My field is Statistics & Machine Learning

I have come to know that job prospects in academia are really (really) bad. Of course, it is discipline-specific, but it did discourage me from pursuing a PhD, not necessarily because of the imposter syndrome. It could be because of my initial expectation that I would stay in academia after getting a PhD.

Eventually, I decided that I would still pursue a PhD as it's still useful for me, but after getting the degree, I would work in industry instead of academia. At least, in my field, having a PhD will open many doors (e.g. data scientists). I still enjoy doing research (developing models and algorithms) and teaching mathematics. It is just that I think it's not a good idea for me to stay in academia after graduation. Therefore, I will also prepare myself for industry job market.

Is it a problem if I start my PhD with no intention of being an academic after graduation?

  • 11
    I know PhD graduates who now have positions in each of the following: industry, academia, government, and non-profit. Dec 25, 2022 at 3:49
  • 18
    What might be problematic is the set of mind while working on the thesis. Being genuinely interested, fascinated and curious about the subject is a much better motivation than pursuing the PhD for the sake of becoming a PhD. Dec 25, 2022 at 7:28
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    Of the roughly 1.5 million professors at all US institutions, about half are full-time. A small fraction of those have significant research funding (~150 R1 universities). Let’s be generous and say 20,000 positions. Let’s say a 30 year career, so average replacement hiring is order 3.3%, so perhaps 700 heavy research positions a year across the US at universities. My national lab would love to hire about 300 STEM PhDs next year alone.
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 25, 2022 at 17:56
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    I did a PhD in Computer Science, then worked for a big company for 25 years, and have now been running my own business for nearly 20 years. Don't regret any of the decisions I made. And when I started the PhD, I was pretty determined to move into industry once it was finished. Dec 28, 2022 at 0:38

5 Answers 5


Is it a problem if I start my PhD with no intention of being an academic after graduation?

No. It is a mathematical fact that most PhD graduates will not obtain permanent research + teaching position at a university. Being clear-eyed about this is not a problem; just the opposite.

At least, in my field, having a PhD will open many doors (e.g. data scientists).

This is absolutely true, but it's also true (at least in this field, outside of universities) that a master's plus a few years' experience is equivalent to a PhD for all practical purposes. Certainly nothing wrong with doing a PhD, but also nothing wrong with "mastering out" when the time comes, if you're not excited about the prospect of finishing. There are advantages in both directions.

Therefore, I will also prepare myself for industry job market.

Yes, this is key. Invest in learning skills that are useful, even if not directly required for your PhD (e.g., try to learn about good programming practices, rather than terrible research code). Likewise, you can try to avoid projects that are not relevant to industry -- but it may be hard for you to judge which these are; most people underestimate the extent to which "theoretical" work can have real-world applications.

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    +1 on the "learn about good programming practices". Academics have a well-earned reputation for messy coding — after all, most research software will only be run a few times, total, and only on whatever systems the team personally use, with whatever specific versions of its dependencies they write it to expect. It's super-seductive to fall into that mindset, in research work, because it's all anyone expects... until you get a Real Job, and find out that code people pay for has to be maintainable and reusable, and it's expected to conform to any platform it's built on, not vice versa.
    – FeRD
    Dec 26, 2022 at 3:35
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    @FeRD Sure enough, but when it comes to good practices, sky's the limit. Setting aside time for maintenance to ensure the code is well-written and can run on any platform already takes quite a bit of time, and getting it to the industry levels of quality (high test coverage, minimizing tech debt etc.) pretty much means you have to start taking your time off research. Some things just can't be done if the funding covers about 5-20% of the team hired at the industry rates, and you can afford no people who would do just DevOps.
    – Lodinn
    Dec 26, 2022 at 4:17

No, there is no issue about pursuing a doctorate intending to work in industry. The downside is that most jobs are in academia, however.

I know quite a few researchers at top international companies who have followed that path. They are quite well known and participate in professional/academic conferences and publish. But for every one of them there are many others in academia, I suspect.

But, it is good to have a career path and to work to follow it. A doctorate gives some skill (we hope) and practice in research, but doesn't imply that the research be done in a university setting.

Beware, however, that a lot of industrial research (not all) is product focused, not knowledge focused. That might be sub-optimal if you are forced into such a career - or not. Your choice.

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    I have recently seen a post from someone on Twitter. She has like 40-50 publications 2 years after graduation from a PhD program. Still, unemployed - no postdoc position. Of course, it is discipline-specific, but it is still a bit discouraging.
    – Neuchâtel
    Dec 24, 2022 at 16:47
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    Industry and national labs hire lots of PhDs. I have difficulty finding staff candidates, albeit in fairly niche fields. The national lab I work at hires hundreds of PhDs a year.
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:04
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    "The downside is that most jobs are in academia, however." I think that you have an observation bias. How can the majority of jobs be in academia? In a steady state situation, each professor on average has only one student who becomes a professor. Dec 25, 2022 at 6:33
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    @Pikachu피카츄 Don't mistake quantity for quality. In many fields, seeing that many publications in such a short time would be taken as a bad sign. Dec 25, 2022 at 9:43
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    I agree with @Acccumulation. I'm a Ph.D. in industry and am surrounded by many Ph.D. colleagues. Without having any data to back this up, I would very strongly expect most Ph.D.s to be working in industry. But maybe I'm misunderstanding what population you are discussing. Are you saying that most jobs for Ph.D.s are in academia (I don't think so), or that most jobs in research are (where you might be correct, depending on how "research" is defined)? And even then, OP does not seem to be asking for advice against a background of wanting to do publishable research. Dec 25, 2022 at 14:02

Probably not ...

Since after all you are already accepted into the program, and it's virtually guaranteed that the list of things you need to do to graduate with a PhD does not include "find an academic job somewhere". In other words, you should be able to graduate with a PhD, as long as you are bright/motivated enough to meet the requirements.

... but your colleagues might look at you funny if you tell them you have no intention of staying in academia. Hopefully your supervisor is not one of those people.


Is it a problem if I start my PhD with no intention of being an academic after graduation?

I decided to go into the industry during my first year of PhD studies. I started to work in a large company in parallel (as a consultant/trainer) in a tangentially related field (that I knew well).

The PhD studies were wonderful, I also knew that I would switch in a few years and that allowed me to be relaxed with politics and feudal hierarchy. It really helped.

I actually did the switch in my last year (or 1.5 years before the defense), after discussing it with my thesis director who was supportive.

One thing I would very strongly advise against is to tell everyone around that you will be leaving just after the thesis. I am not saying you should lie but rather not discourage people to be around you - you may end up cooperating with some later on as I did.

So to answer your question: no, it is not a problem.

  • I have no plan of doing a PhD just to obtain a PhD as I will do it seriously with enthusiasm, but at the end of the program, I will be actively preparing for the industry job market.
    – Neuchâtel
    Dec 25, 2022 at 19:15

Not a problem. Just ask yourself why you want to do a PhD program. Personally, I found a lot of value in having some years of time to just pursue my own interests, despite me also never really seeing a continued academic path as a reasonable option. Although if you are in it for that, make sure the spot you are applying for is actually anything like that. I know a lot of people who's PhD essentially amounted to a grind along a predefined path.

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