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Old 10.04.2014, 13:17
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A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

Hello every one. First I would like to say thank you for this great forum. I have been "lurking" here for quite a while and now I think I should also be an active part of it.
But my first thread here already seems so serious! Yes, as indicated by the title, I am doing postdoc in university and recently I've been thinking a lot about my career stuffs. I think I am kind of lost and I hope I can get some illumination...

First some background. I am from a non-eu country and I did my phd study in my home country in computer science. 3 years ago, my (swiss) wife found a good job in Switzerland so we decided to move back here. I immediately found a postdoc position for 3 years in a university. A couple of months ago my contract reached the end and I found another postdoc in another university again for 3 years and signed the contract without much thinking. So now I am in the beginning of my second 3-year postdoc period.

It is not until recently that I start to think seriously about my future. One thing for sure is that I am not pursuing an academic path. I talk with people and they do not seem to understand why I signed for another postdoc instead of looking for something in the industry. Some people even say that I have already wasted 3 years and now why another 3 and that too many years as postdoc will raise red alerts for future employers. Some people suggest that I should start to look for something else to jump out as soon as possible. Some say that I can take this 3 years to perfectionner related skills required in real job markets and the language.

So I suddenly feel that I am in an embarrassing position and I wonder whether I should stick until the end of my second 3-year contract or should I look for some "real" jobs sooner.

A little more about my technical background. I do research in computer vision field with techniques in machine learning / statistical data mining. As for the language, I am at B2 level in French and I am planning to take C1 courses from the September semester.

So I started to read the online job ads, not to switch immediately but to get a better idea of the job market: what I want to do and what I can do later. I first looked in the research domain in companies but there seem to be very few positions in my field. Then, another field caught my eye. There are a few jobs on data analysis / statisticians in financial/banking/pharmaceutical domain. This is something that interests me a lot and seems to match my technical background (machine learning and statistics). But they require also experience in the relevant practical field (finance, pharmaceutics) which I do not have. Then I think that maybe I can do some internship? Or even study for some diplôme? I do not know where to start. And what will be the opportunity in these fields later (is it saturated in Switzerland)? I know no one in related fields so i know practically nothing except from job ads.

So this is my situation. Seriously thinking about my career path but kind of lost.. want to prepare for my future but do not know where to start. I don't know if someone can shed some light...
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Old 10.04.2014, 15:27
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

If you want to leave academia anyway I think it is fairly trivial to recommend that you start looking for jobs now.
For one, while you have your current position you can afford to be more picky AND you have up to 3 years to be in the "market" while not being unemployed.

Even though I don't know enough about your field, I'm inclined to disagree with whoever thinks that your first 3 years were wasted and that you are wasting even more time - but I do think that outside academia there may be such opinions from some employers, so this further pushes the decision to "apply outside academia now, and keep applying".

This certainly doesn't mean you are in an embarrassing position, and it is not that you should instantly resign! I would say that applying from a job from unemployment is not embarrassing, and that applying from a job in academia would be even less so.
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Old 10.04.2014, 17:12
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

I'm a Post-doc (biology) who does not plan to remain in academia. I did one (horrific) post-doc in academia, and I'm now in a non-profit but basically academia setting. I don't think that spending time, even extended time in academia is a huge set-back, it's the traditional route (certainly nothing to be embarrassed about). I know that US industry won't even take post-docs without a bare minimum of 1 year as a post-doc in academia.

You should start thinking about what you are intending on moving to (and tell me, because I want to leave academia, but I don't know what my options are, so I'd be interested in hearing from you), and start looking for and applying for those jobs, with the intention being of moving into that new position before or coinciding with the end of your contract.

I'm also pro-honesty with your current employer, you want to keep a good relationship. I wouldn't walk in tomorrow and announce that you intend to leave academia and will start looking for a new job ASAP. But if the topic comes up just be clear that you don't plan to remain in academia, and that if you find a position that interests you that you would probably seize the opportunity (and give them plenty of time notice, train incoming post-doc before leaving, etc).
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Old 10.04.2014, 21:33
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

Have you talked to the University Alumni Association, assuming there is one? You ought to be able to find a few post docs who have made the jump you wish to make. I have been on the other side of the fence in the past, having moved from Material Science to Finance as a postdoctoral in the UK, and later in life helped other post docs make similar jumps via the Alumni introduction.

