Is there any research/study/survey that looked at the main reasons why academics leave academia?

I did read a few articles explaining why some particular academics left academia, but I would like to have some statistics to see what are the most common reasons invoked.

I mostly interested in the computer science field (machine learning) in the US, but curious about other fields and locations as well.

  • 2
    From what point on is someone an academic? Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 18:38
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    What counts as "leaving academia"? For example, do soft-money research positions or national labs count?
    – jakebeal
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 20:25
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    "What are the main reasons why academics leave academia?": Retirement? ;-) Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 21:40
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    I suspect the number one reason is that the offer of positions is much smaller than the demand (with some notable exceptions).
    – Cape Code
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 3:04
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    I don't understand why there are 2 'too broad' close votes while there is no real answer to my questions (the existing answers are interesting but don't give any reference). Please comment if you cast a close vote. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 13:40

3 Answers 3


I retired immediately after completing my Ph.D., but would have switched back to industry if I had continued working.

I am much, much happier and more effective doing technical work than teaching or managing. The computer industry has well-established technical tracks that allow career advancement without becoming a manager. The academic world, at least in the USA, seems to require teaching and administrative work from everyone, regardless of individual preferences and talents.


No hard stats on how often each reason occurs, but from anecdotal evidence:

Switching fields

Some people simply choose other carreers - either they're disillusioned with their research topic, or with some specific people/managers, or found a much better paying job in other domain. This is pretty much the standard set of reasons for any other jobs.

Lack of continued funding

The only academic-specific reason that I have seen - it's often hard (or subjective) to say if it's "not enough money" or "you and your research are not good enough to compete for the money", but it certainly happens - some research project ends, a new one doesn't get started (yet), then people get other jobs to feed their families, and don't come back afterwards if/when new funding arrives.


For machine learning specifically, I think a major reason is the high demand for such skills in industry (both in existing businesses, in startups/spinoffs or as consultants), which makes leaving easier compared to some other fields. This applies to other fields that are close to the market as well (for instance engineering).

Innovation and tech transfer is important for universities, so I am not entirely sure how to classify researchers that 'leave academia' to start a spin-off to valorise the IP generated during their research career. That said, many machine learning scientists take this 'exit', which can be unavailable to researchers in more fundamental fields.

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