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  • 1.  Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-10-2023 10:34

    Hello Everyone, 

    Over the last few years, I (and usually most, if not all of the adjunct math faculty) have been "unassigned" (AKA laid off w/o the paperwork) from 3 universities and colleges. And, there is a fourth one coming. 

    Because of that, I have been applying to non-academic, or at least non-teaching jobs. Many of the questions asked at interviews are pretty standard. (Describe your time mgt skills. Discuss your communication skills, etc.) A new one that has come up twice now is, "Why do you want to leave teaching?" Trying to explain that teaching is leaving me AND leaving me without enough money to pay my bills, the interviewer comes back with, "Well, there is more to life than making money. You should work at something you are passionate about." When I explain that my income is about $3,000 per month Fall and Winter terms, pre-tax, and I have $1,000/month  student loan payments... Facts don't seem to matter. 

    With one of these managers, I did mention that I could teach part time a class or 2 per term even with a full time job. He really didn't like that very much because, "I'm turning my back on what I am passionate about." 

    Admittedly, these discussions are nice to have before working for someone. They make it very easy to understand I wouldn't want to work with someone that is so clueless. But, still, I'll take $70,000/yr with a horrible boss than $24,000 and always be worried about losing another job... which will happen within the next few months. 

    Any thoughts or ideas about how to handle these types of questions and people? 


    Andrew Ekstrom

    Statistician, Chemist, HPC Abuser;-)

  • 2.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-13-2023 12:07

    Turn the question around:

    Let me rephrase your question:
    Why am I interested in this job? It is a combination of professional growth and money ... 

    If the place you're applying has a blog about problems people have worked on, point to that and list some of the specific examples that you found interesting. For example, the Instacart site is Some places may call it their "research" site, e.g.

    I would advise against saying that you would teach one or two classes on the side even with a full-time job. You won't have time. There are always more problems to tackle than you have time. Saying that indicates that you're not committed to the job.

    You could indicate something like:
    After I've been working here for 2-3 years and am fully settled in, and schedule permitting, I would consider teaching a class on the side. I'd be able to talk about some of the problems here, and the contact with students would be valuable for recruiting.

    Tim Hesterberg
    Staff Data Scientist

  • 3.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-13-2023 23:04

    I appreciate the ideas. 

    Most of the job descriptions I see give little to know clue what the job actually entails. They use a bunch of meaningless jargon to make themselves "look exciting". 

    In the job descriptions for the positions I referenced, the hiring managers don't even know what they need. So, having a discussion with them about how I have done the work they need done AND found insights that wouldn't come out using other methods, they got stuck on, "Why am I leaving my passion job(s)." 

    The positions I had this issue with were going to be 40hrs a week, no overtime, and set schedule. I only mentioned that I could teach classes after work, because the interviewer kept asking variants on, "Why do you want to give up your passion?" 

    In the past, I've tried looking at company resources and articles about the company in popular media and other sources. When I've discussed certain things that were widely known, if the hiring manager wasn't working on that, they didn't care and my impression was, that they thought I applied to the wrong job posting. I partially get that. But, when all the analytics job ads have the exact same description, no matter what you will really do, how am I supposed to know that Ref#2316587 is for Dept A and Ref#2351020 is for Dept B, etc.   

    Depending upon the company, I probably already know several people that work there. Might even have discussed some of their issues privately and hypothetically. With one exception, I don't like to talk about "insider" information at an interview. And that one company won't even give my resume a review. I worked as a grad assistant and main data analyst for a prof who had a contract to analyze their data. In 30 mins, while drinking and watching reruns of Jerry Springer, I outdid the company's entire analytics dept and their year of work. I gave a presentation to a VP for Quality. My results were solid and actionable. Potentially got the company a couple million in compensation from a supplier. And he loved all of that! Now, I'm not good enough to get a "thank you for applying. We decided to move on with other people." email. 

    Depending upon the "group" I apply to, I already have some ideas about what they do and how to make things better. I've had some interviewers wonder how I already knew some much about their process.