Worth a try I feel.

Best of luck.
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Old 10.04.2014, 22:46
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

If you are mathematically inclined I presume you can write code. If you can, great and you will be fine. If you cant I suggest you stop using statistical analysis packages and learn to write your own. Then you also should be fine!
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Old 10.04.2014, 23:23
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

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Have you talked to the University Alumni Association, assuming there is one? You ought to be able to find a few post docs who have made the jump you wish to make. I have been on the other side of the fence in the past, having moved from Material Science to Finance as a postdoctoral in the UK, and later in life helped other post docs make similar jumps via the Alumni introduction.

Worth a try I feel.

Best of luck.
Hello Clive and thank you for your advice. I will try to see if I can get some advice from the University alumni.
But still I have a qiestion. As a first step of the jump, how did you fill the gap of experience (in your case into finance)? I mean, the companies usually look for someone not only has science background but also with relevant experiences in the application domain.
Did you make some internship or some additional learning in order to make it?

I am also thinking that maybe i can anyway try to apply for some positions and see what will happen. Maybe there are a few relatively junior positions where it's possible to first get some training to go into the domain. Or even if there are not or I cannot get them at least I have a better idea about what they want...
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Old 10.04.2014, 23:36
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

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If you are mathematically inclined I presume you can write code. If you can, great and you will be fine. If you cant I suggest you stop using statistical analysis packages and learn to write your own. Then you also should be fine!
Thanks garyd. By talking about code do you mean programming language? If so, as a computer science guy I have been long writing different software using different languages, and I love coding. I do notice in job ads that they also require coding ability (e.g. matlab, c#...). Personally I do not think I have problem with this. My problem is more on the lack of experience in the application demain. For example very often when I read the ads I feel that I meet many criteria except the first item: "experience in xx for at least yy years". Xx can be anything from finance to pharmaceutical stuffs... for me my "yy" is zero although I have almost 10 years research experience with computer science and statistical modeling.
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Old 10.04.2014, 23:41
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

I was put in touch with a number of senior managers in industry and commerce by my Alumni, who read my cv, which made no wild claims of experience outside science/engineering, and I was asked to talk to two financial organisations who felt they would welcome someone with my background to join their organisation to tap my skills, whilst I picked up financial know how. It worked a treat and I ended up a financier in the field of venture capital funding in the UK.

Unless you wish to look for success in a narrow channel of opportunities I recommend you let the potential companies spot you. To do so means spreading the word as wide as feasible. The Alumni of your Universities would be a good start.

Keep in touch.
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Old 11.04.2014, 00:24
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

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There are a few jobs on data analysis / statisticians in financial/banking/pharmaceutical domain. This is something that interests me a lot and seems to match my technical background (machine learning and statistics). But they require also experience in the relevant practical field (finance, pharmaceutics) which I do not have. Then I think that maybe I can do some internship? Or even study for some diplôme? I do not know where to start. And what will be the opportunity in these fields later (is it saturated in Switzerland)? I know no one in related fields so i know practically nothing except from job ads.

So this is my situation. Seriously thinking about my career path but kind of lost.. want to prepare for my future but do not know where to start. I don't know if someone can shed some light...
Why a rare-to-find expert in computer vision and machine learning wants to work in *boring* finance when he is qualified for the funniest of the funny?

http://www.disneyresearch.com/resear...search-zurich/

If you are the 'start up' type:

http://www.kooaba.com/en/learnmore/jobs

Not sure if they have computer vision, but they have e.g. a maps group in Zurich (I mean, since they have to blur faces and plate numbers on Street View, they're probably using some vision analysis...and anyway machine learning is widely used in any data analysis application, so quite probably they would value it):

http://www.google.com/about/careers/locations/zurich/
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Last edited by suissa; 11.04.2014 at 00:45.
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Old 11.04.2014, 10:25
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

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Why a rare-to-find expert in computer vision and machine learning wants to work in *boring* finance when he is qualified for the funniest of the funny?

http://www.disneyresearch.com/resear...search-zurich/

If you are the 'start up' type:

http://www.kooaba.com/en/learnmore/jobs

Not sure if they have computer vision, but they have e.g. a maps group in Zurich (I mean, since they have to blur faces and plate numbers on Street View, they're probably using some vision analysis...and anyway machine learning is widely used in any data analysis application, so quite probably they would value it):

http://www.google.com/about/careers/locations/zurich/
Well, the thing is that I start to think a lot whether I like to continue doing research and stay in academia (at least in universities). For me research becomes more and more a matter of fiancial deal: writing project proposals and getting fundings with all kinds of "cunning". As a experienced postdoc now I start to do this with my boss and I don't quite like this part of my job. We write many project proposals. To get the funding we sometimes have to create problems that do not exist, or declare why and how we can solve something of which we ourselves are not convinced, or even write something more than what we can achieve to satisfy the guy who reviews it. And to attract money, every year we write multiple project proposals. Basically it becomes a competition of number of paper publications and projects.

