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First a little bit of background.

I am a graduate student (Bachelor) who will finish the Master degree in June or July at most. I am working on my thesis at my university with a professor which I know quite well. I am getting a Master of Electronics Engineering, thus my thesis includes some practical work and I got to know a lot of people at the Information Engineering department. I think that the work they do here is great and valuable, and so is the people.

Meanwhile there's a friend of mine who works for a quite big company near my local university. They are hiring young graduates for open-ended positions and I am very likely to be hired if I do an interview. My friend was with me at the university for five years now, we did much work together and I'd love to work with him, plus he tells me that the work environment is great.

The problem is that I would love to teach. Some people think I am quite good at what I study and quite good at explaining things to people. I love the idea of spreading knowledge, helping students understand things and pretty much all what's involved in the teaching process. To achieve this I will need to apply (and hopefully win) for a PhD, that I thought I can do at my local university because of what stated in the first paragraph, and because my girlfriend is currently studying here too so moving is an option that I'd like to avoid for now.

What keeps me to just jump in the Academic world is the fact that in my country (Italy) things seems to be a little stagnant, there are great people in their forties that are still associate (or researchers!) while some old professors (very, very bad at teaching) hold more than one chair. And of course from the economic point of view there might be a gap as high as 10x between industry and academy, but happiness can't be bought of course.

My question then is: given the fact that I am sure I would love to become a professor but the road might be hard (too hard maybe) would you advise me to take a PhD (that's three years here) and at least try the academic path or leave it already and hit the job market head on? Are there many downsights in starting an industry career after a PhD?

  • A note: I hope the question is on topic here, if that's not the case please leave a comment and I'd gladly edit/remove it. Thanks. – Vladimir Cravero Feb 11 '15 at 11:42
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    I strongly recommend reconsidering moving out. Coming from Spain, I can assure you, the grass is greener on the other side. Plus, it is always good to get experience from different places. Your education has some flaws (no department is perfect), and moving out will give you a better chance of realising and correcting them. – Davidmh Feb 11 '15 at 12:02
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    PhD is a many-years commitment. If you can work for a company for some time, you can discover whether it is better or worse for (and typically you don't need to commit for many-years, so if you dislike it, you can go for PhD). – Piotr Migdal Feb 11 '15 at 16:14
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First, we have 26 questions tagged phd+industry. Nothing that is a direct duplicate, but I'd still recommend you browse through them. This question and this question appear especially relevant.

Second, it will be hard for us to really answer your question, because we simply are not in your position. Yes, staying in academia and getting tenure is hard, and most people drop out. Until you get tenure, you will work your backside off. If you really love it, you can take the risk, but be prepared for a long, hard slog.

Third, that said, a couple of specific comments. You write that you love to teach. On the one hand, that raises a bit of a red flag to me, because teaching is not necessarily the top responsibility for a professor. Publications are far more important. If you want to become a professor, you will spend a decade writing papers and doing your teaching "on the side"... because you won't be able to get tenure based on your teaching alone. You can relax the research part and concentrate on teaching after getting tenure.

I am not familiar with the system in Italy. Im Germany, there are universities of applied sciences (used to be called Fachhochschule, nowadays Hochschule). You'll apply for a professorship there if you have a Ph.D. and at least five years experience in industry. Then you will do a lot of teaching. Teaching load at Hochschulen is twice as high as at "regular" universities and very applied, and conversely, you are really not expected to do a lot of research. If something comparable exists in Italy, this may be a potential career route for you.

Then again, if you just like to teach, you could try to go into industry and get a job as a trainer. You won't need a Ph.D. for that (in fact, you'd probably be overqualified with a Ph.D.). However, note that trainers are often on the road a lot.

  • Thanks for your insight. I do know there are some related questions and I was planning to read them, I just wanted some specific advice. Thanks for pointing that out though. I am sorry I did not point out that I know research is (a big) part of the package and I like it, also if I prefer teaching. – Vladimir Cravero Feb 11 '15 at 14:15
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    Do note that there are many kinds of professor jobs, and it's not the case for all of them that publications are "far" more important than teaching. I am a tenure track assistant professor at a smaller public university in the US, and teaching is weighed more heavily in my duties than research (50 percent versus 30 percent). – Nate Eldredge Feb 11 '15 at 15:30
  • +1 for pointing out that "teaching is not necessarily the top responsibility". Same here in Canada. – user8661 Feb 12 '15 at 5:14
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There are many ways to teach besides being a university professor. You can teach in primary or secondary school, you can teach at trade schools or for associates/professional degrees, you can tutor, you can volunteer, you can get involved in educational NGOs, you can even just come hang out on Stack Exchange sites. If you aren't passionate about research, I would highly recommend one of these other routes rather than Ph.D.

