From Industry to Teaching in Academia as a Career Choice: Is this Doable?

<p>I am working in the industry now and I may get sent back for an MBA to fully fill out my career potentials.</p>

<p>However, I'm a very excited person who loves to do research, loves to write, and LOVES to teach people about my research. Since I was young, I've always thought that I would enjoy teaching at a University.... When I'm older.</p>

<p>I don't see myself retiring ever per se, but rather teaching out my remaining days. [After reading some things I want to clarify that I am mainly interested in teaching at strong research university where I will be challenging myself and my students. I would not want to teach JUST Calc I forever without having an upper division class to really dig into as well.]</p>

<p>So how would one go about making this transition from industry to academia? Obviously I don't want to pursue a PhD at this very moment, because I want to work in the exciting startup environments for emerging technology while I'm young and able bodied. I only see myself pursuing a graduate degree after I've exhausted my possibilities in the field. </p>

<p>It it common, or even acceptable for that matter, for a person to go back to school to pursue a PdD at, say, 50? Or do I really need to buck up and put in six more years right now? (the only problem with that is while I'm chasing that gold star the industry is moving right along without me!)</p>

<p>I'm interested in a variety of scientific fields and have the background for them but I think my heart might be set on the HCI subset of Neuroscience / biomechanical engineering.</p>

<p>The guys that I know who are trying to transition form industry to academia usually teach the classes nobody else wants to teach (6p-9p) after work, and they are not really an active part of the department. </p>

<p>I say get the PhD now, go into academia and then start your own company. The industry money is ok, but you are giving up all intellecutual property rights, and you can't publish. Well actually you can, but it has to be part of a larger publication strategy to prove a point. </p>

<p>The IP is my sticking point, because even when something you do is novel, or good; you can only apply for the patent as part of a larger project. I developed two technology demonstrations for a product we were working on. They were both novel, and were both good work (confirmed from project legal team, and bosses at the time), but they weren't sexy enough to patent. Meaning, the impact of the project was not big enought to pursue IP on any part of the work. I have seen it with my own eyes, get the education. As my grandmother said: You have the rest of your life to work.</p>

<p>Yeah I've been reading about how academia vs industry handles IP in some other threads and that's another things that's worrisome to me. I'm already involved in a field where starting your own company (or multiple companies) until one takes off is the norm. </p>

<p>I just feel like A) when 50-60 gets here I'm going to want to have that PhD to teach at a University because I'm not the type to sit still and quietly live out the next 30-40 years, but B) if I do go back in at this point, I'm going to be well over 30 when I get out and get back into the field.</p>

<p>Someone reminded me recently that giving talks at conferences may fit my personality well, so I'm starting to consider that as an alternative source for the satisfaction of teaching. I guess owning my own company would fill the need I have to research and innovate. I'm just worried that I won't have access to the tools and / or credibility that's available to one with an institution backing them.</p>

<p>In STEM fields, departments will often accept a limited number of professors late into academia, but in all the cases with which I am familiar the professors in question got their PhD's relatively early and then had successful professional careers with significant research. I have not heard of anyone getting their PhD at 50 and then taking a faculty position - it is probably not impossible, but starting ANY career at 50 is very difficult!!</p>

<p>Pursuing a PhD and going for a career as a professor isn't something that you do "when you've exhausted all other possibilities." It's not exactly a kick-back and teach until you retire type of career either.</p>

<p>If you want to teach into your retirement, you can get that MBA and get your experience with start-ups and maybe adjunct teach some business courses at a nearby university. But if you are serious about wanting to teach upper-level courses at a prestigious major research university...you are going to have to commit to the PhD and the pursuit of the profession as a career, not a side project. They don't hire adjuncts to teach upper-level courses to the best and brightest students.</p>

<p>It's not rare to go back to a PhD later in life, but it is more uncommon and you will face significant age discrimination if you are trying to land a tt job.. PhD programs will look warily upon an older person because - even with years of life and industry experience - they know that this older person will face discrimination in hiring. They may be more inclined to devote their energies to a student in their 20s or 30s who is more likely to get hired by a search committee. Search committees at major universities looking for TT professors may also be biased against you. When you finish the PhD, even if you start exactly at 50, you will be in your mid- to late 50s when you finish. After 6 years of trying to get tenure, you will be in your mid-60s. A program may reason to themselves that you won't have lots of time to build yourself into a famous/prestigious professor - or even just a professor with a solid history of bringing in grants - because honestly, you're not that much younger than retirement age. (And they may not believe you when you say you don't plan to retire).</p>

<p>Now I have heard stories of folks in their late 40s and early 50s successfully completing PhDs and competing in the market - so it's not unheard of. But most of the stories I heard happened before the academic market tanked. At this point, the market is even more competitive - and sad to say, being older than ~30s is a disadvantage in the search market.</p>

<p>If you just want to teach and are willing to, you can content yourself with adjunct teaching at a CC, a regional public, a smaller state public or even a small private.</p>

<p>Stick to industry. But if you're not hurting for money then go ahead and try to apply for a PhD since that's the only way you'll get to where you "visioned" yourself. However, that essentially marks your retirement as there are so few faculty jobs you may be w/o good income for a while.</p>

<p>
[quote]
In STEM fields, departments will often accept a limited number of professors late into academia, but in all the cases with which I am familiar the professors in question got their PhD's relatively early and then had successful professional careers with significant research. I have not heard of anyone getting their PhD at 50 and then taking a faculty position - it is probably not impossible, but starting ANY career at 50 is very difficult!!

