If you're contemplating alternatives to academia now, just wait 10-15 years or so. Git while the gittins good.
I don't understand grad students who *don't* contemplate alternatives to academia. You can love what you're doing, be in a great program, and still, the job might not be there at the other end, so it pays to at least have some other ideas for career direction. My sense is the best approach is to work as though academia is it, for sure, but at the same time to know that if academia doesn't work out, you could potentially get excited about something else. I think this is what most everybody does, but who knows.(Yes, this was pessimistic. Pardon my fourth-year anxieties!)
The only people I knew in grad school that didn't contemplate alternatives were the turbocharged people that got their PhD's in 3 years and are now, 30 years later, Fields Medalists/Nobel Prize winners/(insert your favorite huge award here). Even my friends who have named professorships at places like MIT and Yale, but took all of 4 years to graduate, had time to wonder if they should do something else.I took 5 1/2 years, as I realized after a year that I wasn't cut out to be a professor, and had to punch the reset button on myself (and spent a year doing undergraduate stuff in EE and Physics), and I had LOTS of time to daydream about alternatives. Many of my classmates that bailed went to med school, and I considered that, but then I realized that - while I might graduate in a well-defined number of years (although, as it happened, med school would have taken more years than it took me to graduate once I finished my adventures in the physics department, and I didn't really start daydreaming until I was back to acting like a math grad student again), once done, I would have to be a doctor. That killed that idea.
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