Blog of Joos Buijs

About personal things, process mining and the rest in life.

Reflecting on my first month ‘out of academia’

with 4 comments

Yes, it has been one month already that I’m working outside of academia.

When telling everyone I decided to leave academia in January (in my previous blog post, but also on LinkedIn and of course in a lot of personal conversations), I could not imagine what life outside of the university ‘walls’ would be like. What I did realize is that a lot of people found this decision ‘brave’ or ‘the best choice’, even if they decided to stay in academia. However, I still did not know if this was true, but was looking forward to find out. I also felt strengthened by the talks and replies I had. So thanks to all who interacted with me. And I hope I have helped a few of you a bit further in your thinking as well. This is also the reason for this blog post: to give some follow-up on announcing the big decision. I do now one after 1 month, but plan to do more in the future (maybe at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months?).

What I was looking for
When leaving academia a month ago I was looking for a better connection to ‘the business’ in order to increase my impact. At the same time I would like to still do process mining, and ideally also be allowed some freedom in pursuing ‘research’ questions.

What I found at APG
During my first days at APG (‘Algemene Pensioen Groep’, which manages the pensions, including financial assets of 474 billion Euro, customer service, etc., of several pension funds) I already realized I indeed arrived in a ‘candy shop’:

They bought Celonis and run it on a large scale
Celonis is the market leader in commercial process mining software. And although their real process mining capabilities are comparable to the very early years of process mining research, they provide easy to use ‘process aware’ dashboard functionality. A few things struck me of the Celonis implementation at APG. First of all the intend is to run it in a develop-test-accept-production environment (they’re almost there). They also already have ~100 Celonis users, from dashboard viewers, to dashboard designers, and data scientists. Quite impressive for an organization that started with process mining mid 2016, and does not have a dedicated process mining team! It was actually one guy pulling most of this, with whom I’m currently collaborating.

The Data Intelligence department and specifically the Data Science team is young
The Data Intelligence department contains 5 teams: infrastructure management, data integration, meta data management, business analytics and data science. This means they have a lot of efforts in collecting, cleaning and curating data into a ‘canonical data core’. This is the holy grail of business analysts and data scientists: a gold mine of high-quality data where each column has a clearly defined meaning and values are according to definition. I can’t wait to really get my hands dirty (errr, well, covered in gold ).

The data science team is now around 10 people, where I’m one of the oldest (at a bit over 30…). The team did not exist until April 2016, and started small, but is now really busy with setting up the infrastructure, but also team structure, to ‘operationalize data science’. When in academia I did not realize data science needed operationalization, but discovering a descriptive model is not where it ends. Predictions or classifications need to be made at run time in the business, and finding a proper model is not enough. The data science results therefore need to be embedded in a dashboard or provided through an API. A one-off analysis is usually not sufficient.

Business value creation is key
One of the key focus points of DI and data science especially is to create business value. We are internal consultants, so we need to prove our worth, which is best done by demonstrating achieved business value. I also like being an internal consultant better than an external because you get to build a lasting network. Secondly, you’re on the same team: if APG saves money in the end, its good for our customer, as well as for us. This can be different for external consultants as they (purposely or not) aim at extending their project runtime, or aim at initiating another project. We do not have this incentive that strongly: if a project is good for us but not beneficial for the customer, we might actually create more business value by not doing a project.

I feel a lot of freedom in the execution of projects, but also in providing and executing a vision of how process mining should be positioned within APG. It feels like everything has been laid out especially for me, and I get to help move process mining forward, address challenging technical issues, and help initiate new projects. I did not find a skill I have that I could not use so far. Even teaching I get to do by training colleagues in process mining and Celonis usage. I even already have the chance to use my academic network to execute research (which has a business value). So how cool is that?
If you want to collaborate, let me know, we have a lot of data 🙂 If we can find the business case then there’s a chance we can collaborate.)

What I hope to happen in the next months

Well, I actually hope that I can be highly involved in the positioning and executing process mining within APG. This involves all aspects: vision, attracting new projects, training colleagues, research. In March we plan to write the process mining vision for APG for 2018. And then we have to make sure to execute it. But I’m sure we will succeed which such great colleagues and environment.

Secondly, I hope to become a real data scientist, instead of ‘just’ a process miner. I also execute non-process mining related projects, so I’m covered.

And finally, I hope to contribute to the data science team by providing new insights that I learned in academia. At the same time I can learn a lot, really a lot, from the mixed, young and energetic group of colleague data scientists. Life long learning is possible I guess 🙂

General lessons learned when leaving academia

Leaving academia is scary, and you should really think about this decision as it is hard (but not impossible) to go back. But once you decide to leave, try to look for a mature environment where get the benefits of business (a purpose and a clear goal), but also a bit of the academic benefits (freedom and intellectual challenge, for instance). I found one within a large organization, but you might also find this at a startup, or at a consultancy company. Just make sure you keep challenging yourself. Also do not underestimate you skills and qualities.  You usually don’t notice them but you have learned a lot of unique skills during your PhD time and after. For instance, I realize I can actually coach people, I know that creating awareness is crucial, and I have a good technical understanding of what I’m doing.


As always, if you feel I can help you in your decision making or thought process, just comment below.

Joos Buijs, proud Senior data scientist and process mining expert at APG


Written by Joos Buijs

March 2, 2018 at 16:05

Posted in Personal

Tagged with , , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. inspiring reflection for anybody striving for excellence (including academics)! waiting for your future posts..


    March 2, 2018 at 19:08

    • Thanks Nour! Will be a month or two for my next post. Enjoy your leave! Also a time for reflection 😉

      Joos Buijs

      March 2, 2018 at 20:33

  2. Dear Joos, I really like your blog. During my postdoc I also went through the ‘staying in academia or not?’ stage and it took some courage to take the leap. A couple of weeks later, I already knew this was the right decision for me and I still am, 8.5 years later. Like you, I also received encouragements but quite some colleagues asked me ‘Why would you?’ or told me that my academic CV was too good to already ‘give up’, while I was about to make a POSITIVE career decision! Supporting PhD graduates in career development is now what I do. Making them aware that as a PhD one has a lot to offer, even outside their field of expertise or research and then supporting them to identify careers that suit their profile. For many academic researchers, it is difficult to gain insights into career options outside academia. Blog posts like yours are valuable for their career orientation. Thank you for sharing!


    March 5, 2018 at 11:52

  3. I have been following your PM MOOCs. I wish your courageous decision turns out to be more beneficial and satisfying than you expected.
    You talked about Collaboration opportunity in the blog. Which medium can we communicate? Thank you.


    March 22, 2018 at 02:04

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