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I'm currently a Master's student in my final year and I want to start a Ph.D. next year. I really like doing research (one of my papers got published in a fairly reputable journal), but I more or less dislike the teaching aspect that comes with the Ph.D. title. Is there any alternative way to do research, outside of industry, and not be obligated to teach?

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    When I saw only the subject, I was going to recommend going into industry. In my experience, industry is far better than academia at recognizing that different people have different strengths, likes, and dislikes, and offering career paths to suit. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 4 '15 at 14:45
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    Yes, sure. All over the world there are research institutes whose main focus is research and where no teaching takes place. You don't specify your field of research nor your country but just to give you an example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a fairly large research institute in the US which collects researchers from different fields, e.g. physics, engineering, computer science, mathematics etc. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 4 '15 at 14:59
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    If you are exceptionally good, you could find a position in an industrial research lab or national research institute, if such things exist in your field. – Dave Clarke Apr 4 '15 at 15:00
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    Note that many "only research" positions involve work other than just research, such as proposal-writing, administration, accounting, personnel management, etc. – jakebeal Apr 4 '15 at 15:42
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    Sure. Just find a job that leaves you enough time to do research. Now if you want to get paid to do research, that's a bit harder. – JeffE Apr 5 '15 at 17:18
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Yes. There are national laboratories like the US DOE labs (Sandia, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, etc), non-profit independent labs, industrial labs, and even university labs like the one I work at. You will find that many of these kinds of labs have some sort of service mission instead of teaching, but others are purely research focused. For example, researchers in my group also support users of our supercomputers when they run into problems. There are lots of these non-academic research opportunities out there in the STEM fields. I think there are probably many less in non-technical areas.

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It depends a lot on the type of research you'd like to do. For example, suppose you're in mathematics:

  1. There are many jobs that use applied mathematics in highly directed R&D activities, where you are working in a team on some bigger project, which is not under your control unless you really rise in the ranks. Academic publications will not be a primary outcome, but applied research could be a substantial part of the job.

  2. There are a moderate number of more academic-style applied mathematics positions, for example in national labs, where you are in charge of your own activities (subject to securing funding) and write many research papers.

  3. There are only a tiny number of secure, long-term jobs where you can do whatever mathematics you would like, including pure mathematics, with no teaching responsibilities (and where doing mathematics is your primary job).

So the availability of research-focused jobs really depends on how flexible your interests are and how well they fit with other people's goals. If your work is obviously and immediately applicable to industry or government, then there's a good chance you'll be able to convince someone to pay you to do it full time. If you are doing applied work that is less immediately applicable, then it depends on the availability of funding. If you are doing highly theoretical work, then you'll have to be extraordinarily skilled or lucky.

  • Thanks! Can you give me examples of the 3rd point? – user119264 Apr 4 '15 at 17:02
  • @user119264, NSA, CIA, etc. – Bill Barth Apr 4 '15 at 17:08
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    I don't think most math jobs at NSA cover "whatever mathematics you would like, including pure mathematics". I'm thinking of IAS, a tiny number of fancy chairs in universities, a handful of jobs in large industrial or government labs, etc. I haven't worked at NSA, so maybe I'm off base, but I imagine it's typically more in category 2: an ideal fit if you want to do cryptology, but not if you are trying to prove the twin prime conjecture. (Of course if "whatever mathematics you would like" happens to coincide with what someone else wants to fund, you are in luck and don't need a special job.) – Anonymous Mathematician Apr 4 '15 at 17:35
  • I would imagine the NSA would have a very deep interest in prime number research. :-) – RoboKaren Apr 4 '15 at 19:27
  • There are the rare few jobs that are permanent research positions in mathematics, such as the theory group at Microsoft Research. However, most of these eventually vanish, so there is some lack of job security relative to a tenured position. – Zach H Apr 7 '15 at 3:01
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There are many institutes called "Academy of Sciences" all around the world. In general, being member of these, you're not obliged to teach nor to supervise students. You can still be assigned some other responsibility than teaching, but it should not be really limiting you.

As an example, this exists in France as CNRS (Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique) and in Czechia as CAS/ASCR/AVČR (The Czech Academy of Sciences).

As for France, note that getting a CNRS position is very difficult, the positions are literally couple in each branch each year. Most people in CNRS laboratories (institutes) have teaching positions at the associated universities.

  • Those CNRS professors that I interacted with on a project from my postdoc years actually had teaching responsibilities, thought they were very light. Of course those people were titled professor and supervised grad students; perhaps they have pure researchers that I didn't bump into. – dmckee Apr 5 '15 at 3:02
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    @dmckee No. Neither CR1 nor DR1 have teaching duty, but they can opt in. I know many people on these positions who do not teach at all. – yo' Apr 5 '15 at 14:10
  • Interesting. All three of the folks I knew were doing some teaching. May be connected with particle physics manpower needs. – dmckee Apr 5 '15 at 18:55
  • @dmckee: beware that many people working in CNRS units (or most commonly, mixed CNRS/university units) are in fact professors who really are employed by universities, and thus have teaching duties. But CR ("chargés de recherche") and DR ("directeurs de recherche") have no teaching obligation (be they CR/DR 1 or 2). Typically, CNRS has between 2-3 and a dozen open positions every year in a given discipline (e.g. maths, physics, biology, history, social sciences...) These position are also typically more difficult to get than assistant professorships in the same field. – Benoît Kloeckner Apr 5 '15 at 21:48
  • @BenoîtKloeckner I'm well aware of this fact. I don't mention University positions at all, do I? :) I should probably make this clear though. – yo' Apr 5 '15 at 22:09
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I've heard that the Center for Communications Research is like this, if your Ph.D. is in math. I know people who work there and quite like it. (US Government; a security clearance is required.)

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In the UK, places like the JIC,TGAC, Sainsbury Lab and IFR on the Norwich Research Park are affiliated with the University of East Anglia but are a significant distance from and have no real connection to the undergraduates therefore no teaching is expected. There are quite a lot of places like this in the UK, like CRUK and MRC as well where you are not expected to teach.

NB: You should look out for institutes funded privately or through charities as these are the ones that are more independent and less likely to have teaching commitments, if at all.

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