Should You Stay in Academia After You Graduate?

Brett Hillman from shared the following article by Brian Jenkins about making career decisions. We thought there were many useful points for ND grad students to consider.


In the world of doctoral study, stories of isolation, funding problems, and loss of focus are well documented. You put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to obtain a Ph.D. and when you finally acquire it, what should you do with it? There are the basics to help you figure out your career path, such as assessing your qualifications, needs, desires and personality, but let’s take a look at some other things to consider as you decide whether or not you should stay in academia.


You may desire a professorship, but you probably realize they’re difficult to acquire. In a book written by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, they report America produced over 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. During this timeframe there were only 16,000 new professorships. Unfortunately, factors such as budget cuts and letting Ph.D. students teach undergraduate courses reduces the number of full-time jobs.

There is also a glut of postdocs. Recently the influential Council of the University of California approved a recommendation to expand the use of lecturers “where appropriate.” Lecturers are paid less and they teach more. Professor Simmons, chairman of the Academic Senate, mentioned replacing retiring professors with full-time or part-time lecturers is a way to teach a growing number of students, even as California is decreasing funds for public universities.

Job Satisfaction

Dr. Theresa Good, a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, said, “I worked for a while before going back to graduate school. From my perspective, any job I had I could master, and I got bored within a short period of time. The benefits of an academic career to me are working on problems that I find really interesting and important and sharing my enthusiasm for them with a group of talented students. There is no other environment I would have the freedom to pursue what interests me.” Dr. Laura Steinberg, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tulane University, believes one should “Get some experience in industry and if you find you are bored at work and wish for challenges that are more intellectual than managerial, you may be a good candidate for a career in academia.”


Take a look at the median salaries of doctorate recipients in the U.S. by job type and field of study. Salaries are shown for postdocs, those employed in private industry, and those employed in academia.

The Process of Choosing a Career

Career advisors suggest you should begin thinking about a “plan B” as early as halfway through your doctorate. They also suggest getting an evaluation of yourself from friends and colleagues; ask them what they perceive are your professional strengths and weaknesses.

Michael Alvarez, Director of the Stanford School of Medicine’s career center, thinks graduate students considering leaving academia for private industry should go to at least one seminar or activity every week to explore career opportunities. He also suggests they work with a professional career counselor.

You can volunteer time at a company and get a sense of a job you’re considering or volunteer to sit on committees for professional organizations to gain insights about the industry you’re considering; you may obtain important networking connections this way. A summer internship at a company or a government agency gives you a chance to explore careers outside of academia. Attend university career symposiums and career fairs and ask a lot of questions. It’s important to talk to people inside of academia and outside of academia and ask them about the pros and cons of their jobs and if they’re happy with their careers.

In academia, people are expected to be self-starters, comfortable with self-promotion, and enjoy spending a substantial amount of time working independently. Some of the obvious downsides involve the stress of staying funded and feeling the pressure to “publish or perish.” In industry, people are expected to drive themselves but with a view toward a common objective. In general, academia provides more freedom.

Obviously, selecting a career path is a huge decision. Talk to people who have insights into academic careers and careers in industry.

Brian Jenkins writes about many different college and career topics for He has contributed content to BrainTrack’s career planning guide.

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