Every academic researcher has different reasons for considering industry research, but life circumstances are a common thread. Geography and mobility often play a role, as it did for Ana P., a former anthropology professor at Cal State and San Jose State. “I wanted to be able to live in a part of the country that I chose,” she explains, “not one that was chosen for me by my job.”
For some former professors, the key motivator was that their work had started to feel mundane. Joe G. was a tenured Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering at Penn State, where he’d worked for over 16 years. He describes a yearly routine of securing funding, teaching, and mentoring students that, although enjoyable, had become routine. Ana says that her research field “was starting to go in circles.”
In addition to some of these “pushes” away from academia, there were also several pulls toward non-academic research. For Sylvia V., a former Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Chicago, it was the realization that what she loved most about being a faculty member — generating new ideas, creativity, and teamwork — she could also get in industry.
In addition, non-academic positions can offer access to data collection at scale, the potential to make an immediate impact on people’s lives, and daily opportunities to collaborate with peers who have different expertise, such as data scientists, designers, and software engineers. Our researchers also cited the additional support they hoped to unlock in non-academic careers, both personally and professionally, ranging from compensation and benefits to more abundant resources to conduct research.