I myself have been working in this system and have accumulated a good track record. But gradually I become a little lost and do not like this like before. I am not saying that the system is not good, I just feel that it might not be for me and I am not very happy in doing it.

On the other hand, I have always been very excited about working on something "real", to use my knowledge and technical background to solve more "grounded" problems in a rigorous manner. Also I am very interested to integrate to some application domains. Finance is just an example but a good example I guess. So I am thinking of a jump, and not too late, as the longer I stay in academia, the more complicated it is to jump out (my opinion though)
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Old 11.04.2014, 11:35
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

Finance is a great way out, and with a CS background, I suppose you're great with modelling stuff.

There is a lot of work in Finance Research, Quant, etc.

It is well paid, but it is also brutal. The hours, the mentality, the people, the expectations, everything. Academia is pretty laid back in many respects, and especially if you happen to be working in a chair with a good professor, it can range from pretty awesome to plain torture.

You certainly have options, my post-doc physicist cousin did a jump from Purdue University to JP Morgan working on algorithmic trading. A lot of F1 engineers that get fed up with working for $hitty pay make the jump too.

Excellent academic records is what a lot of positions in Finance are requiring. And if you already have good coding skills, you have nothing to fear.


It's much more about deciding what do you want to do with your life.
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Old 12.04.2014, 01:08
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

I'm not so sure that you need great domain expertise. If you are good enough as a data analyst, then it is easy enough to either learn or to interact with the experts and I think that is expected. I was just talking to Mango Solutions, who provide progamming in R (the open source statistical programming language, you should learn it :-) ). They employ dozens of maths PhD's and computer scientists. These people are not domain experts, they are brilliant data analysts. It's almost impossible to be both.

I'd keep preparing for a job in industry, as you've started doing, and go for any opportunities that come up. Luckily, you have three years to do that without the need to take any big risks.
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Old 12.04.2014, 01:32
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

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Not sure if they have computer vision, but they have e.g. a maps group in Zurich (I mean, since they have to blur faces and plate numbers on Street View, they're probably using some vision analysis...and anyway machine learning is widely used in any data analysis application, so quite probably they would value it):

http://www.google.com/about/careers/locations/zurich/
Very convincing.
In fact OP would be lucky to get a job there.
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Old 12.04.2014, 10:48
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

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I'm not so sure that yoor al need great domain expertise. If you are good enough as a data analyst, then it is easy enough to either learn or to interact with the experts and I think that is expected. I was just talking to Mango Solutions, who provide progamming in R (the open source statistical programming language, you should learn it :-) ). They employ dozens of maths PhD's and computer scientists. These people are not domain experts, they are brilliant data analysts. It's almost impossible to be both.

I'd keep preparing for a job in industry, as you've started doing, and go for any opportunities that come up. Luckily, you have three years to do that without the need to take any big risks.
Thank you. I also think that the key is the data analysis skill and the rigorous technical background. But anyway in most Job descriptions they do seem to ask experience (or at least some knowledge) in the application domain. For example for finance they often ask the understanding of asset allocation, equities, private equity, hedge funds, foreign exchange...

So I think that if I can have (even partial) knowledge of these it can be a plus. No?

My question is that can I fill in this knowledge gap while I am still in my current job. I was thinking about some part time courses on finance but I seem not able to find, or at least I can read some books?
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Old 12.04.2014, 15:46
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Re: A postdoc seriously thinking about future career...

I heard Google is/was opening a new building and employing quite of people at the moment. You can try them, there are some people from computer vision/graphics there, though it does not mean you will necessarily be working in any related field. Overall zh google does not seem to have really research positions as much as I know

p.s. i don't think disney is taking many people any more, but worth a try and they have nice salaries
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