The AI Brain Drain: Why Academia Is Losing Talent To Industry


As the field of artificial intelligence continues to rapidly expand, there is a noticeable shift in where AI Ph.D. graduates are choosing to apply their expertise. The latest data from Stanford’s 2021 Artificial Intelligence Index Report reveals a significant trend: the number of new AI Ph.D. graduates entering the AI industry post-graduation has been steadily increasing, while the percentage entering academia has been declining.

Key Takeaway

The increasing number of AI Ph.D. graduates choosing to enter the industry rather than academia, driven by lucrative salaries and incentives, is leading to a significant brain drain in academic institutions, raising concerns about the future of AI research and education.

The Shift from Academia to Industry

According to the report, the share of new AI Ph.D.s entering academia dropped by 44% from 42.1% in 2010 to 23.7% in 2019, while the number entering the AI industry post-graduation grew from 44.4% in 2010 to around 48% in 2019. This shift is largely attributed to the private industry’s willingness to offer lucrative salaries and benefits to AI talent.

Leading AI companies such as OpenAI, Anthropic, and Google are known to offer substantial salaries and incentives to attract top AI researchers. For instance, new researchers at these companies can expect salaries ranging from $700,000 to $900,000, and in some cases, large grants of restricted stock are also offered as incentives.

The Impact on Academia

While the allure of high starting salaries in the AI industry is understandably appealing to graduates, the exodus of AI talent from academia to industry is having a concerning impact. A 2019 survey co-authored by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing revealed that nearly 100 AI faculty members left North American universities for industry jobs between 2018 and 2019.

Furthermore, the study found that prestigious universities such as Carnegie Mellon, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Washington experienced significant departures of AI faculty members to industry positions. This trend raises concerns about the potential impact on the quality and depth of AI research and education within academic institutions.

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