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I'm toying with the idea of finishing my undergraduate degree and then entering industry for a short while. If I spent three years and earned enough, my thought is that I'd soften the burden on my parents of financing the sinewy road -- filled with costs and time -- I'm willing to take in earning a PhD. If I earned enough after three years, then I'd feel uninhibited, for example, in getting two masters, waiting another year to apply for a PhD if I were rejected the previous year from one, taking a year off to research and so forth.

Spending a few years to earn money seems good, except that during these years, it's dubious whether I can work towards making myself a stronger graduate school applicant (most importantly, by doing more research). Also, any research done as an undergraduate would, I fear, go to waste. If I returned for a masters at my undergraduate institution directly after finishing my undergraduate, by contrast, I could continue whatever I was working on as an undergraduate.

A possible remedy is to research on my own (or under a willing professor's supervision) while I work in industry? Have others tried out such plans? Are they generally advisable?


Please Note: My question is different from the suggested duplicate, because I ask about the possibility for a student (and not a PhD) to perform research on the side (after working hours) while working in a non-research role. The duplicate question resolves whether someone employed in some company's research division can also research themselves independently.

  • In theory, you can work for few years then go back to school. In practice, chances get slimmer with time (and you making more money, since more money usually equals more responsibilities). But, I wish all the best! – The Guy Apr 9 '16 at 3:05
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    "I'd soften the burden on my parents of financing the sinewy road -- filled with costs and time -- I'm willing to take in earning a PhD." It depends a bit on the field, but PhD students are generally financially self-sufficient. Certainly, you shouldn't let it deter you from applying. – Ben Webster Apr 9 '16 at 3:28
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    I'll say this more strongly than Ben Webster: Do not join a PhD program that does not give you full funding. If the PhD program wants you, they will pay for you. You parents should not need to pay a single dime toward your graduate education. – JeffE Apr 9 '16 at 22:42
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    I would strongly recommend talking about your grad school plans with one of your professors. Right now, it sounds like you are making plans based on unrealistic scenarios, which is counterproductive. Getting two master's degrees is unnecessary and not even helpful, you don't need to worry about funding at all (it's completely standard in your field; if you are one of the few people offered admission without funding, you should interpret it as rejection and not even consider taking the offer), and if you don't get in then I doubt spending a year doing self-funded research will help much. – Anonymous Mathematician Apr 10 '16 at 15:14
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It is hard to do both research and industry work especially something that is not related to your main research topic. I work as a database administrator and software developer. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I started working in industry in 2003. Fast forward to 2016. I used 3 years to finish a master and used about 9 years for a PhD. I am about to finish my PHD, but it was hard to do so.

I offer following advices. Note that these points are mostly useful for PhD. You can and most people do finish your master degree while working.

  • Try to find a company which do R&D, and try to align your thesis subject in your company's vision. This way even when you work for your company related work at least you learn something about your research.

  • Try to find a company which allows about academy work leave in its employee guide. Even you talk about your academy leave when you interview about your job, another manager may not allow it. But if company has a clearly defined policy about this, they have to allow it.

  • Be prepared to spend more time than others. Think about it. A normal PhD student in my country spend 4-6 years for PHD. In some countries, PHD does not require course work and qualification exam; thus it may took only 3 years. But this is their only job. If they spend 20 hours (reasonable for 45 hours) every week for their PHD. This means that they spend 3120( 3 years), 4160(4 years) , 5200 (5 years), 6240 (6 Years) to finish their PHD. You will not able to put 45 work hours + 20 PHD hours. You may be able to put 10 hours at best. This means that if you do not put extra effort in holidays and your leaves, you will need two times more time to finish PHD.

  • If your institution require Qualification Examination, be prepared to take leave from your job. It will be near impossible to be successful in this exam with full time work. I changed my job to part time (2 days) for 6 months for this examination.

  • Be prepared to fail. If you need industry work for your livelihood, sometimes you have to put your work ahead of your PhD. This is especially hard for normal academia people to understand.

  • Similar to above point, try to find an advisor who understands your situation that sometimes you need to put your job ahead of your PhD. My advisor is similar to me that he changed his career from industry to academy. But I saw very different attitude from others in my university. And this is from a university where I pay tuition with my own money. I had an argument with department head about this subject. He told me that I need to put my PhD first, I told him that if I could afford that I would already have done that. I know that I would have host of other difficulties with other universities. Some universities in my country does not accept working PhD student.

  • Be prepared to give up a lot of your social time for your PhD.

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