I have recently finished my PhD and am currently considering my options. I have come to the conclusion that the teaching or the "publish or perish" nature of academia isn't really appealing for me.

I have been talking to several people regarding my thoughts and I have noticed an interesting difference in opinion; senior academics have been stressing the value of doing a post-doc before a potential move to industry, whereas industry contacts say that it's much better/easier to do the move to industry within two years from dissertation. I inquired further asking whether or not the postdoc years would be valued by companies, and the answer was essentially that:

unless the postdoc years are immediately relevant to the applied job, it wouldn't really give any seniority, as companies want to nurture their own culture and staying in academia for "too long" might lead to certain "habits" not appreciated in corporate world.

I want to get further opinions on the matter; is doing a postdoc valued by industry in general? The field is life sciences and bioinformatics, if it makes a difference..

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    In terms of bang for the buck, on the job experience is a better salary builder than a post doc. – Scott Seidman Dec 18 '15 at 11:47
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    I'm curious why ask here rather than say The Workplace. Academics (presumably most of the userbase here) are by definition not able to do any more than wildly guess what industry values. – user4512 Dec 18 '15 at 18:05
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    Just curious: why do you assume that senior academics (who worked for industry and are also biased for cheap postdoc system) has anything reliable to say on this topic compared to your industry contacts? Also, why do you want to clarify this in an academic focused board, instead of an industry focused one? – Greg Dec 18 '15 at 20:06
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    @ChrisWhite well, the reasoning is that the folks at Workplace.SE may not be immediately familiar with a science heavy industry like the ones I'd go for, with my background. Also there are quite a few users here that have gone the corporate way at some point after their PhDs. – posdef Dec 19 '15 at 3:38
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    I guess it's what one would expect. I hope, in after all, you ended up somewhere where you are valued, regardless of your past experience, and that you're having fun with what you chose to do ;) – penelope Oct 17 at 17:05

10 Answers 10

up vote 25 down vote accepted

There certainly is no "correct" answer to this question, as it depends on two factors: (1) the company (some will see it as useful, most probably won't), and (2) the type of postdoc (with or without management tasks? project lead? PI on a small project? independent or highly dependent of a professor?).

However, at least here in Switzerland and for Computer Science, the rule of thumb is that as soon as you are 100% that you won't stay in academia, every further month spent as a postdoc is inefficient in terms of career development. Yes, some companies may count your years as postdoc as some sort of relevant leadership experience, but most won't, and even those that do will consider a similar candidate with the same number of years working in industry to be much more attractive.

There is also another angle to look at this - you are currently looking to move into industry, and you have differing opinions from people that are already working in industry and people that are not. In absence of any other information, you should probably give more weight to the information provided by the insiders.

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    +1 for "as soon as you are 100% that you won't stay in academia, every further month spent as a postdoc is inefficient". But it's not just about career development... – P.Windridge Dec 19 '15 at 19:54

Typically: no.

Sometimes it can be valued a bit (if you have learnt skills relevant for the job), but usually you would have learnt more working directly in the target industry. (Key phrase: opportunity cost.)

At some level this strikes at the heart of the question 'what is a post-doc good for'. I manage a research group at a national lab. So, I hire post-docs, and I hire staff members (physics, materials science, chemical engineering, related fields). What value proposition do I tell the new post-docs, and why do I value post-doc experience for staff hires?

For the new post-docs, the story goes something like this. You just spent 5+ years doing a PhD. In the process, you learned how to do research, and did enough of it to have a body of work suitable to receive a PhD. Congratulations! Now you get to do it again. And again. And on a short time line.

A successful post-doc will pick up a project, and have presentable/publishable results in 6 months or less. (Note that my strong preference is that the first project will not be intimately related to their dissertation work.) They will then add another project, and again be productive on the second one within 6 months or less, while continuing with the first. By 18 months they will have multiple results, over multiple projects, and be able to give a great interview talk solely on their post-doc work. So, they must show that they can get involved in something, come up to speed quickly, and have impact on multiple on-going projects. Post-docs from the group have gone on to have successful careers at national labs, industry, as well as academia coming out of my group.

For staff hires, I strongly value somebody with a post-doc background that shows this. Why? Well, guess what - over the next 30+ years you will not continue to do what you did in your PhD research. Being able to show that your PhD was not a fluke and that you have the skills and desire to keep learning new things and be productive in new areas is a great story to tell. For industrial R&D positions this has resonated quite well with the hiring managers that I've talked to (had people hired by) - it really reduces the perceived risk for the hire. Similarly, for national lab hires (internal or external) it again makes a great story - staff that can move rapidly in new directions are very valuable. If the post-doc is aiming for academia, I will make more of an attempt for the various projects to more clearly related into one 'bundle' that would be a visible area of research interest and grant funding opportunity. Still, the principle applies - you show that you truly are capable and talented.

How important is it for you? I can't say. The more applied an industrial position is, likely the less that they would value the post-doc experience, even in the hiring process. They may even devalue it since you would be too 'research-y' for them. But I would maintain that even there, being able to tell a clear story demonstrating that you have the skills to jump on to a project and be productive very quickly should be appealing to them. Now, if they will hire you directly out of grad school, than there isn't much value to the post-doc. If you want the industry job, take it. But realize that you will be expected, and should be able to talk about in the interview, your abilities to jump in to something and make it work.

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    +1 for a neat summary of how post-doc and PhD are different. – svavil Dec 20 '15 at 1:02

I think this is highly dependent on the industry and the position within the company.

I worked in small company and we provided technical solutions for heating, ventilation and solar energy in commercial buildings and homes. So, no R&D. In that environment, post doc experience doesn't give you any edge or benefit, since it is pure engineering — no science, no research.

