Short version: How to manage a transition from a math PhD to academic AI research with few formal accomplishments in either field?


Background I finished a pure math PhD at a prestigious program in 2021. In 2019 I did receive an offer for a postdoc in my specialty, however I turned it down to pursue tech startup ideas. Between 2019 and now I've continuously worked on several unsuccessful and totally unremarkable startups in AI/ML on a full-time basis.

In that time I've become familiar with the research landscape in AI, developed a perspective on open problems I find both interesting and approachable, and learned how to implement and test new algorithms; however I've not published or contributed to any open source projects. Additionally, because I intended to leave academia, I did not publish of any of the work that went into my PhD thesis.

What's Next I'd like to explore transitioning to academic research in AI with the intent to pursue tenure track down the line, however at this point I think my background is uncompetitive for academic positions either in math or AI. I've identified two possibilities for how to proceed given my situation:

  1. There is a chance I may be able to find a position in industry as a research scientist at a large tech company or well funded AI startup. I believe I would have a higher chance of being hired as a research scientist at a smaller AI startup, however I'm concerned here that I may not be able to publish much or otherwise develop an appropriate background to improve my chances of moving to academic research.
  2. I may be able to secure an unrelated job and in my off time pursue independent research with an intent to publish. I would aspire to establish collaborations with researchers in academia and industry.

I'm trying to figure out how to evaluate these possibilities going forward in terms of how feasible and efficacious they might be towards furthering my candidacy for academic positions. I would also love to hear any alternate ideas for how to move forward in academia.

  • The only way to know about your publishing prospects in industry is to ask directly during the interview process. Expect this to vary wildly between companies and industries.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Jan 19 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


I'm not knowledgeable enough about the field to offer real advice.

My feeling is that (1) would be better for you than (2).

Now or soon your combination of a math PhD and industry experience in ML/AI would be an attractive combination in an AI postdoc application. That could put you on track for an academic career.

  • Thanks Ethan, I’ll keep this mind!
    – user175929
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 15:15

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