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Alternatives to academia

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A number of people express interest in academia as a career option because of their intense interest in a particular subject, desire to advance knowledge, intellectual curiosity, desire for intellectual stimulation, and enjoyment of the academic atmosphere. At the same time, they may have reservations about academia on account of low earnings, low social value, or other reasons. This page discusses some alternatives that people can consider to academia.

The alternatives are as follows:

  • Work at a corporate research lab. This work is fairly similar to academia, but is more focused on advances that have direct application, even if the application is a few years off.
  • Work at a think tank or nonprofit private research institute.
  • Work at a venture capital firm or consulting firm.

Work at a corporate research lab

Work at a think tank or nonprofit private research institute

Work at a venture capital or consulting firm

At first glance, venture capital firms seem quite different from academia, Academia is far removed from the real world whereas venture capital firms have to make concrete decisions about investing large sums of money based on tricky predictions about user behavior in the near term.

For people with deep interest in a specific academic subject, work at a venture capital firm would not be appropriate. However, for people who like the general activity of research and satisfying one's intellectual curiosity, and have high tolerance for ambiguity, work at a venture capital firm can meet many of those needs: people start with highly amorphous problems of predicting future trends, collect data using clever approaches, and use these to make predictions about the near term.

The advantages of consulting firms are similar. The main argument in favor of consulting firms is that the number of jobs available is a lot more than at venture capital firms. So it's a career path that's more realistic plausible to aspire to.