The only problem with a graduate degree is the seemingly infinite field of options it throws up for you. Even if you condense all those options into simpler choices, there are still two big doors you can walk into, post a graduate degree: go into industry, as a subject matter expert, or become a researcher.
Many of us are not quite sure about whether we ultimately want to go into industry or research, and that’s completely OK – most good graduate programs have excellent options in both fields, so that’s definitely a decision you can defer without harm. However, in case you want to develop a point of view on which ultimate career might be better for you, here are a few things that you might want to keep in mind:
1: Both of them are lucrative, but industry has the slight edge
If you are looking at a long term career outside India, both academia and industry will pay handsomely. At every stage, industry will be a small step above academia, especially early on in your career. However, the fact that academia offers many financial advantages (subsidized housing, subsidized healthcare, a supportive community), and the fact that you can always supplement an academic career with consulting projects, make the financial gap – both apparent and real – much smaller than it might seem on paper.
If you’re looking at making your career in India, the gulf between industry and academia, pay wise, is definitely a little larger than it is in the West. In any case, that is a decision that is many years away, and all that you’ll need to check now is that there are enough job / research opportunities in your field of study in India.
2: Both require high quality professional work, but post-tenure professorship is significantly lower pressure
If you want to be a top professional in either Academia or Industry, you will need to be at the top of your game – the first few years in either will be a routine of staying ahead of the pack – of publishing or delivering on targets. However, the academic route eases up a bit after a while; in case you’re working as a professor abroad, the pressure is significantly lower after you achieve tenure. The industry route, however, is higher pressure in the long run.
In India, the difference is a little more pronounced, as it was in the case of pay and perks. Being a professor is significantly better for lifestyle than working in industry, but certain industry research labs (for example, MSR) deliberately model themselves on a more casual collegiate work culture.
3: Both doors are always open, but some programs are ideally suited to one of the two options
There are no good graduate programs in the world where students are forced to go into either industry or academia because of lack of options, but some courses in some universities (for example, Theoretical Computer Science at Princeton) see a majority of their students going into academic research. However, even this is often by choice rather than compulsion: the fair picture of post graduate degree options is that you get to choose whatever you want to at the time of picking your immediate career.
4: In the long run, you can always do a bit of both
The consulting option for professors in academia is a great way for them to supplement their income and gain further real world experience, and is also a great way for the industry to gain the unique point of view and expertise of people who spend years on end working on deep research problems. So, even though you won’t have to make the decision for a few more years, at least, don’t worry about pigeonholing yourself as an academician or as a working industry professional. You will be able to mix and match to quite a degree.
At the end of the day, it’s all about following your passion. Your life will have maximum impact if you just choose the option that will make you happy in the long run, so don’t worry too much about the decision.