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I would like to do a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences. I love doing research but I'm not sure that I want to become a professor and stay in academia. I would, however, like to commercialize the research I would do and start a company. I think that a PhD would provide crucial research experience, networking opportunities with smart and talented people and a platform to develop a good product. Although many universities encourage entrepreneurship these days, I'm unsure whether they expect this from graduate students as well. I was wondering whether writing this in my Statement of Purpose would hurt my chances to get into a good PhD program.

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    Depends on the job market I'd say. In physics at the moment it's very difficult to get a job and stay in academia after a PhD; there just aren't enough jobs. I think admissions committees would look favourably on applicants who have a plan B (or in your case, a plan A) if post-doctoral research falls through. Dec 6, 2016 at 16:13
  • @NatalieHogg could you write that as an answer and explain your justification?
    – user18072
    Dec 6, 2016 at 16:27
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    Doing a PhD to start a company is like pulling out all of your hair with tweezers to become a peaceful Buddhist monk. Save yourself the pain and focus on the monk-stuff. Dec 6, 2016 at 17:25

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Academia is s sort of pyramid scheme. The number of people interested in positions at the next level up greatly exceeds the number of vacancies. This is not a secret so an applicant who wants to go into industry should not be disadvantaged.

That said, whether you will be allowed to commercialize the results of your PhD research will depend on the University and group / department policies as well as the source of your funding and any conditions attached to that.

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One thing you should really consider first, is what are your rights to take the research and start a company: in most universities, whatever discovery is made there legally belongs to them. You might be named on a patent but you may not be the legal owner of any of it, or you may need to license the intellectual property from the university.

Now, in some places, they actually encourage this kind of ventures, but it's framed within the university bound; that means they may even help you start a company, but they'll want royalties or something in return.

In the end, I'd recommend you look at where your career goals will be best received, in your field of choice, rather than apply all over and interview to discover they don't encourage this type of outcome. That'd probably save you some precious time.

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As a PhD applicant myself, I don't think this will hurt you, although, as @WetlabWalter says, a PhD may not be the best route for you to take (this is a separate question in itself).

My reasoning for this answer is that in my field (physics) there are simply too many recent or soon-to-be PhDs for the number of post-doctoral research jobs. This has been a well-known problem for the past few years, as a quick Google search of the phrase "how many physics phds stay in academia" shows.

However, I would be careful with the wording of your intentions. Make sure you emphasise the skills your PhD is going to give you (as you have in your question), so that the admissions committee can tell you are not just in it for the perceived prestige, or the hope that it would lend weight to your business ideas.

Finally, I am hoping to stay in academia once I have finished my PhD, and am saying so in my personal statements. However, I fully expect to be asked about this at interview, and am prepared to discuss my alternative career plans (industry, civil service etc). If you explain yourself well at this stage too, and stay open to other possibilities, I don't think it will harm your application.

I think academics are well-aware of the post-doc drought and it's unrealistic for them to expect that everyone wants a career in academia.

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You simply need to show that you are likely to succeed in getting a PhD in the relevant field.

Universities churn out more graduates than the academic job market can absorb. They understand that many of their graduates are going to work outside academia after graduation.

Many universities actively seek people who have a knack for working on marketable products. I would therefore think that mentioning your entrepreneurial dream would be a plus -- as long as you show the requisite strengths in your field.

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