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I will talk about computer science.

Which is the difference between doing a research job in an industrial research lab (as Google, Facebook or microsoft Research) and in a university?

Looking at my field (artificial intelligence) I can see many big shots moving from university to private R&D labs, so I am wondering which are the main differences, say under the point of view:

  • Salary
  • Freedom of investigating what you actually like
  • Competition (is more difficult to get a job in a university or in a R&D lab?)
  • Stability of the job
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Salary: Private labs will 90% of the time pay more (with slight variances when comparing small companies and large university labs).

Freedom: Unfortunately freedom isn't vary high no matter where you UNTIL you become well-established. At Universities, you have to research where you can get grants and people won't give grants unless they like what you propose. Companies obviously need you to be doing research that is their best profit interest. When you get well-established some universities and companies will want you so much that they will give you the liberty to do what you want because of how successful you have proven to be. This doesn't happen very often.

Competition: They are about the same actually. A renown university like Carnegie Mellon is just as competitive as places like Apple and Google.

Stability: Typically, companies are more known to give out longer contract agreements, so even if your project fails, you are guaranteed to be moved around to other research areas. Sometimes at Universities, if the project you are working on tanks, there goes your grant and sometimes there is no where else to transfer to.

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    If you have tenure at a good university, you probably have the most stability anybody can have anywhere. (Yes, the university can fire you by eliminating your department, but if you're in CS, what are the chances of that?) However, for research positions, companies are probably somewhat better. – Peter Shor May 31 '16 at 20:44
  • Absolutely correct, though, depending on the University, the road to tenure is not always stable. – Sophie Gairo May 31 '16 at 20:46
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    Yes, the university can fire you by eliminating your department — Not necessarily! Tenured faculty at my university have tenure in the university, not just within their home department. So even when the university closes a department, tenured faculty have the option to move to a different department. – JeffE Jun 1 '16 at 11:27
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I suppose the private research labs are more driven by the research and development of their own products or features or sometimes methods.

whereas university labs are more focused on generic development of theory or sometimes applications of existing methods.

  • 1
    The question asks for a comparison in terms of salary, competition, freedom to research what you want, and/or job stability. – ff524 May 31 '16 at 1:28

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