Industries V.S Academia: Which Pathway Is For Us?

Stories from the Peer Coaches

There are many pathways Denison students end up in after their graduation. Some of them join the industries, some continue with graduate programs or become teachers/professors, and some decide to move to different countries for their career plans. Between having an industry job and becoming an academic researcher, I’m lucky enough to immerse myself in both pathways and know where I want to go after my graduation…but it’s weird.

  1. Job Searching Perspective From An International Student

    I started thinking about what I wanted to do in the future only after the end of my sophomore year. I had no resume, no cover letter, and nothing in the job folder. “Okay! Let’s make one,” I thought. At that time, I didn’t think too much about the internships or the industry I wanted to end up with since it was just “a sophomore year! We still have time.” I was wrong. My junior year after that summer was a sequence of struggling to find internships. I spent more time talking to LinkedIn strangers knowing nothing about me than time for my homework. Finally, I got one acceptance for the following summer. Just one, out of 250+ internships and programs I applied.

    Everything was awesome in the team that I worked for throughout the internship until the last day. I got laid off as an intern because I “wasn’t good enough” as an international student. I got rejected from a pool of fresh graduate candidates for coming back after graduation because of my need for sponsorship. I tried to contact all the people I had been networking with the last year and hoped for the job miracle to happen. At that point, I felt everything I had tried hard just disappeared in the air. Putting myself in the job market at this time means that I have nothing to lose to accept such a big risk of unemployment.

    One day, 2 days, 3 days,…and it went forever, I still had no job offers.

  2. A Conversion From “Industry” Resume To “Academia” CV

    When everything collapsed in front of my eyes, I made the wildest decision of my life: sending my application to Ph.D. programs. It was 4 months before the due date of the application and I had to start everything over. I didn’t have a CV, publications, or even a single draft of graduate essays. “And I cannot just make one out of the air like what I did with my resume 2 years ago.” Unlike resumes or cover letters which you can make in a night, a research paper needs months or even years to be crafted. None of my professors suggested taking this huge risk of applying for a Ph.D. this year even when they thought I was a good student. At that time, I wasn’t sure if choosing this path was smart nor that I know someone from a graduate program would care about my profile.

    Nonetheless, I kept trying my best to pull everything I had from my first day at Denison together. My CV was filled with every work I have done, and every project I collaborated with students and professors. Even the part-time internships were also included in my portfolio. The difference is that a miracle happened this time. After I submitted my application, one of the professors reached out to me and said that he was impressed by my provocative approach to the optimization model design during my prior internship. We did multiple rounds of academic and technical interviews to make sure I was qualified for the program. After a month of waiting, I received admission to the Ph.D. track in Operations Research at Virginia Tech.

  3. Note Of The Day

    I remember a question that one Denison folx asked me on the day I decided to stop seeking jobs and took a turn in making a Ph.D. application. “Why did you decide to apply for graduate school when your resume is so “industry-ous?” I was stunned for a second because the question was so down-to-earth that it brought me back to reality. On one side, I know that I started with nothing, so maybe I was living with the imposter syndrome most of the time. On the other side, I know that I have been trying hard enough and never have doubted myself.

    So I have one message for you. Don’t let anyone make you think that you are not qualified. You just need to try your best and accept risks throughout the journey. If you meet failures along the way, it’s okay because now you know how to stand back up and keep going to the final goal. If I wasn’t laid off from my internship, I wouldn’t have become a Ph.D. student. We never know what door we end up going through, but I know that when one door closes, another one will open. Miracles don’t exist, but if you work hard enough, you can create one of your own.

By Hung Tran
Hung Tran Peer Career Coach