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I'm going to start my PhD soon, however I don't wish to linger on in academia, as finding career stability is difficult. I wish to move on to a non-academic career post PhD, but have zero idea how to go about it. What should I be doing during my PhD and afterwards for making a smooth transition from academia to a non-academic career?

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  • Are you asking how to make a smooth transition on a personal skills level (how to be comfortable with that kind of change, and good at your new job), or how to actually get a job in the industry after a PhD ? – Kerkyra Jul 13 '17 at 8:52
  • @Kerkyra the latter: how to actually get a job in the industry after a PhD. – alannaC Jul 13 '17 at 9:38
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    most PHD programs do have university careers services to help those not going down the academic route – Neuromancer Jul 13 '17 at 9:51
  • @Neuromancer didn't know that, thanks! I'll look into it. – alannaC Jul 13 '17 at 9:52
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I left academic life after my PhD and found it very easy to adapt, but other friends of mine found it much harder. I'd suggest:

  • treat your PhD like a job. Be professional, work office hours, set (and meet) deadlines, etc. You can get a PhD by doing no work for ages and then working 100-hour weeks, I had friends who did this, but it is not a lifestyle that works well outside academia

  • actively build your network outside university! If you know what your general career aspirations are, then go to industry conferences, make contacts, find a mentor or two outside academia. Keep in touch, share your work, and ask for advice. As you get near the end of your PhD, your outside network will make finding a non-university job very easy - you'll get lots and lots of suggestions to explore.

  • use your time at university to build broader, soft skills that you use in the workplace. Many PhDs are hyper-focused specialists, that's good in the university environment but the workplace usually needs a more 'T-shaped' skillset, so focus on communication, maybe you'd want to learn project management skills or learn to code if your PhD doesn't explicitly require it already. Many possibilities. If you're organized then there's plenty of time around your core studies, so make the most of it.

Also you've got (at least) three years to go before you finish and you may find your goals changing, so stay flexible and keep thinking about what's next. Do this and you'll be miles ahead of people who do nothing but concentrate on their deep specialism, and then graduate thinking 'what now?'

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    The first point in your answer did not even occur to me, yet it's very important. Thanks! – alannaC Jul 13 '17 at 9:43
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    Great answer and I'd add one more detail to it: If your school/program allow it, look for opportunities to collaborate with your industry in your research, either through partnership or internships/placements. This is a great way to build up contacts and potentially have offers waiting for you. – abase Jul 13 '17 at 17:09
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During your PhD, you should do exactly what your advisor asks you to do and what is good for your thesis/courses etc. It is long and frustrating process (personal experience) but rewarding at the end. Do not worry about doing anything special for industry career. Lot of companies hire PhDs and looking for a job in industry with PhD is no different than looking for a job without a PhD. Although I never used a recruiter and I realize from this forum that it is common thing to do so. In any case, there will be sufficient opportunities through job boards, career fairs and personal network.

Few things you can do (which you should anyway do even if you want academic career).

  1. Publish a lot both in journals and conference. Even companies with R & D groups, prefer to screen PhD resumes based on number of publications. Conferences will help you to grow your personal network and also to understand what industry is doing and which company is working on which technology.

  2. Definitely take an internship and there are lot of opportunities. You can even consider international internship opportunity (and I can tell you there will be many)

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  • An internship during a PhD? Is that even possible? Or do you mean before/after one? – alannaC Jul 13 '17 at 9:44
  • No I mean during PhD and sure it is possible. May be 2 years into it but could be sooner as well. I did one during my PhD. Now the company I work for, hire PhD Student interns all the time. (Some travel internationally as well) – PagMax Jul 13 '17 at 9:49
  • This comment is slightly off topic but how does a supervisor take the idea of their student joining an internship? – alannaC Jul 13 '17 at 9:51
  • Ahh I see your concern. Of course Superviser has to agree and if they are paying you from their research grant, they may not want you to go out. However, you can convince them to not pay during your internship period and consider it as a break. It may just delay your PhD by few months but it's worth it. It may also be possible that your internship could be an opening towards collaborative project with industry and more grants for your advisor. Better yet, your PhD problem itself is provided by a company where you will intern. You can get creative and make it happen in several ways. – PagMax Jul 13 '17 at 9:59
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I've done that .

A few points to add

  1. Be clear about your motivations for the PhD. If you don't want to stay in academia, why do you want to do the PhD in the first place? There are some majors, where that is pretty standard (Bio, Chem, Data Science, Machine Learning, etc.) but there are others where it isn't and you have to compete against no PhD with a lot more industry experience
  2. Example: in my team (engineering, acoustics) about 20% are PhDs but there is little correlation between rank/impact/status and PhD or not.
  3. Network, network, network. Make a name for yourself. Publish. Be at conferences, be active in professional groups and societies. Post on stack exchange, host the local chapter of "my special interest group".
  4. If possible do academic work in a larger project with industry partners
  5. Get good grades

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