Career Transition: From Academia to Industry and Vice Versa

By Heather Krasna

Academia offers a unique culture and lifestyle with its own pros and cons. Individuals in the field may consider switching to industry; and those in industry may long to join the mystical “Ivory Tower.” Here are some tips for making these moves work.

Academia to Industry

In this era of diminishing tenure-track positions, many people obtain doctorates, particularly in disciplines relevant to fields outside academia, and either never work in academia at all, or make a move outside academia after only a few years as a faculty member. Examples include political science professors being hired by government contractors, financial ratings agencies, and even airlines, as statistical analysts; Hal Varian, professor of Economics, who went on to become Chief Economist of Google; Elizabeth Warren, professor who became a Senator—the list goes on.

Keys to this transition include translating your research into bottom-line deliverables, and your teaching into management skills. A first step is to transition the academic CV to a resume, cutting the length and emphasizing relevant achievements rather than listing each publication. Employers want to know how you will add value to their bottom line—emphasize the dollar amounts of grants raised, groundbreaking research, and technical skills. A handful of career coaches and resume writers come with this CV-to-resume transition expertise.

Industry to Academia

It’s hard enough to move from academia to industry, but convincing a hiring committee of faculty that your “industry” experience is at the level of scholarship to be considered for a faculty position, especially if you have few publications or little teaching experience, is even harder. Another reason this transition happens less often is that jobs in higher education typically pay less than private sector jobs. Before you think lower pay equals less work, though, it’s important to have a realistic understanding of “Ivory Tower” life—many faculty work 60-80 hours per week in research, teaching, course preparation, grant writing, office hours, grading, and service.

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One Response to Career Transition: From Academia to Industry and Vice Versa

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