Blog of Joos Buijs

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

Posts Tagged ‘career

Reflecting on my first month ‘out of academia’

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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’: Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Joos Buijs

March 2, 2018 at 16:05

Posted in Personal

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I (finally) decided to leave academia, here’s why

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It was not an easy decision, but my upcoming tenure meeting triggered me to decide, and the final decision was to leave academia. In this blog post I try to explain why finally I came to this decision after months of doubt.

The trigger

I looked at the tenure meeting as a marriage proposal: the university is in essence asking me to stay with them forever and ever. However, first ‘they’ (the tenure committee) evaluates whether they really want me to stay forever by looking at my research output, teaching quality, etc. etc. If I would accept the tenure proposal, I would in essence have a ‘job for life’. This provides great stability, both personally and professionally, to really work on my personal career. However, this assumes that you stay in academia for a while, building your own profile, career and research line.

The reasons

I started looking at energy gainers and drainers, and I realized I gained energy from doing data analysis myself. However, in my day-to-day work I was mainly involved in helping fellow researchers obtain funding (in my role as research program manager at the Data Science Center), helping PhD and master students execute their research and projects, and to setup and run courses both online as well as in the master program. I realized I really wanted to do what my PhD and master students were doing: digging into data and finding answers (and more questions). However, in research, you’re always developing hammers (tools, techniques), for which you are looking for nails to use them on. And sometimes you pretend a screw was also a nail for your tool. You are generally not really concerned whether you were answering the business question, your main aim is to gather evidence for your paper or thesis. In the end, it felt too much of creating and then solving puzzles for my own satisfaction.

Secondly, and probably even more important, I do not know of any colleague that is spending <50 hours a week on this job. This is not a bad thing, if you do what you love this comes natural. But for me it is time to do as I say, and really show that “I’m married to my wife, not my boss”. I realized family time was really suffering, and even if I was having a good time in the evening/weekends I could not always enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

What I’ll miss

Of course I’m also leaving a lot of cool stuff behind. I’ll miss the stimulating and challenging environment, the many young students and PhDs in our group each with different personalities, the cutting-edge research we do and the many industry contacts we have. This might sound a bit contra-dictionary to what I mentioned above, but it’s all true. I’ll also miss the transition in which both the Data Science Center and our research group are currently after Wil van der Aalst left to Aachen. I’ll also miss the MOOCs I’m running and the nice contact with the people following them, etc. etc.

What I’m looking forward to

I’m looking forward to start my new job as senior data scientist at APG (a large Dutch pension fund). I’m looking forward to finding the right tools for the nail at hand, to work in a team towards an answer, and to keep learning. I’m also looking forward to stay in touch with my current colleagues, and possibly even start new collaborations from my new position.

Written by Joos Buijs

January 3, 2018 at 13:08

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The Career Pyramid: Academia v.s. Industry

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Yesterday during a diner with some PhDs from other universities (and one consultant from industry), we came to the topic of career opportunities. One of the first things mentioned was that most PhD students prefer a career in industry over an academic career. To which I responded that it was an effect of the perception of PhD students that industry provides better career perspectives than academia. I believe that indeed some PhD students actually want to go to industry, but some feel ‘forced’ to do so.

Most people agreed, and of course complained that obtaining a post-doc position was hard, and then finding a fixed position was even more difficult…

In our group we have 1 full professor, 2 part-time professors (they work in a company too), 3 assistant professors, 1 scientific programmer, 2 postdocs and about 10 PhD students. I have to make the side-note that until a couple of months ago we had 5 more postdocs, and that currently we have 5 open PhD positions.

This may seem as a rather steep ‘promotion pyramid’: for every 5 phds there is 1 postdoc position, for every postdoc there is a fixed position (as assistant professor) and for every 3 assistant professors there is 1 full professor. 
However, the first thing I should note here is the high variability in the number of PhDs and PostDocs in our group! As mentioned, a couple of months ago we had quite a few more postdocs, and we are currently expecting quite a few new PhD students. This all makes the perceived odds worse. Also note that the three assistant professor functions have been ‘recently’ filled, unless they are promoted or leave, they will keep their positions for quite a few more years to come. Which actually makes the odds worse, in our group.

After quickly sketching the situation in our group, I asked the consultant of the ‘promotion pyramid’ in the consultancy company he works in. He mentioned that there were 3 directors, some 10 to 20 managers and some 200 consultants. I believe this could be correct in general, most ‘healthy’ commercial companies try to have as much people bringing in money, and as few as possible managers managing these people. Looking at the odds there are 10 consultants to a manager and 7 managers to a director.

My argument: the academic ‘promotion pyramid’ might appear hard, but don’t underestimate the ratios in industry.

A brief counter-argument was provided: when PhD students move to industry, they have an advantage over the others with a masters degree (or less).

This one is easily bunked by mentioning that first of all a PhD starts his industry career with no relevant work experience compared to ‘the others’ (e.g. with a 4 year disadvantage).
Secondary: education is in my opinion no proper predictor for career success! It depends on so much more like personality, timing (beeing there when an opportunity arrises) and focussing your skills on those that are important for a promotion.

That killed that discussion nice and swiftly, and we moved on to something else.

Even though I believe the observations are correct (although they are not scientifically supported and my sample set has a total size of 2), I’m going to ignore it. When I’m done with my PhD (which will be June 2014!!! jay!) I’m going to industry. But more because I like the challenge, and it just seems like more fun. Not necessarily for the better career opportunities.

I’m wondering what the career pyramid looks like in your group (academic or company). Please let me know in the comments!!!

TL;DR: career opportunities in academia might seem bad, but industry might not be much better, and your PhD title might not help. (But I’m going to ignore this observation and go to industry anyway :D)  

PS: I strongly believe that we, with our level of education and knowledge, have the privileged situation of choosing jobs that are fun. That’s the main reason why I chose to do a PhD instead of going to industry after my master. 

Written by Joos Buijs

November 27, 2013 at 12:04