Academia or Industry?

My name is Neesha and I’m a 5th year PhD student. This was my third trip to Grace Hopper and wow has it grown! The last time I went was in 2009. Back then (only 4 years ago), the career fair booth was a collection of tables – one table per sponsor. Now, sponsors have giant booths. Before, while crowded, the crowd was manageable. Now, there were times where I had serious thoughts that “there better not be any problems, because a crowd this big can easily cause a stampede.”

The first time I went, I was halfway through my Master’s and was going because a large contingent from our department was going. I didn’t know what to expect and mainly went hoping to have fun, make some new friends, and learn about grad school and career options. The second time I went, I had a poster and so I went hoping to maybe talk to a few people about the poster. I had also just started my PhD, so I was a lot more interested in any talks on the PhD process (which seemed, and still seems much more scary than a Masters). This time, there was a big group going again, and so while I expected to bond and make some new friends, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to actually get out of the conference.

Figure 1 – Ada’s Team at our booth.

In the end, I did bond with and make a lot of new friends (see Figure 1). However, I also ended up doing a lot more contemplating about my future than I expected to do. I wandered the career fair a couple of times looking for swag (see Figure 2), and ended up in a couple of conversations about my own future that I didn’t expect. I also attended a few sessions that related to looking for an academic job.

Figure 2 – Android army saluting Grace Hopper

I’m completely undecided as to what I want to do when I finish. And I know I need to start making some more plans. I probably have about a year, plus or minus a couple of months left for my degree. But I continue to flip back and forth between industry and academia – usually depends on what new news there is about the next terrible cut universities are getting or how few academic jobs there are.

While I’m not anymore decided than I was before I went to Grace Hopper, I do feel like there are more types of potential industry jobs out there than I was originally considering. I talked with ThoughtWorks and really liked their goal of looking for employees who can learn and spending about 20% of their time on pro bono work. I talked with EA and walked away with contact information and “to get in touch when I’m about 6 months from graduating.” The recruiter there thought, with my research, there were some definite possibilities as to job opportunities (and I had never actually really considered working for a games company before, even though that’s my research area).

I also learned a lot about Liberal Arts colleges in the states. And while I’m not sure if I want to leave Canada, the talks did make me start thinking about what kind of academic job I’d like, should I get one. Do I want to focus on teaching or research or a more even split? Do I want to aim for a research university or a college? If I’m looking at a college, or even a new university that doesn’t currently have grad students, what would I continue to research and how could I potentially involve undergrads in it? Or even grads?

So many things to think about. But, I know, whether I end up in academia or industry, I hope to attend Grace Hopper again in the future.

3 thoughts on “Academia or Industry?

  1. Hey, one of the questions in the “Finding Your Dream Job” session was when you should start looking—at least for academics. The answer was more or less “when you know your defense date.” So we’ve got time.

    • I hear a lot of mixed answers to this. Some saying wait until close to your defense like you said (which isn’t a lot of time), and others saying start about a year before you expect to graduate (which is really hard to define). The possible benefit of starting early, is getting a job offer that is contingent on you graduating by x date (extra motivation to push through when you really don’t want to). Of course, this could be a negative in the extra stress it could bring.

      • Yeah, for me having another thing to panic about is counter-productive. I’m going to not think about it until I have the draft done, if not a date set. But also I’m just going to follow my supervisors’ advice on this front, because they’re awesome and I can trust it to be tuned to my situations. Not everyone has that, though.

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