Despite all the stress and anxiety that came with the job market and finishing up my dissertation, for the most part, I enjoyed the experience (although I wouldn’t want to ever go through it again). I had to make some very difficult decisions during this time as I wanted the best for my family, but I also wanted the most stimulating and rewarding job experience possible. An issue that I ran into is that academic job hunting and industry job hunting does not typically happen in the same timeframe (at least the industry jobs I wanted). The economic job market starts in fall, and typically interviews are held in January (during a big conference). Most jobs are academic and research jobs, with only a somewhat small proportion of jobs being truly “industry” jobs. As I was fairly certain I did not want to go into academia, I only applied to a small percentage of jobs in the official job market that at the very least mildly intersted me. My plan was to see what offers came in, evaluate them, and if I did not like any of them, wait a few months to apply to industry (mostly data science) jobs.
I felt fairly lucky on the job market as I was able snag a good amount of interviews. A big chunk of my interviews were consulting firms. Although each firm had a different focus or different type of work available, the common theme I saw was that the work-life balance at most of these consulting firms was not great. After a few interviews with some firms, I quickly lost interest. Similarly, there were a few companies (not naming any names) that had reputations of poor work-life balances, so I eventually lost interest with these companies. I also had a few interviews with a number of government agencies (like the Census Bureau and the FDA). A lot of the work that was being done at these agencies was super intriguing, but for the most part, I did not see myself working at any particular one. Even though someone might see my interaction with these companies as being a waste of time, it was a great growing experience where I discovered what I was really looking for in a career.
Despite knowing (or at least thinking I knew) that I did not want to go into academia, I applied to one (and only one) truly academic position. The only reason I did so was because I felt like it was a perfect match, and the work and opportunity seemed super interesting. The position: postdoc research scientist at MIT. The position entailed conducting research to try to quantify the the finicial impact of discovering new, more efficient algorithms (there was a lot more to it than this of course) as well as mentoring CS students in the lab. I enjoyed my talks with the research scientist in charge of the lab, and eventually got an offer. This was very exciting as the thought of working at MIT, using my causal inference as well as my ML skillset, and just working so close to many intelligent people seemed like a dream come true. One of the major issues was that due to the job being a postdoc position, the max salary I could get from MIT was far below what other jobs were offering me. Of course, I would only have to work there for a year or two, and then move onto a job (either at MIT or externally) that would pay a lot more.
At the same time, I had offers from a few private sector companies. One of these offers was from Capital One. I enjoyed my conversations with the hiring manager as the work aligned closely with a lot of my interests, and I had only heard good things about working at Capital One. Additionally, I wouldn’t have to stuggle to make ends meet with this job and my family would be happy. Ultimately, I had to decide between MIT and Capital One. It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make (and I still think about it quite often), but I believe I made the best choice that would immediately help out my family. My wife and I agreed that if we were in a different situation (like if our kids were even just a bit younger or if we didn’t have kids yet) we would have taken the MIT job, no question. I am still in contact with the MIT research scientist who offered me the job as I am very interested in the development of his work. He even offered the same job a year later.
I came into the job market with a lot of assumptions. My mindset changed dramatically throughout the process. I quickly learned what type of jobs I would enjoy, and which ones I wouldn’t. I also learned that a job interview was not just a place where interviewers and managers assessed skills and if I would be a good fit for the company, but was a place where I could find out if a company would be a good fit for me. Instead of being anxious about interviews, I looked forward to them. I ended up having a lot of semi-deep discussions with managers and potential coworkers, and gained valuable insights into several companies.