Columnist Clara Grazian introduces our new advice column for early-career researchers:

Question 1: I am interested in pursuing an internship in a company, but my advisor thinks that this will slow down my dissertation progress. How should I proceed?

Clara responds: Ha, this is a great question! I believe there are advantages to experiencing the world outside academia: you get to see the opportunities available beyond it.

However, there is a disadvantage to pursuing this during your PhD, as it may slow down the development of your dissertation, which your supervisor is concerned about. You need to consider not only the time you may not be able to work or on your thesis during the internship but also the potential weakening of your focus on the thesis. There are economies of scale in consistently working on a project.

One possibility is to incorporate the internship into your thesis. Can you use something you develop during the internship for your research? This kind of collaboration between the university and industry can be a significant strength. It may even develop a collaboration between the department and the company.

If this isn’t feasible, but you still wish to pursue the internship, it’s important to have a well-organized conversation with your supervisor. For instance, can the internship be scheduled during a less active period at the university (maybe summer)? What is your timeframe before and after the internship? What tasks do you plan to complete before starting the internship and what are your plans immediately after its conclusion? Additionally, what skills do you anticipate acquiring during the internship that can be applied to your thesis? Supervisors are usually more supportive when they see that the student’s focus remains on their thesis. It would also be helpful to clearly explain to your supervisor why you want to pursue this internship, particularly in terms of its potential impact on your future career.

Lastly, I’d like to mention that there are plenty of opportunities out there. If this specific opportunity doesn’t work out, there will be others in the near future. Therefore, it’s important not to view it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (Though this might not apply to your situation, it’s something I’ve observed in the past!)

Question 2: In general, I am not fully committed to a life in academia because there are many opportunities to work in industry where I would be well rewarded and have interesting problems to think about. What are the pros and cons of academic life? I should add that my research interests are in computational finance.

Clara responds: Finance is one of those fields where salaries outside academia are definitely much higher than those within academia, so money is not really on the side of the pros!

From my perspective, there are two main advantages in academia: flexibility and freedom.

Flexibility doesn’t only refer to leaving at 3 pm in the afternoon; in fact, I often work more hours than many of my friends in industry! It means that you can usually slow down during specific periods or days if needed, and there is typically support available for extended leaves. The academic career can be stressful or not—it often depends on the researcher—and it doesn’t have to be stressful all the time. Many industry jobs, especially well-paid ones, don’t offer the same level of flexibility.

The other advantage is that you have the freedom to pursue your interests. There is no one dictating what research you should focus on, allowing you to follow your curiosity. Granted, this freedom isn’t absolute: to be competitive in grants, it’s often necessary to demonstrate external interest in your research field, and publishing on popular topics may be easier. However, it’s not essential, and you can still pursue your own interests even if you are the only one in the world. This aspect can be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage: on one hand, you have the independence to make your own decisions; on the other hand, in some cases, you may lack guidance, as there isn’t someone telling you what to do; also, as it happens to me and many researchers I know, it sometimes mean that you don’t understand why you are doing something. But it is true that in academia, you can have long-term plans and define your own path towards your goals. In industry, you typically follow your company’s objectives, which may or may not align with your own.

Young researchers are welcome to send their questions about the life of a researcher or ask for career advice, and Clara will try to find an answer… We’ll publish these [anonymized to avoid awkwardness!] in the next available issue. Send your questions to