What It Was Like Leaving Academia

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Dr. Andrew Grazyk completed his PhD in economics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2017. 

Like many recent graduates, Andrew faced difficult odds at landing the elusive tenure track job in academia. So he made a choice to change career paths entirely. 

Now, as senior data scientist at COVA strategies, Andrew applies his multifaceted experience with data and theory to create robust, flexible and holistic solutions to problems using cutting-edge machine learning and statistical techniques.

Andrew shares the biggest lessons he learned looking back on his decisions and the path he chose.

Applying to Academic Jobs is a Huge Time Investment

My background is in economics, which is actually less competitive in the sense that there are relatively numerous job postings for faculty jobs compared to many other fields.

Yet, there can be 300 to 400 applications per job. As an applicant, most of your time in the job market is spent completing applications, preparing your statements and personalizing those statements for each institution.

In addition, you need letters of recommendation. And, there’s a lot of stress about not only making the applications but also getting interviews and doing the fly-out sessions. It’s a huge time investment. I spent 8 to 20 hours a week from September to early January doing this work in my attempt to land a tenure track job.

I always like to say that being a professor is already two full-time jobs. You’ve got your teaching responsibilities and research work. Job applications just add more work on top of everything else. It’s intense.

Your Advisor Likely Has Survivorship Bias

In grad school, you’ll have an advisor, and that advisor has a set of experiences, which are likely different from your own.

Your advisor was one of the select few who landed a tenured job in academia. Depending on the time they were in the job market, the odds of getting hired may have been better.

Now, many people go into grad school rather than going to the job market, which has cascaded into more PhD students but fewer positions.

The point is that your advisor will have had a different experience, that’s survivorship bias. Even if they want to help you, they probably don’t have the experience with going into the private sector because that’s not what they did.

There Are a World of Possibilities for Careers

When you’re surrounded by people whose lifestyle is work in academia, it’s expected of you that you will follow the same path. It may not even occur to you that there are other possibilities.

That’s how The Data Incubator can help figure out how to bridge that gap and make it less scary. They helped me learn how to sell myself to non-academics. For example, I learned how to turn a CV into a resume that stands out for the private sector.

There are naturally a large number of jobs to pick from in the private sector in a variety of locations including remote work.

One positive thing that happened during the pandemic was a major influx in remote working possibilities. My company is doubling down on infrastructure for remote capabilities, and data science is sought after in the remote-working world.

Creative Collaboration Exists in the Private Sector

One of the things I really liked when I went to work at COVA strategies was collaborating with our data science team to solve problems. The collaboration never really stops. It’s a nice change of pace to know that somebody else on the team has your back and you’re all working together.

You can hear more about Andrew’s story in our Navigating Your Career Transition Out of Academia into Industry webinar!

Work-Life Balance Can Be Much Better in the Private Sector

I’ve been working at my current company for some time now. A couple of weeks in when we were hitting our first real roadblock I said, “I’ll finish this over the weekend.”

And my boss said, “no, wait until Monday, relax, you put in like 50 hours this week, you work plenty.” That won’t happen in academia.

When I was still in academia, I thought the next stage would have a better work-life balance. But in reality, it’s sort of a monotonic increase in responsibility.

I Can Bring Expertise to the Private Sector

I’m glad that on my first day at The Data Incubator, I was told I know a lot of stuff, and it may not be the same things everyone else knows.

If you’re in grad school, if you’re on the Ph.D. track, even if you haven’t gotten your Ph.D., you know things. I feel like grad school is perfectly designed to generate imposter syndrome. You are not an imposter, you’re the real deal.

The Private Sector Approaches Research Differently

One of the things that academia tends to think about is “why is a problem interesting?” It’s a good thing to think about, but your employer wants to know “what can we do with it?” In the private sector, it is about solving problems for the market rather than simply chasing curiosities.

Are You Thinking About Leaving Academia? 

At TDI, we’ve developed an ebook that outlines the process from start to finish for landing your dream data job. Keep learning about how to transition out of academia by downloading your copy of the ebook.

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