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Industry to Academia

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2005 1:42 pm
by Spencer Anthony-Cahill
I was asked by Dave to participate in the discussion here as my profile was posted by Sam above. Let me first clarify that I moved to a public university of 12,000 students (not a small liberal arts college), that is focused on undergraduate education (we do not offer the PhD degree). I am happy to share some of my experiences. I apologize for the rather haphazard organization of these thoughts...but I have other work to do today.

I think the advice posted here is good. TO jump from industry to a "Research I" university you will need a strong publication record. To move to a PUI (primarily undergraduate institution), you will need to convince a search committee that you are committed to quality teaching AND you can establish an externally-funded research program with undergraduate (and possibly M.S.) students.

You will need to write a thoughtful "Teaching Philosophy" statement as part of your application and that should include not only your approach to teaching but also any experience teaching you might have (e.g., mentoring a summer intern, teaching rock climbing to kids etc..). If your passion for the teaching enterprise is not apparent in this statement it is unlikely you will get onto the short list. You must also give an engaging seminar should you be invited for an interview. The seminar is your opportunity to demonstrate your potential as a teacher. MOST APPLICANTS FOR ASSISTANT PROFESSOR POSITIONS HAVE LITTLE TEACHING EXPERIENCE whether they come from a postdoc, or industry. So coming from industry is not a disadvantage here. It is true that the opportunities to teach are more available at academic institutions, and some applicants who know early on that they want to teach at a PUI will volunteer to teach in order to get that experience (I would encourage those of you who are in a postdoc to consider doing will enhance your chances of getting an interview at a PUI).

My publication record was not strong coming out of a 4 year stay in biotech (one pub); however, I had three patents and another on the way. I was not eligible for some "starter" grants because too much time had passed between my PhD and the grant application; however, I did get small ($30-40k) grants from Research Corporation and ACS-PRF which got me going until I had enough data to apply for NIH AREA (R15) and NSF-RUI grants. The latter award was $205k for three years. So it is possible to get $ to get going in research without a strong publication record. My start-up from WWU was unimpressive ($40k) and especially so given that the instrument holdings for biophysical research were meager when I got here. I relied heavily on contacts in local biotech companies for access to protein mass spec, sequencing and CD instrumentation.

I'm not sure what else to say other than the market is good now for people wanting to make this move. A lot of faculty are reaching retirement age and we have found that we get 40-60 applicants per position rather than the 200 or so that was more typical 8-10 yrs ago. SO GO FOR IT! You won't get anywhere by rationalizing yourself out of applying. I applied for my current position 8 yrs ago and was fortunate to get an interview. I didn't expect to be attracted to a 50% pay cut (and longer work hrs...) but it worked out and I have not looked back. SOmetimes I miss getting research done fast, but c'est la vie.

If you have any specific questions feel free to contact me at I am not likely to visit this thread again, but would be happy to communicate via email on specific issues of interest to readers of this discussion.