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So you've got a Ph.D. - Now what?
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So you've got a Ph.D. - Now what?


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A talk with a bunch of advice for planning a career after you've gotten the ph.d. Main focus is on moving from academia to a job in the private sector. Warning: Contains unfounded opinions and …

A talk with a bunch of advice for planning a career after you've gotten the ph.d. Main focus is on moving from academia to a job in the private sector. Warning: Contains unfounded opinions and hearsay.

Speakers info:
Troels Damgaard handed in his Ph.D. on programming languages based on bigraphs in December 2008. Shortly after he started working at Edlund A/S – a private company that supplies systems for the administration of insurance portfolios (life, pension, unit linked, as well as non-life). He is still there. At Edlund he currently divides his time between managing the development process for a team of skilled developers as scrummaster, developing on a wide variety of core systems and tools, and arranging talks on various software development and computer science-related topics.

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  • Edlund: A private company that supplies systems for the administration of lots of the data for insurance comp. and pension funds.Scrum: An ”agile project management methodology”. Rather than characterizing scrum, I can tell you the artefacts we use: 3-weekly sprints, a whiteboard with a notepad for each task, daily re-estimation of remaining time for tasks, team/scm/po; tries to prevent, e.g., scope-drift for tasks.
  • Transcript

    • 1. So you’ve got a Ph.D.
      Troels Damgaard (
      Edlund A/S, DK
      ITU, March 17th, 2011
      Now what?(*)
      (*) Title borrowed from presentation by Scott MacLachlan, Tufts University, 2008
    • 2. Who am I? – Career headlines
      Ph.D. from PLS group, ITU (advisor Lars Birkedal), Dec. 2008
      Dissertation: ”Developing Bigraphical Languages”
      A meta-language for DSLs for mobile and distributed systems
      Studied applications in cellular biology
      Software Developer, Edlund A/S, March 2009
      Started in ”Core” department working with
      Core modules of Edlund’s application(s), e.g., custom Database layer, custom Session-layer, configuration-layer, …
      Build tools, config- and database-setup tools, source control (Mercurial), custom bugtracker, custom semantic patcher, … (we like to roll our own)
      Scrummaster, April 2010 (aka part-time enforcer and secretary)
      Right now: Temporary department head (aka ”buried in paper and meetings”)
    • 3. What’s in this talk…And what’s not...
      What I’m going to say is
      mostly common sense
      highly influenced by my own opinions and experience
      I use my history and thoughts to exemplify my general statements
      I have tried to hedge against being too one-sided, though…
      focused on career-choices right after the Ph.D., and,
      somewhat focused on going to the private sector
      because that’s what I did, and,
      because you’re surrounded by clever people who
      know a lot about doing a career in academia, and,
      have a tendency to become role models…
      No guidelines for formalities such as CV’s, dresscode, etc.
    • 4. About the structure of this talk
      There isn’t any
      As preparation for this talk, I did some crowdsourcing
      I asked friends and acquaintances with PhDs some questions.
      I decided to (loosely) structure the talk around these questions
      Hence, interspersedacross this talk - my opinions as well as selected opinions and points resulting from this little informal survey
      Also, I'll have some sections named FAQ here and there
      Topics that I've found myself discussing frequently.
      They aren't really questions, but FDT isn't as catchy
    • 5. What do you want do? (1)
      Some questions to consider
      What would you like to do?
      Elaborate - which kind of tasks?
      Start with what you have you experienced.
      What do you want to avoid?
      What do you find boring/tedious/trivial/...?
      How do you feel about working abroad?
      How does your family, if any, feel?
      And for each Q consider both now and later?
      How do you get from where you are now to your career goal in say five years?
      If, e.g., you want to create your company, then a job at McKinsey may be an idea.
    • 6. What do you want to do? (2)
      Another angle of attack
      What motivates you?
      As per McClelland may divide into need for
      Achievement (personal)
      Power (influence)
      Affiliation (relationships, human interaction)
      Match answers to Qs to different jobs
      Requires investigation... (as we'll get back to)
    • 7. An example: What did I want?
      I like to build stuff
      I like to interact with other people
      I like to have influence
      about what I do, and,
      about what others do
      Personal achievement is important,
      but team-achievement is almost as important
      I put great value on fun and intelligent colleagues
      I'm generally best at tasks that I find fun
      I dislike repetitive tasks
      I am willing to accept some, though
      I dislike nepotism and favoritism, in general
      (... which I find is endemic in some academic circles...)
    • 8. My career goals
      Long: Keep the possibility of a management position open
      Short: Balance love for developing with need for influence
      On family
      Fiancée with career and one small child
