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There are a few questions about industry experience affecting academic applications (like here, here and here) but none of the answers specifically touch on the effect of both fields being completely different.

I have a year of experience in the oil and gas industry, and I have applied to MSc programs in Physics, in my area of interest. I will likely have 1.5 to 2 years of experience before starting grad school. To be clear, I did not have the necessary funds for an MSc right out of university, which is why I have had to work. The two fields are completely different, and unfortunately, my day-to-day work has very few useful skills that I can apply to my research interest.

For context, I did have research experience during my Bachelor's, a few papers, and my advisors are happy to provide strong recommendation letters. I try to keep up with the literature in my research area, but I am not working on any research at the moment. My grades are pretty good. I am not planning to ask for recommendation letters from my boss at work.

My question is, in the long term, how much does this industry experience hurt my academic applications? I do not mean just with the MSc, but also for PhD applications and beyond. Does age matter in the long term as well? I am really worried because when my advisors found out I would be working for 1 to 2 years, they were rather concerned and disappointed. I originally wanted to work only for a year, but despite being accepted into a program (luckily with a scholarship, so finances not an issue), I will have to work for another 6 months to a year due to Visa troubles, and it's making me feel it's all too late now.

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    What part of the world are we talking about?
    – cag51
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 4:25
  • I am looking at grad schools in Europe mostly. I am from South Asia.
    – justauser
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 13:03

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It's not uncommon for people to apply for PhD programmes a few years after completing their undergraduate degree. I can't imagine why it would negatively impact your application. A friend of mine worked at Walmart for a year before starting grad school. Another friend of mine worked in the oil & gas industry for a few years, did a second bachelor's degree, then went to grad school, and is starting a faculty position this fall.

It also won't have a negative impact on PhD programme applications nor anything beyond a PhD. For PhD applications, people will mostly consider what you've accomplished and the skills you've gained & developed during your MSc.

Your age won't matter, unless you started your undergrad programme well beyond finishing high school. Ideally, it wouldn't matter at all regardless. Age discrimination still does occur (even though it shouldn't), but it's not going to happen if you finish your PhD at e.g. 30 instead of 28. Some fellowships and awards for junior researchers have age cutoffs, but fortunately more and more places are determining this based on e.g. the year your PhD was awarded rather than your age.

The two fields are completely different, and unfortunately, my day-to-day work has very few useful skills that I can apply to my research interest.

Industry work in oil & gas and research work in physics aren't that different, all things considered, assuming you're working in a technical role rather than e.g. an administrative role. But either way, working as physicist involves a wide range of skills. If your day-to-day work involves e.g. any sort of data tabulation, data analysis, coding, database management, those are definitely things people do in physics research. Administrative stuff like project management and navigating bureaucracy are also involved in physics research. Are you working within a group or collaboration? Absolutely something people do in physics research.

Anyhow, at a minimum, it demonstrates you're not applying to grad school simply because you don't know what to do next.

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    at a minimum, it demonstrates you're not applying to grad school simply because you don't know what to do next. SOLID
    – Cheery
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 1:43
  • Thank you so much, this is a great answer. Also, my area of interest is close to exoplanets and I've read your dynamics paper, so it's cool to get an answer from you, considering the closeness of the fields. This is very helpful, thanks a lot! :)
    – justauser
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 13:06

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