Some people do a Ph.D. while working (almost) full time in non-academic industry. This usually involves going part-time, and having buy-in from one's employer, and of course the Ph.D. will take longer and usually not be quite as "deep" as a full time Ph.D. I know at least one person who did this; they were extremely bright and very driven.

This (rare) situation generates challenges at the intersection between academia and the workplace, which I would argue are quite on topic at Academia.SE, for instance:

  • Intellectual property issues stemming from working on similar topics at work and in one's Ph.D. project
  • Interpersonal issues, e.g., between one's supervisors at work and in academia, possibly complicated by one's work supervisor changing
  • "Selling" academia-related travel or other time requirements at work
  • ...

Example questions that might benefit from this tag:

I found these by searching for "industry" in the tag and winnowing out everything that was about the relevance of an "academic" Ph.D. for industry.

However, we do not have a tag for this situation, which is definitely more specific than . Something like or . (Probably better than , because many full-time Ph.D. students actually are employed by universities, with contracts stipulating teaching or research assistant work that is sometimes hard to disentangle from the research that aims at the Ph.D.)

Do we want such a tag? (Do we already have one that I missed?)

  • I am very skeptical of any new tags and have deleted many. Before I would hold fire I'd like to know how many existing questions would benefit from this tag rather than their current ones. I think the question you link is poorly tagged, actually, but haven't thought how it might be improved. We have the quitting tag of course. And the part-time tag. I'd also frown on a three word tag, but that is personal.
    – Buffy
    Dec 13, 2023 at 21:29
  • 1
    Also note that in (parts of) Europe PhD students are normally employed by the university and even in the US, a TA is a kind of employment. So such a tag might be misused or hard to make clear enough.
    – Buffy
    Dec 13, 2023 at 21:31
  • The time-management and productivity tags might apply.
    – Buffy
    Dec 13, 2023 at 21:48
  • @Buffy: fair enough. I added some more examples, and did not have to search long, about 20-25% of questions about "industry" in the Ph.D. tag are about this situation. I agree that most Ph.D. students are employed by the university, so we should make the distinction clear in the tag. I honestly don't thing the quitting, part-time, time-management or productivity tags are especially and discriminatively relevant for this situation, though. Dec 14, 2023 at 8:34
  • Note that a combination of tags can help distinguish a case, often just as well as a specialized tag. And it allows for some variations.
    – Buffy
    Dec 14, 2023 at 12:54
  • I'll note that I haven't downvoted this since the advice for downvoting doesn't imply disagreement with the proposal, nor does upvoting imply agreement with it. I think the popup advice for this is misleading in general, here and at the main site. Yes, I think it is useful to ask this question. No, I don't think we need such a tag. It is therefore impossible to properly interpret votes on many questions.
    – Buffy
    Dec 21, 2023 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


I'm going to vote against this proposal. I don't think it is needed or helpful. Some of that is expressed in my comments.

The first example in the question is badly tagged. I haven't tried to fix it.

The second example above is more about intellectual property for which we have a tag, though it isn't included.

The third example doesn't ask about the difficulties of such things but might benefit from the work-life-balance tag.

The fourth example is about funding (again, no tag) and not about difficulties of the degree process per se.

The fifth example is about an opportunity in Germany for specialized research, again not about the difficulties of the process.

I'll note that not every such question is currently optimally tagged, but that is a common problem here.

But I also think that the OP's concerns are more about work-life-balance than anything. This is easier to maintain if you are employed by the university itself, either formally or as a TA or RA, but not fundamentally. Many people enter part-time study to get a degree and we have that tag. Others do part time employment for funding and we also have that tag.

Very few people in the US are free to study with no "work" obligations at all. A "free ride" for doctoral study is now very rare.

We have lots of tags, probably too many. Some new users think that all keywords should be new tags and add them. I generally remove them asap, unless they are the names of specific countries.

Color me opposed. Sorry.

  • "I also think that the OP's concerns are more about work-life-balance than anything" - do you mean me? Sorry, but what gave you that idea?? I have no issues whatsoever if the community does not believe this tag is useful, but honestly, work-life balance is the tiniest issue people in this situation have to deal with. It seems like my post was not well posed, so I will update it. Dec 15, 2023 at 14:58
  • @StephanKolassa, sorry if I misread it, but that seems to be the intent in your first sentence(s).
    – Buffy
    Dec 15, 2023 at 15:03
  • OK, thanks. I removed the first sentence, which was absolutely not intended to convey this message. Dec 15, 2023 at 15:04

The answer comes a bit late, hopefully some people still see and vote:

How about a tag like , which is a bit more general and includes also PhDs done at non-universtity research institutions like e.g. Fraunhofer in Germany and not just industry. It also includes situations where people do a PhD "on their own", that is self financed and without working in industry (also not that uncommon in places like Germany).

I think there are general differences when doing a PhD at a university and outside, especially when it comes to things like

  • how much contact there is with other PhD students
  • the working situation (and related issues like work-life balance)
  • the networking opportunities
  • getting funding for publications and conferences
  • the frequency with wich a PhD candidate meets with their primary supervisor (at the university)
  • the amount and type of work required by the PhD candidate outside of their PhD work
  • as well as probably a range of other issues.

so that might be the distinction that makes the creation of a new tag useful.

So: yes, lets create the tag, I think it is useful.

  • I think that is a different issue completely. Some people earn a phd for research done outside a university as this suggests. Others do it inside the university, but while employed for other tasks outside the university. These are completely different and confusing/merging them won't be an advantage for tagging. For this one, a combo (two tags) of PhD and Industry seems to suffice.
    – Buffy
    Dec 21, 2023 at 14:51
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    I don't find the arguments in this answer convincing. The differences between a PhD done on your own, outside work hours, and a well-funded industrial PhD or PhD at a renowned research institution (that is often located next doors to a related university departments anyway) seem more substantial than the differences between your average phd-outside-university and average phd-inside-university. Not to mention that the latter category also has significant in-group variation in all qualities you mention.
    – Anyon
    Dec 21, 2023 at 15:35

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