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I have been graduated from Oxbridge, UK with a PhD in computer science. I am quite proficient in academic work with an extended list of publications in premier conferences in RL. However, I lack hacker-like coding skills and I am not super knowledgable on ML concepts outside my expertise which is RL.

I applied for a number of ML research positions (e.g. DeepMind, Amazon) and got rejected right after the first round of interviews. This made me depressed and I started thinking maybe I am not suited for Industry and should stay in Academia. Though, incomes in Academia are quite low compared to industry and this is very discouraging.

I would like to know your advice that with my skills: 1. Can I land a six figure income job? If yes, what kind of positions should I look for? If not, what should I improve? 2. I was thinking about FinTech as well. Is it a good decision for a CS PhD graduate? What kind of jobs should I look for?

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  • We cannot make your life choices for you or have a magic 8-ball to know whether you can land a six-figure job or not, this is something you have to figure out yourself. Maybe ask on academia how to transition from there to private industry? Just an idea, here i gotta VTC for the above reason. May 17, 2020 at 12:59
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    In which country (regarding taxing system and currency) should this six figure income be?
    – guest
    May 17, 2020 at 13:04
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    Also, have you heard how Amazon treats its low level worker? If you want to see how a person/company really is, look at how they treat the lowest. Be happy not to work there.
    – guest
    May 17, 2020 at 13:06
  • Oxbridge is not a University. Are you ashamed to admit which of the universities you actually graduated from? Also, six figures in which currency? May 17, 2020 at 21:44
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    @DJClayworth oxbridge is not a university, but a UK-polite way to say ox/cambo. doubt op is embarrassed to say which of the two was attended. 6 figures is presumably in gbp, given oxbridge.
    – bharal
    May 18, 2020 at 13:12

3 Answers 3

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I was in a similar spot to you - I had two years of a PhD before I left and tried to find jobs and quickly found myself in the spot of immediate rejections.

I would like to know your advice that with my skills...

This is the central problem - your skills likely don't line up with what the job market wants (outside of academia). Academia skills are meant to help you succeed in academia, and although they can provide a good base for future applied skills, you need to build the applied skills yourself. Some companies might be willing to take a chance on your potential, but most want someone who doesn't need extensive molding/don't want to take the risk that your skills won't translate to a more applied environment.

My advice would be to start getting your coding skills/applied skills in general up to par and make yourself a more attractive candidate. Having a strong theoretical background and having applied/"hacker-like" skills can make you very desirable.

And depending on your current financial situation, you may have to take a lower paying job that's not quite PhD level in order to build those up. I went to a low paying job at a non-profit and used that to springboard to a job that's along the lines of what you're looking for.

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  • Many thanks for your advice @norvia. I agree very much with "Some companies might be willing to take a chance on your potential, but most want someone who doesn't need extensive molding/don't want to take the risk that your skills won't translate to a more applied environment." especially when we are talking about big tech companies.
    – Perissiane
    May 18, 2020 at 9:07
  • "And depending on your current financial situation, you may have to take a lower paying job that's not quite PhD level in order to build those up. I went to a low paying job at a non-profit and used that to springboard to a job that's along the lines of what you're looking for." I am a bit afraid of this: a) since the company might tailor my skills towards their goal and not mine which is completely understandable from their perspective and b) after 4 years of PhD I feel very much depressed to be in the same spot that I'd be 4 or 5 years ago.
    – Perissiane
    May 18, 2020 at 9:13
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I am quite proficient in academic work with an extended list of publications in premier conferences in RL.

Doesn't make any sense to move out of academics if you have good publication. Good academic career is many times stronger than landing in Google/Microsoft/Apple job. No matter what you offer you have, you will most likely be one of the many junior research assistants.

However, being able to publish well will land you dozen of conference opportunities where you will meet with the big industry names. You will also be a world-class expert, gradually moving to something like a professor. That's hell better than going to commercial, but only if you can write papers.

  1. Can I land a six figure income job?

Of course, you could easily get it if you are really established as an expert in your field. When I say expert, I mean first-author in high impact journals (not like middle authors). ML commercial researchers read papers, six figure is easy here.

  1. I was thinking about FinTech as well. Is it a good decision for a CS PhD graduate?

You are not better than a 3-year computer science 21-year-old typical undergraduate when it comes to a commercial programming job. Your PhD is useless unless you can explore it.

Commercial research positions is not easy, unfortunately.

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    +1 for 'You are not better than a 3-year computer science 21-year-old typical undergraduate when it comes to a commercial programming job. Your PhD is useless unless you can explore it.', The OP needs to find companies where their thesis work is of interest. May 17, 2020 at 19:45
  • Thanks @PhD for your reply, very helpful. Though one bit of your advice was unclear: "Of course, you could easily get it if you are really established as an expert in your field. When I say expert, I mean first-author in high impact journals (not like middle authors). ML commercial researchers read papers, six figure is easy here." Here you mean academic positions? I know that it eventually, maybe after ten years or so, gets there but it's not comparable to commercial research positions.
    – Perissiane
    May 18, 2020 at 8:57
  • @CharlesE.Grant My dissertation is on RL which is a hot topic in ML community now. Though, the issue is that during interviews, the interviewers ask tons of questions from other fields of ML like machine vision which I am not an expert in.
    – Perissiane
    May 18, 2020 at 9:01
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you should go to the careers center, and also start talking to vcs - there are several in oxbridge. also, your college will have contacts with alumni and will happily put you in touch. alumni are an easy way to get hired.

I think your real problem is a lack of direction - but fear not. this is the point of going to a good university, in that you have access to almuni contacts who will happily guide you.

there are frequent meetups and events for oxbridge, and in london there is the club that is well worth the money to join to access the networking (although perhaps not so useful at this particular moment).

join the club, reach out to your college admin staff, and in both cases find people in a wide range of industries, present yourself as a recent PhD grad interested in applying the rigorous research and critical thinking skills you've acquired in a more practical manner.

you can really apply for anything - so you need to work out what you're passionate about. the book "what colour is your parachute" is very very good for this (skip the first half, it is the second half where it shines). you should also read around on venture capital, and apply the same ideas founders use to to vet/sell ideas to determining what you want your career path to be.

for example, "traction" by the guy who built duckduckgo. just keep in mind you're getting your brain ready to think unconventionally for jobs. don't waste your time applying via the online systems, again, you paid money to go to oxbridge, so use the connections to get a job.

oxbridge don't really train people to think commercially - ie selling yourself and putting the money value of time above all else - i think because they have such a strong reputation they've coasted on that (fairly or not!), while american universities have to be much more focussed on selling skills, so you tend to come out of them a little harder.

anyway, point is, you're oxbridge, welcome and congrats! use the network, use the network, use it some more.

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  • Many thanks for the advice. I never thought about the college and its alumni and I'd explore my college alumni list right away.
    – Perissiane
    May 18, 2020 at 8:52

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