Interviews with data scientists on leaving academia

Many thanks to my friend Rachael Gilbert for forwarding me a link to this great set of interviews. Even though everyone in this blog post is a data scientist, I recommend giving this a read even if that’s not your chosen career path — there are a TON of observations in here that are valuable for anyone exploring non-academic careers, ranging from observations on the pace of work to what people wish they’d known earlier.

Read it here.

As a side note, this post appears on the Mode Analytics blog. Mode is a company that makes tools for data exploration, and as it so happens their SQL Tutorial is a superb interactive introduction to the query language. So if you ARE thinking about jobs in data science in analytics and don’t know SQL, check it out as a way of getting started with that very important skill.

Guest post for Beyond the Professoriate

Hey everyone! It’s been quiet over here on the blog recently but I’ve been keeping busy elsewhere, including a couple fun things with my friend and colleague Jen Polk over at Beyond the Professoriate. It’s a great organization to look at if you’re an academic who wants to start seriously thinking about non-academic careers. I joined for a roundtable discussion on data science a few weeks back, which is unfortunately paywalled, but as a follow-up to that was invited to contribute a guest blog post on some of my experiences with professional networking. Check it out here!



A quick trip back to my roots

Greetings and happy new year from Salt Lake City! I’m out here this week for a couple reasons. First and foremost, my new employer has offices in the area and I’ve got a series of meetings over the next few days. Even though I grew up just across the mountains in Colorado, I haven’t been to Salt Lake in over a decade, and so I figured I’d come out a day or two early and have a look around. That turned out to be an amazing decision, because though I didn’t realize it, this weekend has also been the conclusion of the *the* big linguistics conference of the year, the meeting of the Linguistic Society of America.

Now, as I’ve said before, I don’t really consider myself a linguist anymore despite having studied it for so long. Clearly I’m not much of one if I don’t even keep track of where the biggest events in the field take place! But I still have lots of friends from those days and I was excited to see who would be around. Then, as it turns out, my friend Anna Trester was organizing an event at the conference on careers outside of academia — just a couple hours after I landed! Anna has a great blog called Career Linguist focused on how to put linguistics training to work outside of academia, and organizes lots of in-person and online events on the topic as well. I’ve been a guest in one of her regular interview segments, and I was more than happy to crash the conference event and once again piggyback on her good work.

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I want to leave academia – what’s next?

I just ran across this _fascinating_ study into the number of jobs out there suited for Ph.D.’s, and was really struck both by its methodology and its finding that a great many “Ph.D.-shaped jobs” don’t actually advertise wanting someone with that degree! It also scores the growing demand for experts with humanities backgrounds, or in fields that aren’t primarily scientific or high-tech.

Credit to Jen Polk on Twitter for sharing this link to blog I wasn’t familiar with until just now but I’d hazard a guess that there’s more good stuff worth reading in here!

The Thesis Whisperer

Good advice on how NOT to be an academic when you finish your PhD is pretty thin on the ground. Many supervisors have never done anything else, and/or are not well enough connected with industry to know what is ‘hot’. Careers centres at universities tend to shape their offerings around the huge undergraduate cohort, who have very different needs.

If you want to leave academia at the end of you PhD it’s likely you will face some kind of career transition. While we train astrophysicists, we don’t have any astrophysics companies in Australia. Nor does industry seem to recognise disciplines like anthropology. If you want to leave academia, in many cases, you have to become someone else. Professionally at least.

In fact, there’s a whole range of careers out there you have probably never heard of while you were busy writing your dissertation, but they are hard to recognise…

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How long will it take me to find a job?

Since starting to write this blog I’ve been happy to get to know other great people who also care about helping grad students and the broader academic community learn more about industry careers, and life outside of academia more generally. For me, it’s mostly a hobby and a way to stay feeling connected to that part of my life, but other folks have actually built their careers around those conversations. Jennifer Polk is one such person — she runs From PhD to Life and works as a career counselor for a range of finishing and recently-finished academics.

A couple days ago, Polk conducted a popular poll on Twitter, and the final results surprised me. I couldn’t help but put my data science hat on and try to make a bit of sense of the pattern in people’s responses.

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Talking to recruiters

It’s late summer, that special time of year when many grad students begin thinking more concretely about their professional futures as academic jobs start being posted. It’s also a good time to consider the range of opportunities that may present themselves — even if you’re committed to the academic route, it will serve you (and your future students) well to stay abreast of what some other options might look like.

I’ve had recent conversations with several colleagues, including grad students, postdocs, and faculty, who had been contacted by recruiters and decided to bite. Their interest levels vary from “pretty sure I want to leave academia” to “just curious what might be out there,” but one unifying factor is that they haven’t interviewed outside of academia before. We had some good conversations that they seemed to find helpful, so I thought I’d write up some of these thoughts for a broader audience.

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A look back at CogSci 2017

Once a year or so, I like to attend an academic conference so I can satisfy my lingering nostalgia for being part of that community. Even though I work with a lot of really intelligent people, there’s still something so stimulating about being surrounded by so many new ideas and everyone’s enthusiasm for them. Plus, since so many of my friends are still academics, attending these conferences is a great way to run into people that I know from back in the day.

This year I found myself at CogSci, an international cognitive science conference that happened to be held in London this year. I had two presentations at the conference, one as part of a workshop on bridging academia and industry, and one based on an active research collaboration that I’m still part of (which I wrote a bit about previously). I loved the pairing of these two opportunities, because the first let me approach the conference with a helpful outside perspective, while the second let me briefly re-immerse myself in the academic community. Both of the sessions went great, and I was happy to see the enthusiasm from people about connecting basic cognitive research with real-world applications. Here’s a recap of how things went.

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Slides from my talk at CogSci 2017

Great session here in London today bringing together a bunch of really impressive researchers building bridges between academia and industry. Really love the two-way emphasis of this session — it’s not just about putting your skills to work outside academia, but realizing that those new environments can actually help improve research findings and get those findings to a broader audience. Super important stuff, and happy I could tag along and share my little bit of the story.

Link to slides

Changing jobs

I’m now just about a month and a half into my new job, and starting to feel at least a little bit settled. This new position takes me well outside of my comfort zone in a few different ways, but I’m excited because I’m already learning a lot. It’s also a unique situation in that I really liked my previous job, and especially the people that I was working with, which made the decision to explore new opportunities a different experience compared to when I was on the job market in the past.

I’ve talked about two previous job changes on this blog before. The first one was a combination of deciding to change careers, and responding to dissatisfaction with my current position. The second one was in response to the company shutting its doors, and I moved over into a very similar position at another place. This time around, though, my job is a pretty big leap in a few ways. I’m still doing data science, but it’s not really for a tech company anymore and it’s simultaneously a much more technically-demanding role than I’ve held in the past. I thought I’d put together some thoughts on my recent job change while it was all still fresh in my mind.

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