The researchers exchange science for technology

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The demand for high tech college graduates is growing, and many are choosing to leave their academic careers behind and enter the industry to earn high salaries, receive stock options and IPO bonuses

Maayan Manela 18:1812/20/21

“There are many benefits to staying in academia, but the main reason for getting into the tech industry is for business reasons. Even fixed salaries, like those of a junior lecturer, are pretty low. In addition, the high-tech industry greatly values ​​the impact of academic research. The industry is not focused on writing articles for scientific journals, but on matters that are far more important that affect society as a whole, ”explains Dr. Nuaman Asbeh, Senior Data Scientist at Centrical, left his decision to transition to high tech and his academic career behind. And many do the same.

In 2013, he completed his doctorate in machine learning at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after completing his master’s degree in health informatics, where he first began analyzing clinical data. During his doctorate, he studied probabilistic graphic models (also known as Bayesian Networks) and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the systems biology laboratory of Prof. Shai Shen-Orr at the Technion Institute of Technology.

Dr. Nuaman Asbeh (from right), Talia Shrem and Noah Dolev. Photo: Nissim Halef

“Before getting my doctorate, I started to check whether I could continue my studies in Israel or abroad. Moving abroad was difficult because my wife was working at Ben-Gurion on her own doctorate. My plan was to start a postdoc at Technion and then do another postdoc abroad, ”he said. He worked for several startups as a senior data scientist, and while at Shen-Orr’s lab, he considered which path to take.

Ultimately, because of the sheer amount of resources and data available to scientists, he chose to stay in the high-tech industry. “In science it is very difficult to get data for research purposes. Private companies are not ready to give out data so easily because it is worth much more. There’s a business interest that needs to be protected, and the data we receive may be trivial or not bothering customers. In academia, I’ve never been able to get the real dates or numbers I needed, ”Asbeh said.

Only 2% of high-tech employees have a PhD

According to 2018 figures, the percentage of high-tech PhD employees in Israel is less than 2% and only 1.7% among foreign tech companies operating in Israel. Overall, there are very few people who do their doctorate or further training in technical areas such as mathematics, statistics, computer science, electrical engineering or business informatics. Only around 70 people a year do a doctorate in mathematics, statistics or computer science, 50 of them in electrical engineering and only seven in business informatics. There has been no incentive for this in recent years due to the above-average salary and the attractive working conditions that lure people into the high-tech industry. However, the demand for PhDs has increased, and many later advanced to advanced degrees in non-technical fields such as brain sciences or economics.

Noah Dolev, Senior Research Scientist for Predictive Analytics at Gong.io, did his PhD in Neural Computing at the University of Freiburg in Germany. He devoted many years to his academic career, graduating from the Technion with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biochemistry and a master’s degree in brain science from Tel Aviv University.

After completing his PhD in 2015, he decided to return to Israel and get into the high-tech industry instead of doing his postdoc abroad. “To get ahead in Israeli science, you have to do a postdoc abroad, and to do that you have to move with your partner who will most likely not get a work permit and move abroad with young children, only such partner could work on their postdoc and don’t earn much. It is very complex and leads to a lot of people foregoing this route altogether, ”said Dolev. “I also realized that I couldn’t spend time with my family and that came at a high personal cost, so I gave up my academic career. I chose startups instead because I believe this is the only place where I can really express my scientific curiosity. ”

Dolev worked as a data figures scientist at several startups, was a senior statistician and senior data scientist at Wix, and was chief science officer leading development teams in neurolinguistic programming (NLP) until his current position at Gong. got . Recently turned into a unicorn, Gong is creating software that records, transcribes, and analyzes sales pitches so businesses can make better decisions based on data. Dolev also managed to complete his postdoc in Computational Neuroscience with a focus on computational nerve coding of the retina at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

“There is something pure about science – it tries to decipher unexplained phenomena and to enrich human knowledge without paying anything in return. It’s a magical world that still fascinates me. But I made the decision to move to high tech to implement scientific methods and concepts in an environment that seeks to turn those ideas into reality and do something that has a positive impact on all of our lives, ”he said. “I still have the soul of a scientist working in artificial intelligence,” he added. Dolev’s other employment opportunities could be as a lecturer, public service in data analysis, as a scientist for innovative companies in areas like foodtech or any other profession that requires statistics or algorithms. But Dolev feels that he has not given up on his dream. “My knowledge and experience will be used to develop artificial neural networks,” he said.