[/quote]
</p>

<p>Exactly. The late-entry profs are usually some of the best ones from industry. They usually are well-known for something.</p>

<p>If you're talking about early/mid-career entry, though, then it's been quite common for such people to have a place like IBM or Bell Labs on their resumes because those places allowed people to publish a lot and weren't always production focused like most companies. I think the bar is lower for such people because the publication record is there. Think of these people as having a well-paid postdoc.</p>

<p>My husband has worked in both academia and industry, and, although he always works hard, he works much harder in academia than he ever did in industry. In academia, your duties extend beyond research, which is your only job in industry, to include teaching, service to the university, mentorship for several different graduate students and their projects, grant proposal writing, and, in his case, more traveling to present his findings. Instead of working on one problem at a time, he works on multiple ones. Although he always wrote and published papers, even in industry, the demand for that is higher in academia. The only job he no longer has to do is fill out the paperwork/reports for patents and provide the necessary information to defend them. People who haven't experienced academia assume that it's an easy job, with just a few hours a week in the classroom and summers off. Not so. Summers are easier, of course, but most professors spend that time catching up on research/scholarship.</p>

<p>
[quote]
People who haven't experienced academia assume that it's an easy job, with just a few hours a week in the classroom and summers off. Not so. Summers are easier, of course, but most professors spend that time catching up on research/scholarship.

[/quote]
</p>

<p>(Tenured) Academia is clearly an easier job than industry because although some (tenured) academics may work comparable or even greater hours in academia than they would in industry, that's because they choose to do so. They could just as easily choose not to do so, or do the absolute bare minimum required to maintain their tenure status...and many tenured faculty (sadly) do exactly that. The department can't fire them because they have tenure. Granted, the department can assign them long teaching loads filled with courses that are unpleasant to teach, but they can simply respond by exerting minimal effort in teaching those courses, hence punishing the students as collateral damage. </p>

<p>It's not just me saying so. Here's a quote from Penn State's Don Hambrick, the former President of the Academy of Management, in his 2005 Journal of Management Inquiry commentary: </p>

<p>*...If tenure could be redecided 5 years after the initial decision, I would estimate that about 20% to 25% of professors at that point would be asked by their colleagues, not to mention by their deans, to pack their bags. I’m not talking about the natural tendency for scholars to decline in their productivity over a long career. Rather, I’m talking about a small but significant group of faculty who, once they get tenure, abruptly
behave in dysfunctional ways that weren’t foreseen beforehand.</p>

<p>...Some simply stop working as hard on their academic endeavors. Yes, qualifying for tenure at a top school like yours requires an enormous amount of effort. So I can imagine you feel drained. But your school is in the top leagues because the majority of its faculty at all levels—assistant, associate, and full professors—
work very, very hard. They engage in the
hard work of refereed scholarship, in the hard work of course development and teaching excellence, and in the hard, often thankless, work of service to their institution
and profession. Your colleagues have asked
you to exert yourself for these past 6 years partly as a test to see if you could do it for the long run. That’s what they need and expect of you. They can’t afford for you to start taking it easy. Once, a newly-tenured
colleague, steeped in the language of economics, told me—without a hint of sheepishness—that he was now going to do some “profit-taking.” He intended to enjoy the fruits of his prior hard work by greatly increasing his outside consulting and spending more time on his hobbies. Within 3 years, he was seen as a noncontributor, a bad joke, in his department and school...*</p>

<p>Nor is this sentiment particular to only management or social science academia, but regrettably seems to be a trait universal across all of academia. For example, I know one tenured computer science professor who has candidly admitted that around half of the tenured faculty in his own department aren't really doing much of anything. {He proudly declares that he belongs to the other half.} </p>

<p>Personally, I think the most pernicious aspect of minimally-productive tenured faculty is the cynicism it breeds amongst graduate students and junior faculty. When certain tenured faculty exert little effort into research, teaching, or administrative activities, junior scholars rightfully wonder why they must do so. The publication productivity of top journals in a department is ironically often times a stronger function of the percentage of junior as opposed to senior faculty in the department, as the junior faculty are all uniformly exerting great effort into research and publishing, whereas the average productivity of the senior faculty is gravely reduced by those who produce little, despite the greater research skills that the senior faculty (supposedly) possess. Many junior faculty sadly yet inevitably begin to see academia is little more than a cynical game where you publish, teach, and administer just to obtain tenure, not because you actually believe in the value of those tasks.</p>