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Academia after Industry with Stat PhD

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How common is it for people to spend several years in industry after completion of a Statistics PhD before entering academia? I've heard plenty of stories of people who start out in academia after their PhD and then move into industry after a few years, but I haven't personally heard many stories of people going the other way. It seems like the vast majority of TT professors start either straight out of their PhD or after PhD + postdoc. This is all in my limited experience, so I'd be happy to hear what you all have to say about it.

I ask this because although I haven't heard back from all the schools I applied to yet, I decided to accept an offer at a lower ranking school since it seems like it's the best overall fit of what I want out of a program. I'm about 90% sure I'll end up in industry, but I've always thought it would be interesting to potentially go into academia after working in industry for a number of years. I understand that it typically requires more effort and dedication to enter academia from a lower ranking program, but how difficult is it for those in industry who haven't necessarily been actively publishing in top journals?

Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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I've seen it happen (PhD->industry->academia), but usually, the scenario was like this. The person got their PhD and decided to go work in industry. They didn't like it and discovered that they preferred academia, so they went to do a postdoc instead after 1 year out in industry. Then after the postdoc, they got a faculty position.

It's much less common for people to return to academia after a number of years. I've seen it happen but this almost always entailed taking a (non-tenure track) lecturer position somewhere, or sometimes a job at a teaching-oriented college. The reason it's harder to return after many years (for research universities anyway) is because academic hiring is based so heavily on your research output (i.e. your publication record) and the department's needs. If you've been working in industry for longer than a year, it is very difficult to keep writing papers and publishing (whereas if you've been out of your PhD for only a year, you could still have fairly recent papers from your dissertation that have been published or that you're working to get published somewhere).  It's also hard to keep up with current trends in academic research if you've been out for a very long time, and those tend to change rapidly these days. If your research area isn't at least a moderately sized area of interest to the statistics/biostatistics/machine learning research communities, then it will be hard to get hired. 

However, I suppose you could theoretically be competitive for academic positions after years spent in industry if you were in a role where you could continue publishing. Or you could also be competitive if you were to go do a postdoc after years spent in industry and used the postdoc as a springboard for getting back in into academia. I think I may have seen a couple of people do this (do a postdoc after years spent in industry). It should be noted that these people usually did Biostatistics postdocs and then went into Biostat departments. 

Edited by Stat Assistant Professor
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I've seen a few cases where it happened.

1. One guy worked at a well-known tech company in a research-type role, and part of his job was publishing and presenting papers, so he got a TT job the first year he applied. It was a so-so state school with a combined Math/Stats department that I believe offers an MS in Stats. Not exactly a "prestigious" position but it was near where him and his wife grew up, so it was a no-brainer for him.

2. Another guy worked in a run of the mill R&D data analyst type role, got hired as a department "instructor" at a local university (basically a teaching-only position, usually 1-3 year contracts), did research on his own, published a ground-breaking paper as well as a couple other solid papers in his free time, got a TT job a year or two later.

3. I've heard of at least one person going back to do a post-doc and eventually getting a tenure track job.

It's very impractical to do this. I agree with @Stat Assistant Professor that you'll need some sort of springboard to get back into academia. Keep in mind also, as an example: going from making $150k/year in an area like Chicagoland, with great benefits & 40-50 hours/week workload, to a post-doc (requiring a move) making $50k/year working 60-80 hours/week, and then getting rehired at $80k/year in a publish or perish environment (in a possibly awful location) would be an enormous financial and QOL hit, all for the possibility of tenure in 5-7 years. If you have kids, or a spouse that's unwilling or unable to move, it may be totally impossible to make this work. There's a reason why hardly anyone does this.

Edited by statsguy
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Also keep in mind that when most of this forum talks about academia, they are talking about jobs at PhD-granting institutions.  In that case, the above paths are the likely ones. I also see people do a year or two doing post-docs at Microsoft research or something similar and then becoming professors. 

But it is *very* possible to work in industry for years or even decades and get a job at a small liberal arts college or less prestigious state school. I see it all the time.

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I think it’s only possible if you go to a research position in industry. For instance Microsoft research, IBM research, google brain etc otherwise, your research will stop so there’s no way you will be competitive for R1 jobs.

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