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Scared to Leave Academia

Hey everyone! If you’ve been following this blog for a while, or if you’ve ever just checked the general overview, you can see that I’ve been writing about the PhD a lot more recently. Like a lot more than normal. I don’t have any stats on it, because I can’t be bothered, but both you and I know that there’s been a significant increase (not in statistical sense) in the amount of articles on the PhD. Why? Well, as I’m entering my final year (October 2020), I need to orient myself towards to job market. You know, figure out whether I want to stay in academia or not. If I want to stay I need to seriously get some papers published… Or whether I want to leave and move into industry. In that case I need to seriously extend my network.


Now, if you’ve read my “Ponders of a PhD student” post, you know that I’m not sold on either route. And that’s not to say that I haven’t given it some thought (I have, many…) or that I’m going to abstain from either and live in Nepal as a goat (let me know if you get that reference!). I have given this plenty of thoughts, I’ve outlined the pros and cons of either sector, I have had many a conversation with myself and others about what would be a good fit for me, my 5 year plan, my 10 year plan etc. So you know, the work has been done, and somehow I feel that by this stage I should have had more clarity than when I started. But I haven’t. One of the main things keeping me from cutting the rope and just making a decision and going for it, in this case quitting academia and moving to industry, is the fact that I am scared sh*tless to leave academia. No joke.


The idea of leaving academia is scaring me for a multitude of reasons: 1. I’ve never been outside of academia… 2. My network inside academia is much bigger than outside academia (I think?) 3. Everyone constantly tells me that industry doesn’t know how to value a PhD. 4. Once you leave academia, you can’t get back in. Let’s tackle these in turn to see what’s up and help me figure out my life. If you hadn’t noticed by this stage, this blog has effectively become my diary until I figure my life out. Which is hopefully before I submit the PhD thesis in September 2021.

  1. I’ve never been outside of academia: I’m really not too sure what to do about this one. It’s just a fact. I have no industry experience. I have what it takes to get hired onto a post-doc (I think), but getting hired into industry is going to be a whole different ballgame. Moreover, I know all the flaws academia has from first hand experience. I don’t know that from industry. So what happens if I find out, through my own experience, that I dislike industry more than academia? What then?

  2. Because of point 1, I’m pretty sure I know more people within academia who would be willing to hire me (as a post-doc) than I know people in industry who would be willing/able to hire me. I don’t like this type of statistic. I’m very risk-averse.

  3. If you want to get hired in industry two things count: work experience, education and network. Yes I know that’s three things, but the latter I covered in point 2. What I’m left with is my work experience. I’ve got zilch, IF you don’t count the PhD. I think the PhD is work rather than education. Because sure as hell no one is training you for anything and you’re self-reliant throughout. But if you don’t know that, and you have no experience with this type of degree, because a PhD student will receive a degree for their 4 years of misery, how would you assess me? As someone with loads of education, and no work experience. F*ck me… You might be thinking that future employer’s perception of me is less important than my actual skillset, worth etc. but you’d be very unfortunately mistaken. Although I might be at the bottom of the pyramid in academia, at least I’m in the damn triangle. Where on earth do I sit in industry? If industry doesn’t value my PhD (accordingly) am I supposed to accept the work and wage of someone who would “only” hold an MSc? Somehow that doesn’t sit right with me. And yes that can be somewhat interpreted as arrogance, but I want those four years of intellectual blood, psychological sweat and actual physical tears to mean something!

  4. Once you’re out, you’re out. This is also something that continuously gets reinforced. People that leave academia don’t go back in. And I’m not entirely sure whether that’s by choice (some people might never want to even look back, who knows?). The issue is that I don’t know. What if I move to industry, don’t like it, and want to go back? Am I locked out? Did I betray the sacredness of the ivory tower? I don’t buy into the “there’s no way back” shenanigans. I think there’s plenty of people who have had long and lustrous careers in industry, who then ago into academia. Now it does help if you’ve been super famous in industry, to the extent where even the old socks in academia know you, but that only matters if you want to move sectors on a similar level. I am of the idea that you can always get back into academia, it might just not be on the same, or comparable, level that you were playing at in industry. There’s a reason that there’s quite a few people with decades of work experience in PhD programs. They are making the switch. I’m already doing a PhD, so I think getting a second one might be a bit much. But it can’t be impossible to get into a post-doc from industry either, right? I’m not saying easy, I’m saying it should be possible.

So that’s those four points outlined to some extent. I have answered my own fears, and have put some ducks in a row.


As I’ve written in a beautifully composed tweet too long ago to retrieve, I don’t mind experiencing fear, it’s often just a signal of change that you need to sort out, which is fine. The issue here is that there is no real “right or wrong” choice, or at least, if it turns out to be the “wrong” choice, you’ll notice years down the line. What to do? What to do? If you have any tips or advice, or would like to offer me a job from October 2021 onwards, you know where to find me!


Behavioural Science

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