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Question

I'm wondering about people's experiences with navigating job offers while pursuing a Ph.D. How did you make the decision to stay or leave? If you left, how did you break the news? Were you satisfied with the decision you made?

Context

I'm currently in an internship, which is required as part of my program. The internship is outside of academia. I've been doing great work there, and there's already been some insinuation from management at the internship that they'd like to keep me around. Honestly, I really like the work I am doing at the internship.

In regards to the work:

  • I am working on projects where I can showcase my strengths.
  • I am working at a level where I can see lots of potential for professional growth, and I am in the midst of experiencing that growth.
  • The work I am doing is boosting the marketability of my resume by orders of magnitude above and beyond what I have, could or would get from my program.
  • I've been able to take on a leadership role with high level projects and contribute in valuable ways.
  • I think the work I am doing is meaningful and has the potential to make a difference in the world. It also has the potential to end up as a brief that sits on someone's desk, but potential exists nonetheless.

In regards to the job/employer:

  • I'm surrounded by very smart people. I'm quite sure that management thinks of me as an A-Team caliber employee, but I know that there is a lot to learn from the people I am surrounded by at the internship. Honestly, I have not felt this way in my program.
  • There is a great work life balance. Full time salaried employees can work no more than 39.5 hours a week. Anything above that is considered overtime, and employees are compensated appropriately.
  • The benefits for full-time employees are better than what many people in my field will likely have when they are employed.
  • Compensation is slightly above average, but stable with guaranteed incremental raises.
  • There's modest potential for career advancement. If I did go to work for them, how much I could advance would likely be due to the level they hired me at. Honestly, at the higher levels (i.e., the level of my current boss), there's really not a huge difference in pay as you move to other levels in the company.
  • MA/MS with experience are not compensated less than those with a PhD.

Bottom line: It is a place I could see myself putting in a decade for sure. I'd leave the job after that decade in a good position to work in a variety of other contexts.

Tension

I really don't want to piss anyone off too bad if I get an offer at this job and leave. It's never been my intention to stay in academia or even in the research firm circuit, which is still kind of academia. I've always been very clear and direct with my advisor about that point. My advisor has been fine with that, although very pointed in telling me that she/he has never worked outside of academia and all he/she really knows how to do is prepare me to be an academic... so if I want something additional from my experience in grad school I need to figure it out myself. My advisor has largely been supportive of allowing me to find my own path in graduate school, and I've been successful at finding that path and not too much wandering along the way. So, really it's a question of whether or not I owe it to my advisor to stay and forgo being paid an actual salary that I can live on, passing on a potentially great job opportunity, etc. A part of me says yes, but I'm wondering if the more mature answer is no. Everything I wanted in a job appears to be right in front of me. Would you take it?

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    The obvious response is: "You don't yet have an offer." The company/agency is currently recalibrating budgets. If they do have the money and I insinuate I want to stay then they'd make it happen. They've done this with other talented interns in the past. – bfoste01 Mar 4 '15 at 18:58
  • How far into it and how away is your PhD? – Nicole Hamilton Aug 31 '16 at 18:19
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    I ended up taking a job while finishing in my last year. Made for some fun times dissertation, but not impossible. Took the job exactly a year for defending. – bfoste01 Mar 20 '17 at 19:24
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As an advisor, I want students to be up front about what their long term goals are. If a student is not interested in an academic career, I'll take that into account when I decide to work with them. Part of that calculus is the concern that the student might jump ship part way through.

It sounds like you've been up front and honest about your intentions with your advisor at every step of the way. Your advisor will probably be disappointed, but they will not likely be surprised. I don't think you owe it to them to stay and that seems like a bad reason to stay doing something other than what you want to do with your life. Your own time is simply too valuable and your advisor should respect that.

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You lay out such clear preferences for taking the industry job that there seems to be little doubt that you should try to pursue this option. If you didn't want to stay in academia anyway, why wouldn't you try to take the kind of job that you wanted to get after getting your degree?

As a PhD advisor, I find the idea that a student might "owe me" enough to make it plausible to pass on a lucrative, stimulating career of the sort that they always wanted completely crazy. People have a tough time deciding whether they owe their spouse, their parents or their children that much. I don't see how you could possibly have accrued this much indebtedness to your thesis advisor. The more indebted you feel, the more help you can provide in ensuring a smooth transition and that he has someone else to take over your responsibilities. That's really about it. Also, you really do well in industry, maybe your contact with your former advisor will turn out to be advantageous in a way that your work for him was not. So your relationship with your advisor and your department might not even suffer at all in the long run.

The one warning I would give is that things can move much faster in the business world than academia. As you write, you certainly want to get an offer before you burn any bridges on the academic side. Even if you do, I would try to angle for taking a semester or a year off, or to leave the door to that particular academic program partially open. You don't say how long you've been doing your internship, but I assume less than a year. It is plausible to me that they think you're doing fantastically now and are willing to offer you a job...but that offer would be to try you out and maybe after a few months to reevaluate your future in the firm. True career security in the business world is hard to find.

But you really sound like you are finding your joy outside of academia. Above subtleties aside: when that happens, you should leave academia. You can do it: it's your life, not ours.

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