Warning: If you have a vested interest in what I do after I graduate (you know who you are; if you’re not sure if this applies to you, then it doesn’t) or you don’t have the stomach for the inherently impolitic nature of job-search aporia, you should probably stop reading.
As some of you know, I’ve been wrestling with some decisions over what I want to do once I graduate (in the near future, knock on wood). And I’ve had a really hard time coming to any sort of definitive conclusion. I know a lot of you also had/have the same decisions to make.
The first order decision is whether to go the route of industry or academia. I’m really interested in having the freedom and resources to work on interesting problems; I’ve fielded arguments from both sides on whether industry or academia is best able to realize this. On the one hand, industry generally has a lot of resources (be that data or computers). And some places are engaging on problems which I think are of real research interest. But in the end you have to sing for your supper, so your eye is typically always towards some product (vague though it may be).
Academia on the other hand is relatively unfettered. It is true, however, that you are subject to the whims of inconstant moons, grants, committees, etc. You’ve got to hustle and sometimes that hustle may entail compromise on the research front. Academics also might have fewer resources on average, but they’re no slouches either. On the balance, academia provides an environment in which the talismans of research, publications, are given priority. Whether these count as progress is up for debate, I suppose, but there’s no denying that there’s lots of interesting stuff in those pages.
The second order decisions are on where one should go in academia/industry. What should one look for in an academic position? In an industry position? A smart boss? A famous boss? Smart peers? Smart underlings? Other interactions with academia/industry? A secure role? A flexible role? Other? All of the above? None of the above?
Finally, while it may seem from the above discussion that options can only cause headache, I still think options are good. So what track provides the most opportunities for change in the future? I’ve heard it argued that one should just go to academia; you can always leave. On the other hand, it’s also been argued that silicon valley changes much more quickly than the lumbering giant that is academia; you should take those opportunities when they appear. If I go to academia will I wall myself off in an ivory tower? If I go to industry, will academia then shun me?
So, do you have advice/musings for me? Feel free to comment below, or email me if it’s personal. And contact me if you want to take a more specific survey about these questions =).
I did an informal poll of some people I know. They came out on the side of going into academia. Out of curiosity, I broke down the results according to whether the survey respondent was currently in academia or industry (there’s some fuzziness in how I categorized people: e.g., grad students were counted as academia). The result of this is here. As you can see, if I were to only query industry people, then industry would win out on my poll. People currently in academia on the other hand are overwhelmingly tilted towards academia. Go figure.