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Eleven Tips for Choosing Academia as a Career


Writer(s): Kristyn Childres

Academia as a Career PathMore and more freshly minted computer science Ph.D.s are turning to careers in industry. The Computing Research Association estimates that the number of new Ph.D.s who accept an industry position is 57 percent, while the number accepting a tenure-track faculty position in the United States is below 20 percent. 

In mid-January, Purdue CS female faculty and grad students hosted a meetup on the topic of academia as a career path. The following tips were excerpted from a panel by faculty members Simina Branzei, Sonia Fahmy, Christina Garman, Elena Grigorescu, Susanne Hambrusch, Chunyi Peng and Roopsha Samanta.

  1. In academia, you have the opportunity to follow your curiosity, researching chosen projects in areas that most intrigue you. But in industry, research freedom may be more limited by a focus on products or marketing.

  2. An academic position often offers more flexibility than an industry job, often providing a great deal of relative freedom during the summer months, as well as the ability to set your own hours.

  3. Find out if you like teaching by seeking out teaching opportunities as an undergrad or grad student. You may want to try co-teaching a class – it gives you a feel for teaching without full responsibility for the course. Remember that teaching gets easier over time. The first few years are the most difficult, but things get better as you learn from your mistakes and learn the tricks of the trade.

  4. Get used to rejection. It will happen in all areas — papers, job interviews, you name it. You have to learn that it’s not the end of the world — there will always be another opportunity in the future.

  5. Make your CV shine by giving talks at high-profile conferences and participating on conference planning committees.

  6. If you want to be in academia, then people need to know who you are. Talk to people at conferences. Even if you only know one person, that’s okay – stick with them and keep meeting new people. Remember: sometimes, people feel just as nervous as you do.

  7. If you can’t decide between industry and academia, try a post-doctoral position. The transition from being a grad student to a professor is a big one. A post-doc gives you exposure and helps you make that transition, giving you time to conduct research without all of the additional responsibilities of professorship.

  8. Apply widely to professorial jobs. Don’t judge a place before you get there — you never know what you will think of it once you arrive. Sometimes, the preconceived notion you have in your head doesn’t match up to the place once you visit.

  9. As you begin interviewing, practice your job talk in front of anyone who will listen – especially people who are outside your comfort zone. Don’t make your first interview your “practice talk.” The more you practice, the better you know your material and the more comfortable you’ll feel as a presenter. It may seem like professors talk a lot, but many of them are very shy and introverted. You learn over time how to talk to the community, to students, and to other computer scientists.

  10. Take care of your health and make sure you have good work-life balance. As you shift into a professorial role, having a routine, like regular meals and exercise, will make things easier.

  11. Strive toward being independent, and be confident in yourself. Know that you can make academic decisions on your own. If it’s wrong, you can defend it, or fix it later.

View photos from this and other events on the Purdue CS Facebook.

Resources from the CRA-W:

Academia vs. Industry: Choose Your Own Adventure

Academic Career Paths and Job Search

Academic Negotiation

Building Self-Confidence

Being an Effective Leader

Last Updated: Jan 30, 2018 5:14 PM

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