      Of course, an influence on job options
      McKinsey-like consultancy jobs were not an option
      On going abroad
      Later maybe, at the time no
      Has never been a major priority for me
      • Also motivated by family-situation
      Job content, colleagues much more important for me
    • 9. Selected survey results (1)
      Continued in academia
      Felt like digging more into the research-topic
      Wanted to go abroad
      Felt it was easier to go from academia to private sector than the other way around
      Was offered a post.doc. and accepted w.o. much thought
      Liked the considerable freedom in choice of work
      Didn't like the most obvious private sector options in the field
      Didn't like the working climate in a "typical" private sector-job
    • 10. Selected survey results (2)
      Continued in private sector
      Wanted to go abroad
      Long-term goal: Starting own company
      Wanted to develop and build more
      Wanted to work closer to real-life applications/users
      Wanted to try out a private sector-job
      Wasn't sure that (s)he could produce something really extraordinary as a researcher
      Felt family obligations prevented going abroad (and felt that was necessary as post.doc.)
      Got an R&D job in private sector offer based on research
      Was turned off by academia because of
      the growing need for time spent on paperwork (applications, ...)
      the time-limited positions with fairly low wages
      the stress around paper-deadlines
    • 11. On the major decision: “Academia or not?”
      Common way of boiling down the choice is: “Research or not?”
      (Although privately funded research is also a possibility.)
      What is research, by the way?
      Wikipedia to the rescue:
      “... the search for knowledge, or as any systematic investigation, with an open mind, to establish novel facts, usually using a scientific method.”
      ... ok.
      My opinion - suboptimal basis for making an informed decision about your career
      What I (and others) did:
      For each job X that you may want to go for, now or later, investigate
      “How does a common day in the life of an X look?”
      I’ll tell you about some about my days, later on
    • 12. Investigating options. When?
      When to start?
      Easy answer: As early as possible
      For an academical career
      Part of the PhD-study is about building the needed network for job options later on
      Some collected advice for building an academic career, later
      For a career outside academia
      My opinion: One year before you're done isn't too early
      However, career change
      Hence, the need for early investigation maybe not as pronounced
      Do remember that starting up your own company is also an option
    • 13. Investigating options. How?
      Discuss with your advisor and colleagues
      Get out there
      Use your network
      As PhD – part of a very exclusive network with members positioned in many different jobs
      A day in the life of an X...
      What tasks, problems, and events occur?
      Get as detailed information as possible
      I prefer examples over overviews and summarizing statements
      Towards that end – some scenes from the life of me, later
      Match results with your expectations of a good job
      Investigate also:
      Which capabilities and challenges are needed as an X?
      And how does that match my capabilities?
      Which career-options does job X provide me?
      How do you do well in a career as an X?
    • 14. FAQ: What do private companies think about a PhD?
      That depends…
      Needs a combination with some other skills such as
      good dev skills
      good communication skills
      management skills
      innovation-skills oriented towards products
      understanding of customer-orientation
      hard working
      Then a PhD is a definite plus at companies with characteristics such as
      General high level of education of employees
    • 15. FAQ: What do private … (cont.)
      May be obvious:
      As a developer, you will need to prove that you can develop
      Don't expect to be hired as an "architect"/"senior developer" based only on your PhD
      You may advance quickly, though
      Companies on the look-out for
      Introvert nerdiness
      Lack of ambition
      Lack of ”finishing” skills
    • 16. FAQ: “But I can’t use what I did in my PhD..."
      You're probably right
      But do consider how narrowly you want to define "what you did"
      Really want to focus on your topic? / Really value the freedom of choosing a topic?
      Then you probably need to consider research
      Happy with using a variety of general skills within your field
      ...and gained just by doing a PhD,
      Then also consider a career in the private sector
      Also, applied research does occur in the private sector
      As a PhD you're well-positioned to take part in such projects
      Not an everyday occurrence, though
      Typically requires some level of maneuvering and social engineering
      May be easier abroad
    • 17. How, what, and when did I investigate?
      Considered academia vs. private sector through the entirety of my PhD studies
      Compared my qualities and preferences with friends and colleagues
      Went to seminars like this...
      During last year - made the decision to go for a private sector job
      Sought companies and positions where the use for a strong background in comp. science was apparent to me and the employer
      Around half a year before
      Visited friends and former colleagues at several companies for informal lunch- or coffee-talk
