So I'm a 3rd undergrad student in computer engineering and I'm currently on a summer internship which will end during the third week of august and immediately after which I will be starting at another position at a large software company with whom i had signed a contract before getting this internship. My current problem is that I was offered a 1 year contract and an opportunity to publish my research over the course of next year. In addition, I would have the opportunity to bring my research to market before moving on to other projects in the pipeline. However, accepting this offer would conflict with my contractual obligations with my other placement as I had effectively signed the contract last year during the first wave of placements. My question is that would it be a lot more damaging for my career if i broke my non-research contract and continue working here given the fact that I intend to go into academia later or is the ethical issue so great that this risk is not worth it?
Before making this decision, consider talking to your point-of-contact at the company you signed the contract with. They may be willing to let you out of the contract. Respectfully communicating your desires upfront may make this a non-issue.
If that doesn't work...
If they let you out of the contract, great! If not, then you'll have to consider the potential effects:
Find out what you're on the hook for if you break the contract. Were there signing perks you have already received and will need to return? Will you be barred from future employment at that company? Any other gotchas? Look over the contract terms carefully and seek input from a lawyer if necessary.
If the technology industry in your area is anything like the area I live in, a lot of people from different companies know (and have worked with) each other. There is a chance that future potential employers may find out about the broken contract while researching you as a candidate. If it does, it would certainly reflect poorly on you. However, if you don't follow through with the contract, then the company won't be on your resume, so potential future employers would likely have to have a personal connection with the company to even know what happened. Also, the negativity may be offset by the shiny publication you get to brag about.
Without knowing the terms of the contract, it's hard to say if you should or not. I tend to take a conservative approach to these kinds of things, so I would say breaking the contract is not worth it, but a reasonable person may come to the opposite conclusion. You'll have to balance the potential negative consequences with the possible upsides of research and publication opportunities and decide for yourself.