Getting a PhD and being in the industry can have advantages, but those who do not have a prestigious academic background are disadvantaged. On the one hand, employees with a university degree are in demand in the industry, and there are certain positions that are only open to this group. On the other hand, most positions are in the research field, but require strict deadlines that scientists may struggle with. There is often a gap between the rate of research at which academics are comfortable and the increasing demands of industry.

“The hottest fields right now are AI, deep learning, NLP, data science and even a bit of Python knowledge can’t hurt. We see an increase in vacancies for those with higher education, as well as in salary, considering that there are 200 vacancies in algorithms, 10% of which are open to PhD students and 20% to those with PhDs at least one Masters degree ” said Maayan Tal, a technical recruiter at Gotfriends. Without a Masters, it is almost impossible to work in the algorithmic sector, and most positions require at least four years of work experience, while those with a Bachelor’s degree alone require at least eight years of experience. ”

Some of the most prestigious academic institutions in Israel include the Technion, Weizmann Institute, and Tel Aviv University, where a person’s grade point average and subject can also affect their salary. While brain research is viewed as at the bottom of the food chain, salaries rise the more technical a degree such as math is, Tal said. Salaries range from NIS 25,000 (US $ 7,900) per month for a starting position (with no prior knowledge) to NIS 50,000 (US $ 15,800) for “superstars” who have completed their postdoc at MIT. “When we look for positions that require a doctorate, salaries fluctuate, but when we look for positions that are specifically designed for graduates, a doctorate has no impact on salary,” said Tal.

Science has no customers asking for products

Shira Mintz is Senior Director of Data Science at BioCatch, which prevents financial fraud on social networks by analyzing behavioral biometrics. Mintz received his PhD in bioinformatics from Weizmann. When she started working in industry, she suddenly saw the differences in production rates compared to the academic world that she had to adjust. “The nature of the work is completely different. In science, you have a group in a laboratory that spends a lot of time working on something and is able to do in-depth research. You don’t have customers who want to see the products you’ve been working on. The high tech industry is about customers and they need to see these results quickly. It’s a shift that needs to be made to maintain research quality and ensure that your products are of a high technological standard, ”she says.

Mintz has been with BioCatch for seven years, prior to that for three years at RSA Security, where she worked on similar content. “After completing my bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology and computer science, I knew I wanted to work in this industry, but it was also important to me to do my doctorate, become an expert and feel like an experienced, highly experienced person – a trained and qualified researcher . During my studies, I realized that I wanted to return to industry. I’ve always had a burning desire to do research, especially the application aspect. My parents are both academics, and science is something of a home, so I decided to get back into industry. There is room for entirely new areas of content that require thorough research that still benefit and contribute to the world, and especially the State of Israel. Fraud prevention runs through my veins now and that is an important goal, ”she said.

When Talia Shrem began studying brain sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she initially thought she was going to pursue an academic career, but when she graduated she wasn’t so sure. Today she is a data scientist at DayTwo, which develops algorithms to study a patient’s microbiome to prevent disease and offers personal meal planning.

“On the one hand, I really enjoyed the research and my doctorate was fun and interesting and I don’t regret it. On the other hand, it is not easy to lead an academic life; There is fierce competition for standards in Israel. You do a lot of the work on your own and move forward fairly slowly. It totally consumes your life, my research was a part of me and I couldn’t separate between my work and the rest of my life, ”said Shrem. “In the last year I visited several laboratories in the USA where I was considering doing my postdoc. I decided to give it up and took a year off from academia. It’s funny because I called it a ‘break’ for a long time and couldn’t even admit to myself that I was leaving science. It is very hard to go when all you know is and you think the way is the right one. Now I have noticed that there is no ‘right’ way. “


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