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Making a Career Choice: Academia vs Industry

Making a Career Choice: Academia vs Industry

By Nishant Mohan

It is always great to have a choice, and it is always tough to make one. This holds aptly for the advanced degree holders in applied sciences and engineering. During their technical journey they all face the choice between continuing on the road of academic research or turning towards the lane of the corporate world. I have had a chance of driving on both of these paths and looking at them closely. I was most intrigued by the myths that exist regarding the differences between these two avenues. Making a good career choice certainly requires delving deeper than the word on the street and checking out the ground realities first hand.

The biggest myth regarding the academia and industry is the existence of a massive abyss between the two. The reality is that the academia and the industry are getting closer to each other over time and the process is faster than most of us think. We are all aware of the massive government budget cuts around the world. This has led to an increase in academic labs looking for research funding from their industry counterparts. On the other side, there is a growing trend in the industry to handle high-risk but scientifically crucial projects in the academic settings. In addition, there are now several public funding opportunities that require joint academic and industry proposals. This growing interaction is inevitably resulting in a merger of cultures as well. I have realized that most stereotypes about academics and industry professionals, from communication skills to lifestyles, turn out to be bogus on a closer inspection. I could go on to demonstrate that with some interesting personal experiences. The real take home message however is that there are all kinds of personalities and positions in both the academia and the industry. You have to look at each particular one to realize what suits your career and personal goals the best.

So what really is the difference between these two roads of academia and industry? The answer is their final destination. The end of goal of the academia is to create knowledge and the end goal of the industry is to make products. Academics serve their peer community by impressive research work, while industry professional serve their customers by useful products and services. Both these roads will often intersect and even overlap if needed. However, they will always lead to a different destination.

Making a choice between these two paths is making the choice between the final destinations. Pick the destination that motivates and brings the best out of you. The roads by themselves will have too many twists and turns to predict in advance. Also remember, one has to make the decisions under the constraints of the available options. In case your dream academic or industry positions are unavailable due to prevailing circumstances, don’t give up the hope. Dig deeper and you will find that you can create an ideal career path for yourself amongst the available options. I will leave the readers of this newsletter with another reading assignment. I highly recommend the career advice book by the founder of professional networking website LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, titled “The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself and Transform Your Career”.

Good Luck!