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What made you choose academia over industry?


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This is a question for those of you out there who prefer computer science over software engineering: was there one thing that made you prefer academia over industry?


This is what made me favor academic pursuits. For the last semester of my master's program, I spent 40 hours a week as a software engineer and spent my remaining time working on my thesis. That was the experience that made me realize that I preferred research. It was difficult to walk home after a full day of staring at a computer screen just to resume staring at a computer screen for another five or so hours. However, throughout all of this, I wasn't able to care much about my work projects. In contrast, research questions kept popping into my head and consuming all of my attention.


Ultimately, my preference for academia comes down to one issue. Academic projects don't need a business justification; I prefer to work on the most interesting project.




What experience made you prefer academia?

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For me, I always think Software Engineer is a job title. You got a job at companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsft etc and think that hey I loving coding and they pay me well. So you might end up with a happy life where you would spend time on  your job, doing practical work, while socializing in free time. You have more time for yourself and people that are important for you.


To me, one has to 'sacrifice' himself for academia. Research isn't similar to Software Engineering. You might work on an open problem for years without making significant progress. Some people don't like this because they think it's a waste of time, since in the end research solution might not as well be adopted in the industry. So what's the gain? You ultimately seem to contribute less while sacrificing the rest of your time on the problem.


Every professor i talked to understand this point. But what drives them is their passion for the area of study. I always think true passion draw someone into academia (because 1st you get paid much less than if you could get into industry, 2nd your solutions might not get adopted by others). Academia is like a frontier of scientific discovery. People on the frontier are usually really passionate about what they are doing, sometimes caring less about what they could do otherwise. They push the boundary of human knowledge and help generate new ideas for the discipline. For instance, many currently widely used technologies come from ideas in academia such as RAID, AFS, NFS, Openflow etc. And it's very exciting to become one of such person to contribute to human knowledge.

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I had a response but it was basically cribbed from this blog post on the same subject: "Pursuing a Ph.D. is the only way to spend 4 to 8 years being paid to work on something that the market does not directly value in the short term."


"Something that the market does not directly value" could be an unusual and fragile new idea or your own ability as an independent researcher. A PhD seems like the best way to nurture both.

Edited by pascal_barbots_wager
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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

Here's a question for you then: what made you choose industry over academia?

Nice mix of money and interesting problems. It's hard to say no to a $150k/year salary in industry while working on cutting edge problems

Edited by Icydubloon
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As somewhat of a side note, I have seen a surprisingly large number of CS professors who create startups based on their research ideas (this is particularly prevalent in my field). I have also seen people switch from industry to academia (and vice versa), so you have the freedom to try out both careers with a PhD.

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