Can academic experts work on industry projects?


Every year, unemployment data reveals the sorry state of graduate employment. Yet, industry stalwarts continue to complain about the lack of graduate employability. It is oft repeated that PhD graduates are too academic-minded and lack the acumen to shine in the industry. Typically, whenever business executives need to find an expert, they’re more inclined towards hiring those with industry experience rather than those with academic expertise.

Businesses are always racing against time and have to deliver the goods come hell or high water. Companies wonder if an academic expert would be able to keep pace with industry demands. Will s/he honor deadlines? Will a PhD graduate be able to get that data analysis done on time for the client presentation? Can PhDs work independently given that they’re used to working under the watchful eyes of their guides?

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Many such thoughts abound employers’ minds while hiring PhD graduates. However, it’s well past due for a change in mindset. The fact remains that those pursuing PhD degrees are ones who’ve invariably done well in academics and are poised to make new discoveries in their field of study. Come to think of communication skills and preparing client pitches, every graduate student has to create several presentations every year. Just a little bit of polishing and they’re ready to get cracking on preparing crisp client presentations.

Going by the dictum, “innovate or perish,” it’s clear that innovation is the key for progress in most industries. Well, PhDs have to more often than not, think out of the box to explore various perspectives in research. Furthermore, with the number of super-specialties on the rise, demand for expertise in increasingly niche subjects too is witnessing a dramatic rise. PhDs have just the right amount of expertise to help overcome this stumbling block.

Universities the world over are increasingly focusing on improving the employability index of their graduate students to meet industry demands. With just about 3.5% science doctorates landing permanent research staff positions at universities in the UK and only about 15-20% graduates moving into tenure track positions in the US, there are a huge number of highly talented graduates waiting to prove themselves. It’s just about providing them with the right platform.

I’d like to invite comments from postdocs and PhDs on the advantages they can provide industry employers.

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Minhaj manages operations at Kolabtree

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