a bit of space for themselves (time, effort,...) and become adjuncts at universities. They can employ their normal field skills in teaching, perhaps advanced courses, but also, and more important, develop collaborative relationships with the research faculty. As long as their research doesn't impinge on the company's interests this can work.

It may take some effort, however, to develop such a relationship, both negotiating with the company and becoming known to an academic department and finding ways to participate. You have to think of it in other than economic terms, though, since adjunct pay is normally very low (sometimes insultingly so). But keeping your mind alive on interesting problems can be its own reward.

This probably requires a lot of face to face interactions, hence the importance of "place". And it requires that you stay highly productive in your main employment.

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  • I'm a lawyer, which is distinct from most other academic fields in a few ways that are probably directly material here. Still, I occasionally publish academic papers or chapters while maintaining a law practice. I suspect its easier for lawyers to do that than most other academic fields, but I can directly testify it is possible at least in this field to do a bit of both. Oct 21, 2022 at 21:40
  • @TimothyAWiseman, some employers constrain it.
    – Buffy
    Oct 21, 2022 at 21:42
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Not knowing what field you're in, I do know of some researchers in social sciences who formally leave academia to work in industry but still want to do some research (but aren't really interested in teaching or be an adjunct). What they do is become "affiliated" with a center at a university, rather than a department. This allows them an institutional seat where they can access institutional resources (like journal access to stay up to date on the latest research) and a home they can use to publish from. The university benefits because they don't have to pay the individual and potentially get their name on research, and you get the institutional home. Obviously, the success of this depends on how supportive the company is with you spending time on research, and that's going to vary by manager/team/org as well as finding the right type of center that fits your research interests. But I think it can be done if continuing to do research and publish is really important to you.

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Disclaimer: I think you used them as a rethoric figure, but I still think it is indicative or a certain "affirmation through science" bias.

I have chosen money over h-index / google scholar profile fame.

I think you made the correct decision, because chosing h-index / google scholar profile fame over money would have been a choice you can afford only if you are rich. And even then, no one cares about h-index or google scholar profile fame, so it would be a choice like "I have chosen to wear my underpants inside out over money".

Who knows if Einstein was wearing his underpants inside out while he was thinking about general relativity. And who cares, if you do interesting thing your h-index or google scholar profile will be more interesting, but the contrary is not given (and absolutely not necessary).

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A couple of comments:

  1. You might still publish papers in a future job. Many R&D teams in industry do in fact go to conferences and publish papers. You probably won't be in the same job forever, so at some point you may be able to find one which moves you closer to academia.

  2. In some fields, academia is not as "cutting edge" as industry. This may not be true of your field, but in my field (machine learning) it is certainly true that many academics are working on things which simply aren't applicable in the real world. For example, there is a technique called SMOTE which is very famous. The paper in which it was introduced has 20,000 citations, and people are still publishing papers about it. To be blunt, it doesn't work. An argument could even be made that it is worse than useless, since it can easily mess up results if not applied carefully. There are many other examples too. Of course, your field may be different.

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  • You totally nailed this. I move in and out of academia because there's not money to do semiconductor research in academia.
    – b degnan
    Oct 20, 2022 at 14:38
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The other answers cover the motivation/prestige aspect very well, but I wanted to touch on the concern about "never reading the current top-tier conference proceedings" and "losing my cutting-edge knowledge"

Since you mentioned algorithms, you're likely in a computer science or computer science adjacent field, which have greatly embraced open access publishing. Even in a more closed publication field, you can likely finagle some subscriptions as a member of a the R&D team. Read them! Early in my career the proceedings publication days for top conferences honestly felt like nerd Christmas. If I had a free hour throughout the day I'd read a paper or two. As I became more senior, I started a weekly reading group to keep the rest of the team up to date on our field. I never received anything but enthusiasm from management on these efforts. Even if I reach for more tested tools in the day to day work within industry, there's immense value in knowing where the cutting edge of your field is.

Academia is great for giving you time and space for studying your field deeply, and a rich community of brilliant minds to converse with. But don't underestimate how close to cutting edge you can keep just consuming hundreds and hundreds of research papers over the years.

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Responding somewhat narrowly to your "never work on improving algorithms" comment - I think you will find that industry R&D, which leans more towards engineering than science, still consists of making substantial novel improvements to existing art. The difference is merely in how the usefulness of improvements is judged - academia judges improvements on their novelty and ability to create new lines of questioning, while industry judges improvements on their usefulness to applications. Plenty of those useful improvements will happen to be novel, however! We don't have a problem of industry not producing novel ideas, we actually have a problem with industry producing a lot of novel ideas but not being very good at sharing them with the wider community.

