I've always been uncertain about staying in academia since my PhD. Now I've been offered a PI position, which I'm considering to accept, however I would like to know if this will close me other career perspectives if I eventually decide to quit at some point, considering I'm mostly a data scientist.

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    Why would functioning as a PI close off other career opportunities? That means you would be operating as a, well, professional technical person.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 16 at 12:53
  • @JonCuster One occasionally hears people who make hiring decisions outside the university sector say things to the effect that they would never employ anyone who'd previously worked in academia, but I have no quantitative data on how prevalent that attitude is. Commented May 16 at 14:30
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    @DanielHatton - undoubtedly there are people who make unusual hiring decisions based on random biases. Partly depends on what 'working in academia' means, particularly since grad students and postdocs get paid.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 16 at 15:04
  • @JonCuster The usual argument is that people from academia have difficulty fitting into a corporate environment: in terms of respecting hierarchy and deadlines, in terms of committing to a workable solution today vs. a perfect solution some time in the future, etc. In other words, the qualities of an independent researcher, which are prized in academia, are not necessarily considered valuable in industry... But there is significant variation with the size of the company, and whether it is a production, research, sales, consulting or some other activity.
    – Roger V.
    Commented May 17 at 12:49

1 Answer 1


It depends on how you are planning transitioning to industry. There are several scenarios that come to my mind:

Jumping into the job market
Essentially, you quit or wait for the end of your contract, and start applying for positions in companies or even launch yourself as an independent researcher/consultant. What needs to be kept in mind here is that the more specific your skills are, the smaller is the demand for these specialized skills. In other words, e.g., there are plenty of positions for bachelor or masters graduates who know some machine learning, but there are a lot fewer positions for some specialized kind of method that you perfected during the PhD studies. In fact, many specialized research fields are not represented at all outside of academia, so you would have to fall back onto your bachelor/masters background, which would mean that even the years of PhD studies were largely a waste of time (in terms of the specific skills gained and age, but not in terms of experience - which matters.)

'Friend' option
Another common approach is that you know somebody already in industry, who will help you to get a job in their company by recommending you or even hiring you into their own research team. In many cases this is a peer who did studies together with you, but left academia earlier. Even if this is not the case, there are will be people around who fit this profile. This implies two things: a) your training is likely not needed for doing this job, that is falling back to bachelor/masters level; b) there may be some resentment between you and your colleagues (or even superiors) due to the disparity of education levels. Note that it goes both ways - I have heard of PhD's in industry being called "pretentious", "arrogant", etc. A human resources person once confided to me that they even don't call the candidates with PhD indicated in their CV, since these cannot fit in the dynamics of a company, although their ambitions are high.

Research labs
If you (or your group leader) are an outstanding person in the field, there is a possibility of being hired to a research lab - e.g., I have seen biology PhDs/Postdocs from a well-known group to be hired directly to a research lab of a large pharmaceutical company, which was using the same organism. This also may work, if your University has close ties to companies, which use the University as a pool of potential candidates. Also, I have also known a renowned PI moving back and forth between leading groups in government research institute and companies - this obviously involved personal connections and having a name in the field, making him the best candidate for leading a specific research direction. (It is not uncommon for companies establishing a new research activity or reorganizing to invite managers from outside, but usually it means hiring people from other companies.)

In my experience, a PhD (especially with a post-PhD later research experience) easily gets interviews for positions in research labs of such big companies (such positions are few, but not nonexistent) - it takes just a bit of preparation to pass the HR interview... but then one is usually stopped by the mismatch between the actual and required domains of experience or by a too academic an attitude (not being sufficiently pro-active, goal-oriented, etc.)

Note also that skills mean different things in academia and industry - in industry it is not what you can learn quickly, but what you can start doing right away.

Disclaimer: this is not intended as an authoritative answer, but rather as sharing personal observations about academia-industry transition.

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    "in industry it is not what you can learn quickly, but what you can start doing right away." I am not sure about this
    – toby544
    Commented May 16 at 8:45
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    @toby544 what I mean is that in academia it is relatively easy to switch to another subject, e.g., when moving from masters to PhD or from PhD to a postdoc position - what matters is having a record as a smart guy/girl, who can learn new things quickly. In industry they do not want to pay you for learning new things - they'd rather hire somebody who already knows how to do them. Though in big companies there may be less pressure to do so... while in startups they often want a single person who could fill several positions at once - a five-legged sheep as they say in France.
    – Roger V.
    Commented May 16 at 9:06

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