Note also that industry does not preclude Ph.D.: I know many people who have done a PH.D. after some time in industry, and they often do quite well, since they usually know much better why they want one than a fresh graduate for whom it is just "the next step."

  • Thanks for your advice. Trying the industry world and then going for a PhD is definitely an option of course, thanks for suggesting it. – Vladimir Cravero Feb 11 '15 at 14:16
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I have a bachelor's in computer engineering and I currently work in software (early in my career). When I was in college I was seriously considering doing a Ph.D. and I talked to students and professors about it. I also like teaching, and I believe I do it well; I've tutored high school students and classmates.

I can't speak for your situation exactly, but for myself the main thing that deterred me was the salary difference and job availability. I wanted to have the potential to make more money, and have more options regarding the location of my job, whereas a professor can only teach in a university. (I also thought I'd enjoy both industry and academia, if that were not the case it's possible my decision would have been different.)

I had also considered going for a PhD and going into industry, but from what people told me the job market for PhD's wasn't very good, since you'd be seen as overqualified for most positions. (Though that could be wrong, but that was the impression I got from people I spoke to.)

The other thing was that I was unwilling to make a longtime commitment (5 years) to something with an uncertain outcome.

I can also say that of my best professors, many were those with industry experience (though mostly they weren't full professors). So if you want to be the best teacher you can be (from a student's perspective), I'd say industry experience can help.

Good luck!

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I have a PhD and so feel that I can give you some pointed advice. Finishing your degree is all about your professor and publications to some extent. It is not a giving that you are going to finish. If you really love teaching, then doing a Phd and then teaching at a liberal arts college or non R1 universities might be a good option. Just know that the PhD road is not going to be easy if you don't like research, plus you are going to lose out on income. On the other hand, if you finish and are able to secure a teaching job, you get to be your own boss and not work during the summer if you choose to.

  • I can't speak for other countries, but at least here in the U.S., it's very unusual for a liberal arts college to have an engineering program. – reirab Feb 12 '15 at 2:19
  • @reirab Harvey Mudd is considered both a liberal arts college and has an excellent engineering program, and has for many years. There are many others in the US. – Peter K. Jun 29 '18 at 8:13
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You make assumptions about your choice where I see a danger of misjudgement of external peoples decision. You can get knowledge about if your judgement is true without doing a true decision. I talk about the assumption, that the industry interview is most likely a walk trough, while a potential project is more likely to be rejected. Get in closer contact instead with both sides, e.g. look actively for open research positions in your town and if not there make sharp first contact to good chairs at this university. Do the same with the company. You never get a immediate reply after you write an application, there is always time to write another one or two applications. You might meet a professor and might get invited for an interview in the company. It is your right in this case to go to both sides. See what they offer. In interviews you always learn so much anyway. It is also a good psychological effect that during an interview you have somehow present that there is a second option coming next days. Less pressure and you will perform better. I personally also do not consider it wise to assume you have a close to garateed positive feedback.

You might also be able to teach people in a company. You will start there as a youngster, but you will get experience in your company and start sharing it to other youngsters. Dont forget about this point.

You should not be afraid of negative side effects on your later life. If you join industry after a phd you should be able to ask for higher sallery. Phd first year sallery benefits are in general higher than master first year salleries. In your field though there might be not a plus over a fourth year master sallery, but it averages out somehow.

You might have better choices to enter RD company parts with a phd, here it is benefitial. If you prefer non "research" part of industry, you can still reason for it in future during interviews. A PHD does not open you every door, but it also does not block you every job opportunities at master level. Your CV has to look interesting, but that does not mean linear.

In the end you will have to decide on your own, here in forum you can only ask for missing point of views. I agree that going for the professorship is the harder choice. But there will still more than a decade time to leave science if you choose for other priorities in life expectedly. I assume a phd in your field will already be considered close as possible to industry work. one of the more practical phds.

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