Based on your comment I assume you're in computer science or an adjacent field. Working in embedded engineering, I can tell you that I use a lot of the ideas that CS academia outputs - and I have to modify them substantially for them to be useful in application.

So don't despair, you won't be stuck doing rote implementation of algorithms while academics are out having all the fun. You'll have plenty of novel work to do, and your publishing background may allow you to help with the problem of industry failing to share its improvements, your employer permitting.

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I don't know what industry you're in or what type of company you're working for, but many of those aspects of academia you mention are still present in a corporate environment.

You mentioned worrying about not staying current with published research. The last two places I've worked have been fairly large companies, and they've had corporate subscriptions to various library services. Anybody in the company could freely access a wide variety of research journals. It's usually pretty easy to request the company add a subscription to another journal that's relevant to whatever I'm working on. You can have access to all the information you need to stay current, and the company pays for it. Some companies will even cover the costs for attending an academic conference on a relevant topic. If your company doesn't have resources like that, don't underestimate what's available in your community. Public libraries often have access to a variety of research journals (a good librarian can find you anything), and some community colleges will let locals use their library resources for a small membership fee. Professional societies (ACM, ASME, etc.) are also a great way to keep your knowledge up to date and have access to things like conference publications.

Also, companies publish research a lot more often than you might think. You can see published papers when companies partner with university research groups, or want to attract other organizations to research the same topic. One of the most common cases, though are so-called defensive publications. These are ways of releasing research publicly so that it becomes prior art and prevents anyone from patenting it in the future. Maybe the company decides not to commercialize the idea right now and doesn't want to risk someone else's patent blocking them if they change their mind down the road. Maybe they hope the technology will become part of an industry standard (many standards bodies do not allow patent-encumbered technology). I - despite being on a "non-publishing team" - was a co-author on a couple of papers for technologies that my company ultimately decided not to pursue, but were very similar to something that we did commercialize. Publishing our research helped build a safety margin against patent trolls. A lot of these defensive publications get published through special-purpose publication services (such as Questel's Research Disclosure, or IBM's own Technical Disclosure Bulletin) that are designed for maximum visibility by lawyers and patent examiners, not necessarily maximum visibility by other researchers, so the academic world doesn't always see them. Those papers can, however, rack up a very large number of citations on patents.

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Many, but not all, companies encourage people to write articles about non-confidential parts of their work, or personal projects. Especially if the article helps showcase something the company would like to encourage. So there are opportunities to publish, if not usually in academic journals.

Companies also encourage folks to come up with patentable or near-patentable ideas. That's another form of publication, and even if you and the company aren't awarded the patent it certainly boosts your credibility. Indeed sometimes the goal is to establish that an idea is not patentable so it can be used safety but isn't restricted.

Depending on your field, there are also opportunities to present at industry conferences, or to get involved in industry standards, or things like that. Or to lead internally by researching new ideas and helping determine their value to the company, and try to lead adoption if you can show management they're worthwhile.

The company may also have a research division, which is often more like academia than the rest of the business and which in fact may have a publish-or-perish culture (though the publication may have to be internal).

In some companies, the only way to reach the highest technical ranks is to have a history of just this kind of technical leadership on top of performing outstanding work on immediate job requirements.

So if you really want to play public prestige games, your company may or may not give you opportunities to do so. Talk to your management.

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I did the same thing some 20 years ago and had severe doubts about my choice.

I was not a top-notch scientist, but very interested in new technologies. I loved to teach though. The jump was even bigger than you, going from physics to IT.

I never looked back.

Sure, I did not publish anything directly and my scientific knowledge was reduced dramatically.

But there were so, so many positive aspects - way bigger than the drawbacks (of course this is very individual and subjective)

  • First, money. I have a family and a life outside of work so I want to be able to live comfortably while I can profit from it.
  • Second, funding. I am not anymore in a frantic search for grants or kneeling before some boards to get money to travel, for a laptop or whatever.
  • Third, the medieval culture. In academia, it was a matrix and you had to pay your respects. In the industry, you may have a lot of bullshit and buzzwords, but in R&D you will likely avoid it to some point.
  • and then several others without a particular order: work/life balance, traveling, international relationships by default, ...

If you are very lucky, you may still publish - but it may not be that important anymore (no more publish or perish). You can manage PhD students which is very rewarding intellectually.

Science will always be in my heart, I kept very close relations with my friends who stayed in academia. I moved forward, though, and I am now part of a highly innovative industry and do not regret it.

I will probably discuss with my company about teaching at the university as a pro bono activity for our society (especially at less fortunate schools). This is another thing you can consider.

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