    Having been a chemist for about 10 years before getting into stats and applied math, I know more about the data generating process in medical lab results than most statisticians ever will. I know the pitfalls too. Since I know a lot of people working in medical labs, I know what happens in the lab. About all the data that doesn't get reported, and why. Sadly, none of the biostatisticians I've talked to about the data generating processes care about how the data was actually generated. It's more about what is the number they see when they pull the data from a database and the statistical method to use for that type of data. The fact the data they see is the 4th try, because the 3 previous tries failed "QC standard" is not of interest to them. 

    Sorry that was a lot and thanks for the reply. 

    Andrew Ekstrom

    Statistician, Chemist, HPC Abuser;-)

  • 4.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-14-2023 12:15

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for sharing. I have to say this is a common issue. I am sure many can relate and are stuck in jobs/careers they hate for many of the same reasons. 

    If it was me, I would tell the prospective employer that I have discovered a newfound interest in applications that cannot be satisfied merely by teaching. If you are applying for anything related to medicine or healthcare, they will like to hear that you care about serving their patient population and helping them live longer and better.

    If you have extensive experience as a chemist, I think you would be a pretty attractive candidate in the pharma/biotech industry. There are usually not too many statisticians who have that kind of knowledge which is pretty important for drug development and for interacting with the clinical team. You can also raise your salary expectations significantly if you go this route, and even get some equity included in your compensation as well.

    Working with a good recruiter may help too and they often have great suggestions on how to handle these types of questions, including specific advice for the company you are applying for. Investing time in your LinkedIn profile is well worth it as this is the main tool recruiters use to find statisticians.

    Do not give up. If you persist, you will succeed and find your dream job where your knowledge will make a difference.

    Greg Zajac
    Principal Biostatistician
    Incyte Corporation

  • 5.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-14-2023 14:41

    I appreciate that. 

    What I would love to do is to be a statistical consultant. I'd think that my background in both science/engineering AND math and stats would be a benefit. But, when I've applied to consultant jobs, since I don't have BS, MS, PhD in stats or math, most of the academic jobs, like those at CSCAR at U of Mich, are off limits. For non-academic consulting jobs, the fact I took over 20 stats classes at the graduate level makes others think I'm an "academic" and they want people with knowledge of the system or process. So, they won't talk to me either. On the occasions that I do talk to consultants about designing various types of experiments, say a toxicology experiment, the consultants tend to get confused about what I want to do, because I know you CAN use topics from a Design of Experiments class. They never had anyone ask about that before. So, they assumed no one did that, or worse, you CANNOT do that. (Which is wrong. But, some of the textbooks on designing a tox experiment tell readers, "You cannot change more than one things at a time during an experiment. Because stats does not allow this." Which we all know is wrong. 

    I would hope and think that having insider knowledge of what scientists and engineers know about stats would be a great benefit for consulting. For academic consulting, I am wrong. For commercial or industrial consulting, I am right. I would think that my extensive knowledge of stats would be a benefit for consulting. For academic consulting, its not enough. For industrial consulting, it's off putting. Which I think means, the rules of thermodynamics apply. (You can never win. Only go slower into chaos;-) 

    Andrew Ekstrom

    Statistician, Chemist, HPC Abuser;-)

  • 6.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-17-2023 10:00


    My own degree is in community psychology, yet I've been working at an academic statistical consulting center since 2009. Such jobs aren't off limits if the people doing the hiring understand that people with degrees from other scientific disciplines absolutely can have relevant statistical knowledge and skills. Our unit is well aware of that fact and is open to hiring people who demonstrate capacity for excellence in doing applied statistical work and collaborating with research partners who are not themselves statisticians (and don't want to be because they are subject matter experts instead). So, we usually have job postings requiring a degree in statistics or a quantitative field. That "or a quantitative field" bit leaves the door open for people from other disciplines who have heavily invested in developing statistical expertise even if their degree doesn't come from a statistics or math department. 

    All that said, we are currently recruiting to fill a position. I've pasted in the job description below. 

