After a PhD in Particle Physics with a decent publication count and citations, I went into industry, where I've been for the last 3 years or so.

I had several motivations for not continuing in academia at the time: some PhD burnout, being unsure of the path I wanted to follow, curiosity about the world outside academia, and other personal reasons. However, after three years in industry I feel that the intellectual freedom and challenge offered by academia is something I miss deeply, and that's ultimately worth more than the money I can make in industry. In addition, I've become more and more interested in certain topics of Pure Mathematics that I'd like to devote more time delving into.

So at the moment I am considering several (not necessarily exclusive) alternatives:

  • Keep studying in my spare time, and spend a year doing a MSci or similar once (if) I can afford to take a year or two off. Then consider a PhD from there.

  • Apply for a PhD programme in Pure Math.

  • Find a researcher or group that would be sympathetic to the situation and start a collaboration with them with views to apply for a postdoc.

  • Apply for a postdoc in my desired areas directly.

  • Apply for a postdoc in an area that's not as removed from my previous field (say, Mathematical Physics), and take it from there.

How feasible would these options (or others I haven't considered) are? How could I maximise my chances of success in this situation?

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    Another option (with MOOCs, domain-specific online fora, larger access to scientific and technical articles and other tech innovations) is to study and do independent research while holding down a job. You may find academic connections sufficient while being sure you have a retirement fund (or employment, for that matter). – Not Quite An Outsider Jul 7 '14 at 18:34
  • I personally don't find MOOCs very valuable for the topics I'm interested in, but places like Math.SE and MO are really useful, as the many video lectures available online. I'd say, in fact, that this is the point where I am right now, and which I'm considering as an alternative as well: My day job provides a decent financial stability and I can afford buying books and travelling for an occasional conference. – finitud Jul 7 '14 at 18:40
  • The downside to this path is that the available time is much less and of less quality (due to being mentally tired after a full day of work), and especially, that the learning curve is much steeper, due to less access to colleagues, classes/seminars/workshops, and some form of guidance. – finitud Jul 7 '14 at 18:41
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    If the goal is to become a full-time academic, then staying in industry is counter to that goal. If the goal is to engage in an academic environment, then it can be phrased as a resource allocation problem, and you may not need to leave industry. It may be that you can change things at work so as to be less mentally tired, and still get the benefits you desire. I agree with intellectual freedom being worth more than money, but my landlord still expects a monthly check. Unless your goals are very specific, I recommend (a lot) more exploration and tweaking before leaving your job. – Not Quite An Outsider Jul 7 '14 at 19:42
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    Also, some productive collaborations are measured as a small amount of time spread out over many weeks. Time may be an issue, but it is quality that would attract collaborators. Show you have some worthy ideas, and some collaborators will work to fit your schedule. – Not Quite An Outsider Jul 7 '14 at 19:44

One of the problems that I see is that you are going to struggle more to get subsequent postdoc positions, since some (many?) of them are limited by the number of years since you finished your -first- PhD.

  • So maybe this is an argument in favour of trying for postdocs early? – finitud Jul 9 '14 at 9:29

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