First off, my field is computer science (data mining and machine learning). I have noticed/observed that many individuals who have secured tenured track faculty positions recently had, while in pursuit of their PhD, done at least one internship. Based on this observation I was wondering:

(a) Is it necessary/expected that, to be a top candidate for a tenure track faculty position, one should have at least one internship under their belt?

(b) If not necessary, to what degree does an internship positively impact the chances of getting a tenure track faculty job?

(c) Given the answerer's (your) response to (a) and (b), what is the thought process associated with observing the internship experience on a job candidate's CV (e.g., "This individual worked for company X and therefore, if this person is hired, our department will have better ties to company X.")?

-- As a quick note: I'm talking about an internship at major labs such as Yahoo!, Microsoft Research, etc.

  • "I have noticed/observed that many individuals who have secured tenured track faculty positions recently had, while in pursuit of their PhD, done at least one internship." I have noticed that many individuals who do a computer science PhD do an internship, whether they end up in a faculty position or not. It's useful to explore your options before deciding on a career path (e.g. industry vs academia). – ff524 Aug 24 '16 at 3:57
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    Good luck getting into Yahoo! Labs now. – Aaron Brick Aug 24 '16 at 4:29
  • Just adding to @ff524's comment that in computer science and the computational sciences, actually applying the (often theoretical) knowledge you've been gathering during your PhD in real-world projects can be (and most often is) an important experience, regardless of whether you plan to work in academia or industry. Also, you can improve your current skills, and learn new skills and technologies, in a good internship. All in all, internships are a great thing, and many good students choose to do at least one. It's not surprising that some of these good students later on take faculty positions. – 101010111100 Aug 24 '16 at 6:25
  • @ff524 I agree with your point but the OP wanted to know whether it's necessary. I have a personal interest in this question too. I can't wait for the answer. – Ébe Isaac Aug 24 '16 at 15:46

In my field of study (software engineering, distributed systems), industry internships are also exceedingly common. So common, in fact, that I would also assume without having ever actually checked that a majority of young tenure-track (TT) faculty in my fields also did internships during their PhD.

Yet, I would argue that what you observe is a classical case of correlation versus causation. Yes, TT jobs and internships are likely reasonably strongly correlated, because:

  • Internships are high-profile and the best PhD students (AKA those that are likely to go on to TT positions) are much more likely to get one than weaker students.
  • Internships are, at least in my field, often insanely productive for the student, leading to one or multiple papers of highest quality. Obviously, having one or more A+ papers (more) helps a lot when you are on the job market.
  • Internships establish very tight connections to one or multiple, often well-known, industrial researchers, who can write strong recommendations.
  • Another somewhat indirect advantage is that the close connection to industry experienced in an internship helps people get new ideas and grow as researchers, hence leading to better papers and research statements once they are back.

However, this is not to say that search committees value the internship itself. If you were on an internship, but you were pushed in by your advisor, there was no paper, you did not learn anything useful, and you did not make useful connections, then the internship will not meaningfully help you get a TT position. Conversely, if you never did an internship, but still have good connections to the community and have written great papers regardless, the lack of an internship should not hold you back.

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