I am in the process of finishing a Chemical Engineering PhD at a british university that is solely based on numerical work and programming.

My thesis is finished and I set a date for delivery. I have published a paper as first author, I am in the process of finishing another one (which will probably be published quite after my thesis delivery if it is accepted), co-author of a third and I have contributed to four more. However

  • Only the second first author paper has anything to do with my main research topic
  • I believe that my main research topic does not have the potential for further meaningful development
  • There is a period in which my productivity slumped due to mental well-being issues (I had to go to university counselling and even undergo an examination) related to my personal life

I would like to continue my career in research and academia. I enjoy the intellectual freedom, even though in these years I have also seen many downsides to research and flaws in the general. I also believe that my PhD has given me numerical knowledge that is on the more advanced scale compared to several of my colleagues in the department, but that these skills are perhaps too specific and that research positions that require them tend to prefer people that have done their PhD in a more purely numerical subject.

I have not yet secured a postdoc, although I am applying for several. One problem here is that not many groups carry out the sort of work I have studied toward, and I cannot continue working with my supervisor since he has no funding available for such a position. Among the various applications I am also trying to get into another group in my department, with my supervisor consent. This postdoc would be my favorite choice (let's call this Option 1), both for the stimulating work the group carries out and because I would prefer to continue living where I am now for personal reasons (social network, community participation and so on). This is still not limiting my search for a postdoc, and I am applying for positions in the rest of the country and abroad.

The head in this other group seems to have a positive response to the possibility of joining him, however he told me that funding will only be available from the start of next year, if he manages to get it, and that it will have to be an open call, although I will be informed personally as soon as it is secured. I will be able to know this around December. Another identical call will be made 6 to 12 months after that.

So, at the same time I am applying for several jobs in quantitative finance, for which, by the recruiters responses, I seem to be at least minimally qualified since they are so strongly numerical. They also seem to be the highest quality job I can apply to and, having attended some recruiting events from Quanta companies, I think I would enjoy working in the sector.

I have read a few answers on this site reading gaps after your PhD, and understood that in most cases this is bad, so I don't want to sit on my butt and I would continue job-hunting and finishing up some secondary research.

What I am asking is

  • Would working for an year or more in a highly numerical environment hurt my chances to return to academia? Or would this be looked at positively?
  • If I received a postdoc offer that is less interesting to me than Option 1, would it be better to take it or would it be better to take up a job and wait for the second call of Option 1?
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Work in a research position rarely starts or stops cleanly at a particular time: in addition to the work one is doing right now, there are proposals to develop for the future and the ghosts of projects past to write up and work their way through the publications pipeline.

When you move around between research-linked positions, whether in academia or industry, this is generally understood, and there is at least some space to keep these subsidiary aspects of a research career in motion.

If you step out into the "normal" working world, however, this is likely to not be the case. This is doubly so in a high-intensity job, like being a quant, where you are likely to be asked to work quite a bit of overtime. Thus, the impact of taking a non-academic job is likely to extend well beyond the apparent time that you work it, as you find yourself forced to abandon opportunities that you might have been able to pursue in a job more closely connected to the research world, putting a "bubble" into your career that will take time to work out even after you rejoin the research world.

That's not to say it's the wrong choice---your preferences and circumstances may well make it a better choice---but it's important to understand this is an important reason why what are intended to be temporary periods outside of the academic/research world have a tendency to become permanent.

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