Collaborations Between Academia and Industry

Since graduating from my PhD program in 2022, I’ve been working in the tech industry as a data scientist. This transition has given me more perspective on how the research community is spread across academia and industry.

One interesting thing I’ve learned is that the boundaries are blurrier than I had previously thought. It’s true that when I was a PhD student in the biostatistics department at JHU, I was already aware that there were professors who had collaborations outside academia. For example, they may collaborate with or advise pharmaceutical and biotech companies, or spin off start-ups from their own research. However, I was never deeply involved in those ventures, so I did not have an understanding of the depth or context of those collaborations.

Now as an employee in tech (specifically Amazon), I have a different vantage point. To begin with, most of my fellow science colleagues come from academia. In other words, it is the norm for my peers to have left academia for industry. This is different from academia, where it is more so the norm to stay in academia, although many members of my graduating class also went to go work in industry. Two common career trajectories I see at my company are:

  1. Graduate from master’s/PhD program and start a job in industry
  2. Graduate from PhD program, work as a professor for a number of years, then work in industry

The first path is what I did. The second path is also surprisingly common. I think I was unaware of how common it may be because when I was a PhD student, it was less apparent and visible as a career path, sort of by definition – it makes sense that I had mostly encountered professors who were continuing to work as professors, rather than professors who had left academia for industry.

But leaving academia for industry is not even the only path to move between academia and industry. Companies are also interested in maintaining active connections to academia so that the research happening internally is keeping abreast with developments in academic research. For example, Amazon has created programs for Amazon scholars and academics, who can work for the company under part-time arrangements while continuing their academic positions, and there are a number of these academics in my current organization. So there are different options available for someone who’s interested in doing applied research work in industry.