My mother works in research lab for a pharmaceutical company. They recently hired a guy who didn't have a day in industry, but he had years of post doc experience on different projects. He had an impressive CV and he got a job. Now, instead of doing research for scientific benefit, he does same thing but for the clients who need to know if their compounds and drugs are safe etc.

If the company has any kind of R&D department, post doc experience can be a bonus. But if candidate A has 5 years of post doc, candidate B has 3 y post doc and 2 y in industry,and candidate C has 5 y in industry, candidate B is probably best for position in the R&D department since he has both scientific and industry experience. This was the logic of one hiring manager in one of the few companies here that still have R&D departments.

In some cases a post doc can even damage your chances for getting a job. My cousin had 2 y of post doc in biotechnology. He was turned down by a biotech company because he was overqualified (here, by law, if you have a PhD you need to be paid more than someone in the same position with a MSc). He removed PhD and post doc from his CV and he got a job (he re-applied for a similar position in same company).

So, the bottom line is this, the closer the job is to scientific research, the more beneficial post doc experience is.

As always, it depends.

I have seen some pharma/biotech ads that specifically request candidates with a few years of postdoc experience; these mostly seem to come from the larger companies. I suspect you might have a hard time even getting through the HR screening without the word "postdoc" somewhere on your resume.

For the vast majority of positions, a postdoc probably isn't valuable per se. You'd be better off working in your target job--if you could land it. However, if you're not competitive for it that job, a postdoc would let you develop both technical (lab techniques, coding, etc.) and "soft" skills (proposal writing, managing) that would be beneficial when you reapply.

I've heard that some companies do look askance at candidates with lots of postdoctoral experience, particularly ones making an abrupt change in fields (e.g., biology to finance). This is supposedly motivated by concerns that you might have been terrible at your initial field or that you're going to be "stuck" in a academic mindset.

“Valued by industry” is very vague and not really relevant to the decisions you have to make. Everything else being equal, time spent in industry will make it easier to land a job (or a more senior job, better salary, etc.) but a post-doc is better than nothing!

So if you know you want to move to industry and only care about your career, there is absolutely no point in postponing the move and specifically seeking a post-doc. But if you can't find a job (or perhaps can't find a job where you are and don't want to move right now, e.g. for family reasons), a post-doc beats being unemployed.

I personally moved to industry after a post-doc and several of the things I did during my research years (including conducting empirical studies, writing and managing EU-funded research projets) were specifically mentioned during the recruitment process and helped me land my first industry job. So a post-doc can be valued, especially for R&D positions for large companies or when your topic of research is directly relevant to the business.

I think this really depends what you have done and learned in your phd. If you want to move to consultant or finance after PHd, you really dont need to publish or learn any lab skills in your PhD. But here, if your goal is to get an industry job in a biotech or pharm and working there as a scientist or senior scientist, you need to know all your stuff you learned from your Phd and you must be able to offer your lab skills as an asset to the company. However, some Phd students may not have the types of skills that the company is looking for. In that case, you need to do a postdoc to learn more. If you have the skillsets, go for an industry job should be your choice. You dont need a postdoc.

I think that a postdoc can be useful to get some experience in a new field. Suppose you did a Phd in Differential Geometry or Theoretical Physics and that now you want to work in the financial sector. A postdoc in a finance related field may help you with the transition.

As per my personal experience, nobody can answer this question for you, but yourself. The reason is that the answer greatly relies on your research area and what you have been doing in your post-doc.

Today, in almost every post-doc interview, you might be asked about industry experience and how you can get engaged with the industry stakeholders (basically that is one way for you to make money and get your research going). So, the industry experience can be quite useful for post-doc applicants.

However, things are drastically different in the other world (industry). Industry recruiters have a very pragmatic view and only value the experience that can help you bring profit/development to the company. The profit and development in industry is usually narrowed to a company’s agenda (better products and services). As long as you can push the company towards that agenda, you are valuable. Of course, if your post-doc experience can help you, then it will be valued.

You should also consider if your post-doc experience will decrease your value in industry or not. That would put you in a really bad position. Post-doc is a different experience and may make you develop working styles that are not applealing to the industry. This is most of the time the case, even for universities who hire administration staff.

In short, if your aim is to go to industry and work for others, the sooner you do it the better. But if you are not sure, you’d better think about it carefully. Having said that, there is no dead-end for a smart researcher. You can always change your mind and switch back, but the options may not be optimal (don’t have to be, as you are not certain what is going to happen).

In life sciences and bioinformatics, more experienced you are, more employable and attractive to recruiters you will be.

EDIT:

These informations are based according to my university Alumni organisation, and department tracking of employability of their student. More suggestions what organization are responsible for tracking such a records I added in comments below

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    Thanks for the reply, although more information would greatly increase the usefulness of this answer. What are you basing your answer on? Do you have any data? If this is your opinion, what credentials do you have to back this statement up? – posdef Dec 18 '15 at 9:34
  • I am basing, unfortunately, on alumni data from my university, I think you cannot access to it since we are probably from different universites, but maybe your university have this information? Usually part of Universities (sectors) that are responsible for tracking employability of their student are these ALUMNI student organisations, or Sector for career development, or just Uni statistic department ( not as educational department, rather as working units) – SSimon Dec 18 '15 at 11:00
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    I had to vote this down. "The more experienced you are, the more attractive you are" is a truism that is true for every job. This does not even attempt to answer the core question "is a postdoc considered valuable experience"? – xLeitix Dec 18 '15 at 14:54

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