I recently got my Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering (2015), and now I am doing a postdoc in Computer Science at a top tier university. I have a decent number of publications (>12) in respectable journals in my field, and an h-index of 5, some awards, travel grants, and so on. While I know numbers don't do justice to a person, unfortunately that's how you rate academics (which I think is part of the problem).

Despite the above, I feel increasingly lost, and not sure whether I want to pursue an academic career. I have been moving around in the world a lot, and combined with the delayed gratification of research, fixed-term contracts, intense competition, etc., I feel like I am burning out.

On the other hand, transitioning to industry scares me, since I have been dwelling in university laboratories for the past 10 years of my life. What if I don't like it there and want to come back? With the "publish or perish" attitude, after a few years of not publishing the doors of academia would be shut for me. Or at least that's my impression.

The result of all the above is a feeling of angst and despair, and wondering whether I have been wasting my time all these years, even though the numbers say the opposite (goddamn numbers!). Taking a break from everything and pursuing some of my hobbies for a while, on the other hand, seems like a decision that could be fruitful.

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    Especially in Computer Science, going to industry doesn't always mean that you have to or will stop publishing. And about connections, it's often the case that a significant number of the people attending the top conferences/workshops are from industry. Btw, your last sentence makes your post a candidate for closing, so if I were you I'd edit my post. – 101010111100 Nov 3 '16 at 11:35
  • There are other options to your false dichotomy of academia vs industry. National labs, for example. Industrial R&D laboratories (e.g Microsoft Research). Many folks migrate between them over time, and it is not a one-way valve from academia to not-academia. – Jon Custer Nov 3 '16 at 15:18
  • When I signed my first child up for kindergarten, a mother of four gave me some great advice I've never forgotten. I explained that my child found it exhausting to be around people all day five days a week. She told me to keep him at home for a day from time to time. I said, "But how can I explain it to the school?!" She said, tell them he's having a mental health day. Well, it was great advice..... Dr Aparente is now going to prescribe you to take 2 - 4 weeks off. Work out the dates with your supervisor, so as to be considerate of him or her and your other colleagues.... – aparente001 Nov 4 '16 at 3:20
  • By the way, the way to find out if you like working in industry is ultimately to try it out. However, you could get a preliminary idea by shadowing someone for a day or two. – aparente001 Nov 4 '16 at 3:21

Sitting on two chairs in never a good idea. (If try nevertheless, you should damn well know what you are doing.) Satisfying the industy and satisfying academic curiosity is not a task for everybody. From the experience of many of my prior colleagues, if you try to do both, you are likely to fail in publishing.

Said that, going to the industry is often a one-way ticket. More often that you would like to hear.

Sorry for discouraging.

On the other hand, if you ran out of ideas in academia, you have to go to the industry.

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  • if you ran out of ideas in academia, you have to go to the industry I doubt that anyone has ever joined the industry because they lacked ideas. Very often what prevents people to join academia again is the prospect of a decrease in pay, benefits and relative freedom from politics. – Cape Code Nov 3 '16 at 13:46
  • Have you ever met someone who "ran out of ideas" and had to leave academia because of this? I can't imagine this ever happening. – Cape Code Nov 3 '16 at 14:24

When I first started my PhD, I thought as well that I would end up there and pictured myself as a future professor with lots of publications and successful academic career. But as time passed, I gradually lost my interest and started to ask myself really, what the heck am I doing here? The point is, you are not alone in this and many people feel the same. And I think you should be able to answer some questions for yourself.

First, what was the purpose of your previous research and publications? Did you do it mostly for your own joy or you were forced into a competition and wanted to be on the winners' side? In other words, what made you happier? The process of writing a paper or seeing that it is published in a high ranking journal? If you enjoy writing a paper regardless of whether it is published or not, then I would say you are on the right path. Otherwise I am afraid to say that it might be better for you to reconsider your options.

And what are you afraid of if you end up in the industry? Do you fear that you might end up doing a boring job? Then what makes a job boring? In the worst-case scenario, would it be more boring than what you are already doing? These are the questions that I think you should clearly answer for yourself, and they might be totally opinion-based.

As for myself, I ended up in the industry and totally lost my interest in the academia. Although my PI recommended me to pursue an academic job and said he would support me by all means, but I realized that this is not my thing. Now my job is not perfect, –no job is, but I like it for now. It might not be something that I would do for the rest of my life, but I think when you are out of academia, your options are far wider. If you think a job cannot fulfill your curiosity, you can always find something to do it for yourself. We are living in the internet era for God's sake.

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