    Associate Director

    Center for Statistical Training and Consulting (CSTAT,

    Michigan State University (MSU)  
    East Lansing, Michigan

    CSTAT is a thriving unit within the Office of Research and Innovation at MSU. CSTAT has a proud tradition of over 15 years of collaborating with internationally renowned researchers and external partners and is seeking a highly motivated doctoral level individual to join the team as Associate Director.

    You will:

    • Coordinate CSTAT's projects with CSTAT's consultants and manage CSTAT's SQL project database and reports
    • Assist in the overall administration and stakeholder relations
    • Participate in collaborative research with a diverse group of researchers
    • Mentor and coach graduate students

    You have:

    • A doctoral degree in statistics or a quantitative field
    • 4 years of statistical consulting and research experience
    • Excellent programming skills, e.g. R or SQL
    • 2 years of managerial experience (project management, budget, supervising team members)
    • Proficiency in applied statistical methodology
    • Strong interpersonal skills and written and oral communication skills

    You can:

    • Help shape the future of CSTAT
    • Use and develop leadership skills and experience
    • Expand your professional network
    • Manage external client base
    • Build multi-disciplinary collaborations and partnerships
    • Participate in proposal writing and funded grants/contracts as an investigator (e.g. PI, Co-PI, Co-I, consultant)
    • Publish papers and other scholarly products (e.g., data sets, software)
    • Teach seminars and workshops

    Application and position details (, Job No. 844209):

    CSTAT is home to several outstanding consultants and support staff within the Office of Research and Innovation at MSU. CSTAT provides employees with a diverse set of duties that foster learning new skills and knowledge, and a collegial environment where employees regularly share information, ideas, resources, and solutions to problems. CSTAT attracts talented staff and students who reflect the diversity of the population we serve. CSTAT invests in its employees by providing on-the-job training, mentoring, and financial support for professional development.

    Michigan State University has been advancing the common good with uncommon will for more than 160 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU pushes the boundaries of discovery and forges enduring partnerships to solve the most pressing global challenges while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

    Steven Pierce
    Associate Director
    Center for Statistical Training and Consulting, Michigan State University

  • 7.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-17-2023 12:58

    I appreciate the response. 

    When I was accepted into the MS Ind Eng program at Wayne State, I tried to work with, even volunteer with the RDA group. Since Wayne still doesn't have much of a Stats dept, I think they have 2-3 total stats profs, the RDA group is headed by the Psychology dept. They only accepted Psych students as "interns". 

    I've seen some of the openings at MSU. I applied to a couple dozen so far, over the last year. I only have a pair of MS degrees. So, all of those PhD requirements are beyond my level. (Even if by the end of this term, I will have taken every unique stats class offered at Eastern and U of M Dearborn.) 

    I did notice that you have 2-3 different openings posted right now. The one with the College of Veterinary Science is more like what I would want to do. But, the PhD requirement puts me out of the running. 

    The last job I interviewed for at MSU was to work in Flint with the Flint registry. While discussing some of the types of things that went on there, I think your department might want to have a chat with them about the analyses they were doing. Which made that interview very awkward. They insisted on analyzing and interpreting data using methods I teach my students NOT to do. Which would mean, t work for them, I would have to turn my back on what I preach in class. Turn my back on sound statistical methods too. Sadly, when I interviewed for that position, I wasn't willing to do that. Now..... Yes I would. And that is sad. 

    Andrew Ekstrom

    Statistician, Chemist, HPC Abuser;-)

  • 8.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-14-2023 16:58

    Interviewers asking that are simply demonstrating whopping ignorance about the realities of academia. And if they don't understand what statisticians do and how they do it, that company is not a good fit for you.

    Besides, you can always answer, "I am passionate about doing statistics right. There was a time when this meant training others in doing statistics right. That stage of my career seems to have come to an end." Or even "Please allow me to be the arbiter of what I am passionate about. That judgement sits with me, not with your HR department."

    Stanislav Kolenikov
    Principal Statistician
    NORC at The University of Chicago

  • 9.  RE: Escaping Academia

    Posted 03-17-2023 12:59

    I like the idea. Mind if I steal it for next time? 

    Andrew Ekstrom

    Statistician, Chemist, HPC Abuser;-)