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Entrepreneurship vs Academic Career

  1. Nov 7, 2011 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm somewhat confused about what I'm going to do next in my career. My studies are going well so far, I'm getting good grades, and I'm sure I'd be able to get a job once I get my masters (I'm a physics/math double major, by the way). However, now that I'm getting there, the question whether to PhD or not to PhD becomes relevant again.

    In a way, a PhD seems like the perfect thing to do. I like learning more, I like doing research, and while the pay is mediocre, it's not as if I have that many financial obligations anyway. Ergo, PhD.

    Yet the reason I'm doubting whether I should do this is because I'm not sure whether I'm professor-material. Sure, I like doing research and teaching et al, but I tend to lean more towards entrepreneurship. On the other hand, being an entrepreneur is no easy task, there are many risks and you can easily blow it. While this appeals to me as well, it's not a decision I would like to take lightly.

    Thus, I would like to ask you all. Have any of you ever wondered whether you should be in business when you were in an academic career, or the other way around? What do you think are the most important differences between them (besides the obvious focus on making money directly in businesses)? Do you think there are any specific character traits that would make one more likely to succeed in either business or academic pursuits?

    (On a side note, please don't mind any grammatical mistakes I might've made. Unfortunately, English isn't my first language.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2011 #2


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    Hey Hobin and welcome to the forums.

    If you want to get into the business side (not admin, but entrepreneur), you should get some exposure to the field in every area possible.

    One way you could do this is to get a job at an existing firm and then be rotated around the different departments: this will give you a good idea of the business itself and expose you to things like what the clients are like, what they look for, how you get new business (for example there might be big conferences, trade shows, and so on), as well as many other important details that are very important.

    If you do not have this kind of background, I can't think of a way that has a balance between risk and getting the information you need. You could go it on your own and learn the hard way (you will eventually have to do that), but doing it this way allows you a chance to rethink your decisions.

    The only thing I should add though is that startups are very different from established firms and you need to be aware of the differences and the risks that are involved.

    The best advantage though with a startup is that in the optimal case, stuff gets done a lot quicker, and this is the real advantage when this happens. When you have a structure where decisions need more time to be made, the startup is already doing what they need to do.

    Another thing you should note is that the average entrepreneur is in their 30's and 40's. My advice for you is to get experience, and meet people while you work for someone else.

    Also find people to share your ideas with. You don't have to tell them everything, but get feedback. Also know when to favor or ignore it: sometimes it is better to ignore it even when it comes from someone who is experienced, but sometimes it is crucial to listen because it may just save you from losing your house.

    When my parents owned small businesses they worked seven days a week. They ended up cashing in and working for someone else, but alas that experience gave me a very good idea of what its like to run a business.

    I don't know your motivations for considering running a business, but if it is for money, I would reconsider it. There are easier ways to make money than having the risk of a startup, and its probably better if you pursue those if this is your primary motivation.
  4. Nov 7, 2011 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    Just out of curiosity, why do you think professors aren't entrepreneurs? The successful ones are out marketing themselves every day.
  5. Nov 7, 2011 #4
    That shouldn't stop you. Most Ph.D.'s don't become professors. Also most physics professors that I know have some side business going. In some fields (bio-tech) having your own startup is almost a requirement to get anywhere.

    Being a professor is a great job if you want to be an entrepreneur, because it's one of the few jobs in which you won't get fired if the boss finds out that you are running a side business

    Nice job if you can get it, but you probably can't......

    You'll find that the business world and the academic world aren't very separate.
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