      Valuable information just by sitting at a lunch-table listening to the chatter
      Also investigated opportunities in biotech industry
      Tried to use every connection I had to get around HR-departments
      To get to talk to “real people” at the companies
      (Some HR-departments also understand the importance of this)
    • 18. The interviews (1)
      Sell yourself...
      DO be frank, but it's fair game to be able to spin your weaknesses
      (-) "I am easily bored."
      (+) "I am at my most efficient when given complicated tasks."
      As a highly educated individual you obviously have some qualities...
      In the private sector - be prepared for
      Quirky personality tests.
      "Which animal would you be on the savannah?"
      HR on the lookout for potential character problems that hampers ability to work in a team
      Challenges to your decision to make a career change
      Prejudices against PhDs
      Have your elevator talk ready
      Remember that you are also evaluating them
    • 19. The interviews (2)
      Remember the summary of my Ph.D.?
      “DSLs for mobile and distributed systems.”
      “Studied applications in biology.”
      If you squint that’s what I did.. However, it could also have said:
      “Axiomatized the structural congruence relation for binding bigraphs”
      “Developed an inductive characterization of matching for binding bigraphs”
      You see the problem?
      About the salary...
      Mainly relevant for private sector, I guess
      DO make an effort to find your market value
      (You're devaluating the product of our little club each time you sell yourself short!)
    • 20. Where did I apply? And why?
      I decided early on that my life was too short for classic consultancy work
      Interviewed at most of the companies, I thought might be interesting in DK
      Maconomy, Edlund, SimCorp, and Microsoft
      I viewed the interviews as an another opportunity for me to evaluate those companies
      Had a wide variety of interview processes
      After a few interview rounds I had some job offers to choose from
      Advice: Try to time your interviews to the same period
      When you have an offer on hand, it's hard to push the decision
      But don't just accept the first offer that you get...
    • 21. Building a career in academia - a collection of advice (1)
      As a result of my survey, I also got a lot of input on building a good career in academia
      Here’s some selected hints and opinions (including my own)
      Create your own research profile
      You need your own "angle" - also different than your advisor
      Need to start this during your PhD studies
      Show that you are good teaching a wide variety of subjects
      Learn the game
      Teaching and administrative tasks are part of the job
      ... but will not get you the permanent positions
      Publications are key
      Also understand the ranking of publication venues in your field
      Understand how the funding-system works
      Writing and/or participating in research applications is important
    • 22. Building a career in academia – a collection of advice (2)
      Need family-backing
      Doing a post.doc. is a career job (not 8-16) though not well-paid
      Networking is very important
      Basis for cooperation, getting papers published, etc.
      Network and cooperate with people
      at different institutions
      across national borders
      Working with people that are part of the "in" circles
      helps getting funding
      helps getting publications
      Good guides online - lookup
      Emigration course guides
      Guides to new faculty
    • 23. FAQ: Going back to academia from the private sector...
      Can be hard
      Need to have a well-defined research profile
      To show that you can start publishing fairly soon
      With "only" a short (Danish) PhD may be hard to get back
      Working with topics in extension to your PhD-topics is helpful
      Is probably a worry that too many PhDs students have...
    • 24. As promised: Scenes from the life of Troels (1)
      As a developer
      Writing a small parser for our commitlog-wiki plugin
      Fixing a bug, I introduced on the “New report”-page in our homebrewnbugtracker, when I made added a “Copy-report” button
      Debugging a unittest-fixture for our CPUAffinity-module that has failing tests when runon our new 24-core machine
      Extending our custom configuration- and databasesetup-layer to allow SQL Server compression to be used
      Analyzing a possible race-condition in our SessionStore-module
    • 25. As promised: Scenes from the life of Troels (2)
      As a scrummaster
      Updating (and harassing) the others for estimates for remaining time on their tasks
      Planning next sprints
      Communicating with other groups about the deadline for a task
      As temporary head of group
      Discussing with our CPO about our progress (and lack of manpower)
      Participating in writing documents about our new release-model to our customers
      Making decisions about which tasks to delay
    • 26. More FAQs
      "How do you use your background in your job?"
      "Do your job give you something that you (think) you couldn't get in academia?"
      "Do you use your title to get more interesting assignments? - perhaps with some kind of R&D-like content?"
      "Does your work revolve more around R&D-like tasks than routine tasks?"
      ”How’s the division between ‘boring’ vs. ‘interesting’ tasks?
    • 27. Thank you for listening!
      Douglas Adams: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”