By Ilana Ostrin

Optics & Photonics News, May 9, 2017 —

Some scientists originally looking to an academic career figure out early on that academia is just not right for them, and look at other career optionsparticularly careers in industry. And, according to a recent report from the American Institute of Physics (AIP), choosing a career outside of academia can be richly rewarding.

The AIP report, published in 2015 and titled Common Careers of Physicists in the Private Sector, claims that in just one decade after graduating from doctorate programs, many physicists “have found financially solid and meaningful employment in the private sector.”

Typical PhD Physicists Salaries by Career Type, 2011 10 – 15 Years after Degree Data show middle 50% of respondents.Credit-Statistical Research Center (SRC)/AIP

Government contractors, in particular, enjoyed the flexibility of their roles and “appreciated the variety of projects they were able to pursue.” Those working in finance (often called “quants” as Debbie Berebichez explained in a previous blog post) claim particularly high salaries.

These findings are good news for the “significant portion of postdoc researchers” eyeing non-academic careers. In a 2016 study, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, and Cornell University, USA, interviewed nearly 6,000 doctoral students across a broad range of academic fields. Of those interviewed, 33 percent held a greater interest in careers outside of academia. Of this group, many were interested in careers with government, firms or startups, or other non-research careers. Those already in the private sector said they “identified their jobs as intellectually stimulating, challenging and rewarding.” According to the study, this was due to the constant influx of colleagues who are smart, interesting and from a wider range of backgrounds beyond the sciences.

If worried about the long-term implications of an industry career, fear not. A 2016 Science article notes that industry experience provides a unique value and can be used as a platform to enter an academic career down the line. According to the article, by taking administrative roles or exploring careers in industry-university relations, one can blend professional experiences. Location can be a boon, too; the Science article notes that “in certain regions around the world, industry experience is not only highly coveted but is a requirement for academic jobs.”