Academia vs. Industry

You are getting a graduate degree. What do you want do?

Once you've finished graduate school, you next steps will likely lead to one of the following:

  • Industry
  • Academia
  • National labs
  • Entrepreneurship

Know yourself

A good first step is to use tools such as Strengths Finder, leadership values exercises and research to better understand your strengths, weaknesses, values and motivations. Jobs in the private sector and jobs in academics can both be incredibly rewarding: intellectually, financially, and personally. Learn what matters most to you.

Explore your options

  • Conduct informational interviews
  • Review job descriptions for all types of careers

You'll begin to notice that certain strengths work well in different career paths. Discuss your strengths/weaknesses and how they relate to careers with your career center, family/friends and/or faculty. Look for and take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by your graduate program and university.


Make a list

Every career path has pros and cons, but listing them can help you understand how those differences might play out in your life. For example:


  • Direct application of your research into the world
  • Practical, hands-on approach to real world problems
  • Immediate results and satisfaction
  • Much less overhead (i.e. no teaching, no grant writing etc.)
  • More controlled work hours
  • On average, a higher compensation package than academics


  • (near) Total freedom to choose problems you want to work on, aka no boss/manager
  • Working on long-term problems, possibly with industry-wide impact
  • Working with very bright colleagues and students, and being able to choose who you work with
  • "Flexible" work hours, flexibility when you need it, but often work during nonstandard hours
  • Teaching and having direct impact on lives of students
  • Tenure and the associated job security
  • Writing grant proposals

Ultimately it comes down to what makes you most happy as an individual. A person's happiness primarily arises from within, so the answer to this will vary from person to person.