Post-PhD plan: Academia or Industry?

Anxiety begins to set in as you approach the end of your PhD; you begin to wonder what the future holds for you. What is the next step after spending years obtaining a PhD? You often reminisce over the struggles and challenges you faced during the PhD ranging from the tight schedule, the work-life imbalance, the days of failed experiments, the unpublished data, the rejected papers with many days of sleepless nights full of nightmares. A friend once told me that her experimental mice were chasing her in her dream. Others completely lost their mental health. All these thoughts you have as the backdrop when you ponder about whether to remain in academia, continue research and share your knowledge with the world or transition into the industrial sector in order to leverage your unique skills to develop incredible products. Nevertheless, the question lingers: what path should I tread after spending a significant period of my life doing a PhD?

Should I pursue Academia or Industry after acquiring my PhD?

If you have struggled recently with the decision of which route to pursue after your PhD, well you are not alone. This thought-provoking question is about to be answered and you might finally gain clarity about the long-lasting career battle between academia and industry.  This article will outline whether pursuing academia or industry suits you the best. But before we dive in, let’s first take a look at the duties of each career path with their pros and cons.

Academia involves continued research, paper publishing, grant applications and teaching peers and students in various fieldsIndustries require the skills acquired during PhD to help develop their products and services and mitigate their company risk
  ProsFlexible working environmentIntellectual freedomAchievement recognitionInter-lab collaboration Greater financial rewardExtensive career optionsSense of impactIntra-industry collaboration
  ConsBroad responsibilitiesLess financial compensationLimited career optionsShort contracts until tenure Limited intellectual freedomHigh octane working environmentLess recognition for accomplishments

How do I decide whether to work in Academia or Industry?

The decision to choose between academia and industry requires many factors. Keeping in mind the pros and cons of academia and industry, you also need to consider the impact of choosing either academia or industry on your ultimate lifetime goals and work mode. The implications can be broken down into 3 prominent life factors below;

Long Term Careers

Those that seek a long, stable career with significant job security may prefer academia (tenure-track system). However, PhD graduates must understand that income is unlikely to increase throughout postdocs’ positions, the salary increase comes at a later stage as you climb the ladder from postdoc to Principal Investigator. You may also need to work tirelessly for many years before securing (not always) a tenured professorial position in some institutions. 

Industry careers will have more financial compensation, making it preferred if you have goals that require more money. The fast-paced and volatile nature of the industry does not reassure those wanting job security, though. You may plan to venture into your own entrepreneurial investments after acquiring some experience and savings from the high pay in the industries. Hence, creating job openings for more graduates.

As an academic, you also have the opportunity to transition into industry at any stage of your career. Industries often offer consultancy positions to those in academia to lend out their expertise in developing strategies to optimize their products for them. Thus, you can decide to switch into industry completely or contribute to spin off companies and make decent profit out of it.

Besides working in academia or industry, there are other pathways to explore with a STEM PhD including; science communication, public outreach, program Coordinator among others. Here is an interesting article for those thinking about long term career outside academia or industry:

Mental Health

The issue of mental health is becoming prevalent in the academia. The prolific pressure in academia often stems from the “publish or perish” dogma.  Having to publish and secure competitive grants as a survival mechanism in academia weighs heavily on mental health of postdocs especially females. Find out more about pressure on postdoc researchers in this nature survey:

The industry on the hand is much laxer on prolific pressure, in many companies in Germany; you work 9 am-5 pm on weekdays.  You get paid for any extra hour(s) spent working for the company. Although the industry is also competitive, the intense working schedules may cause stress and raise mental health concerns but there is greater financial reward. The question would then be: Can wealth compensate for mental well-being? 

Life Ambitions and Fulfilment

It’s essential to understand what you want out of life with a PhD. Figure out your purpose in this life. Do you want to be a prize-winning, acclaimed scientist? Do you have life ambitions that require a lot of money to achieve?

If you’re a person that wants recognition for accomplishments as a scientist, academia may be the path for you. Should personal achievements be irrelevant, and you prefer your PhD to pull in the most money, the industry is the preferred option. 

Final thoughts between choosing Academia or Industry

Science is vast, considering its application versatility and wealth of career opportunities PhD holders can pursue. That means that there is no better path between academia or industry. Travel the road that suits your lifestyle, expectations, and life goals. The one that makes you most content is always the best choice, and that could be researching at a university or having an impact on commercial product development or better still public outreaching. This is my humble opinion about the never-ending debate among graduates as to whether to go into academia or industry after PhD. Develop your skills and passion to reach your full potential!

    Author: Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi


Woolston C. (2020). Postdocs under pressure: ‘Can I even do this anymore?’. Nature587(7835), 689–692.

Relevant posts:

The Mental Health of PhD Candidates | Max Planck PhDnet