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Is it possible to do a post-doc after a long non-academic career?

  1. Jul 25, 2014 #1
    I know I'm dealing in hypotheticals, but say I get my PhD in Nuclear Engineering, and I decide to start a business or go to work for a private company for say 5-10 years. If down the road I decided I wanted to try and become a professor, would I still be eligible for post-doc positions in order to get published and bring my knowledge of current literature up to date?

    Because as I am looking at it right now, it seems like if a person wants any chance of becoming a tenure track professor, the only time they are going to be able to try and take that chance is directly after their PhD when their publications are fresh and they are knowledgeable about current literature so they can be hired for post-docs. If there is any gap, even a few years, you could be basically rendered obsolete and all the work you put into your PhD would no longer be applicable in the academic world, although maybe you could find a job in industry. Sooo my question is basically, if you don't try to go down the road of getting the tenure track directly after finishing your PhD, will you lose the chance to become a professor forever?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2014 #2
    Pretty much yes, at least in the research professorship sense. Getting very low paid adjunct teaching positions is relatively easy.

    The model of the academic job market you should have is many, many applicants for few jobs. This means that employers aren't going to gamble on a stale CV when there are ten fresh ones applying for the job.
  4. Jul 25, 2014 #3
    So I guess my dream of getting my PhD, then becoming the next mark zuckerberg and then retiring as a happy professor is over.
  5. Jul 25, 2014 #4


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    If you became the next Mark Zuckerberg you'd have enough money to fund a "chair" for yourself at your university of choice.

    For what it's worth, though, you're asking about a generalization. Leaving academia for a few years will present obstacles to getting back in. The probability of successfully getting a post-doctoral position will generally decrease with time out of the field, but there are always situation-specific conditions to factor in. If you happen to have a project in something that becomes "hot" a few years after you finish, then you might not have that much trouble returning.
  6. Jul 30, 2014 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    No- at least not for me. I took a job after my degree and after several years came back into academia.
  7. Jul 30, 2014 #6


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    This is of course highly situation-specific. After all, someone who had finished a PhD in a quantitative field like math, theoretical computer science, or statistics (my field) could end up working for a private research lab (e.g. Google Labs, Microsoft Research) for several years, publishing research findings in these areas, and then be able to find employment fairly easily into academia, or at least with no less difficulty than someone who pursued a postdoc at an academic institution. Granted, the labour market for these types of positions will likely also consist of many applicants for few jobs as well.

    I also know that many people who specialize in biostatistics (a sub-specialty of statistics) tend to work for either teaching hospitals or pharma/biotech companies (many with large research divisions with many publications) and I could imagine the transition into academia may be relatively smooth as well.
  8. Jul 31, 2014 #7
    I once would have had that chance. Having left academia (laser physics) for business (IT security) I could have done a post-doc in applied quantum cryptography - the break was 7 years.

    So I second Statguy2000 - it may even work if your industry experience is not that research-related. I worked for Microsoft - but as a consultant not as a researcher. My industry would have been relevant though.

    But it came as a surprise to myself how much I had changed. I applied for that position feeling some nostalgic desire - but after the job interview I realized that academia has become like a foreign planet for me, and I declined after I had been offered the job.
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