Getting a PhD in Your 50s and 60s: The Ultimate Guide

There’s a significant rise in the number of mature students returning to university to complete postgraduate degrees. You plan to be one of them. But you find yourself asking if it is feasible to start getting a PhD in your 50s and 60s. 

It’s never too late getting a PhD in your 50s and 60s because there’s no age limit in the pursuit of higher education. To give you a head start on this exciting new endeavor, we present to you the ultimate guide to getting a PhD in your prime years.

It is critical to know what to expect, such as the challenges and benefits of reviving an academic existence as a mid- or late-career student, so you can plan for the years ahead. Read on to find out how.

Why You Should Pursue a PhD at a Later Stage in Life

Why would anyone in their right mind regurgitate a period of woe and misery in their golden years when they should already be relaxing? Well, many people, not just nerds, love studying. 

There’s an entire population dedicated to life-long learning. They form the bulk of those going back to school to complete degrees that were halted mid-life due to the untimely arrival of kids, financial downfall, death in the family, or other unfortunate circumstances. These mature students don’t need a reason to return to school. Their passion drives them.

For others, the purpose is economical. Those in the middle of their career embark on a PhD to change its direction, improve their prospects, upgrade their qualification set, or to accrue further knowledge. In fields like teaching and research, a doctorate is a veritable advantage.

Nina Grunfeld , founder of Life Clubs , a network that helps people achieve life changes, explains that many, particularly women, want to return to study because they’re disgruntled or have a desire to improve themselves, revive their career, or discover new passions.

“A milestone age is often a trigger,” Grunfeld adds.

“At the Open University , favored by many part-time learners, numbers of postgraduate students over the age of 45 have been increasing steadily for the past three years, with the greatest rise (32%) in students over 65.”

Others undertake a PhD to crown a significant achievement or just to prove they can do it. This writer’s friend did it to slap her diploma in the face of her wealthy future sister-in-law, who denigrated her economic status. Education, after all, is one of the world’s greatest equalizers. 

Most crave a PhD for the prestige the three letters can add to their names. If, however, you have a natural yearning for knowledge and in-depth study of a subject you’re passionate about, the heck with your age. Go for it!

Getting a PhD in Your 50s and 60s: the Ultimate Guide

Reasons Not to Get a PhD

Thoroughly assess your reasons for pursuing a PhD, because although it’s fulfilling academically, it’s also a huge financial commitment. If you’re dissatisfied with your current job, or you think it would just be fun to be a student again, neither will give you the strength to withstand the rigors of extreme study.

On the other hand, if you’re sure that gaining this qualification will fit in with your life goals, then forge ahead!

The Benefits of Pursuing a PhD

Do you want a research doctorate, or do you want to teach? Both are the standard reasons for undertaking PhD studies. Once completed, a PhD will make you an expert in your chosen field, possibly even beyond borders!

Apart from aspects previously mentioned, especially beneficial for older people is the fact that learning builds new neural connections that improve cognitive ability, memory function, and problem-solving ability. Education is also good for boosting one’s spirit. Classroom or online learning is a social endeavor that breaks isolation and fosters social connections. 

According to the American Council on Education , social connection with teachers and peers is one of the reasons mature students over 50 pursue higher learning.

There are retirement communities (some located on campus) that partner with colleges and universities to offer residents post-secondary courses. Most of these are on the East Coast, but there are a couple in California and Florida.

Political scientist Chris Blattman explains how a PhD intangibly molds an individual: “A PhD program doesn’t just teach you, it socializes you. It gradually changes what you think is interesting and important, the peer group you compare yourself to, the value you place on leisure and family over career, and the kind of life you will value when you emerge.”

How Long Does It Take to Complete a PhD Program?

Most full-time students can complete theirs in five to six years. Part-timers can take as long as eight to 10 years. Students with a master’s degree complete their PhD in four or five years.

Some programs, like the MACRM (Master of Arts in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods) at the University of Chicago’s Harris Public Policy , offer a combination of methods. This master’s program provides intense and applied research training plus the option of a PhD at the end.

Study Methods

Studying for a PhD here is different compared to Europe. Our students are usually in direct contact with their professors. They’re expected to do a lot of teaching and marking, which encroaches on their free time off-campus. The earlier you accept this, the better you’ll cope and adopt solutions.

According to the World Economic Forum , the USA had the most doctoral graduates in 2017: 71,000. Germany and the UK followed, with 28,000 each.

In 2016, about 14% of all doctoral recipients were over age 40, per the National Science Foundation . Educators see increasing enrollment in doctoral programs by students in their 40s and 50s.

At Cornell University , women drive the trend . “The number of new female doctoral students age 36 or older was 44% higher in 2015 than in 2009,” says Barbara Knuth , senior vice provost and dean of the graduate school.

What Are the Requirements?

Generally, a PhD applicant should have completed a relevant undergraduate degree. Ideally, he should have also secured a master’s degree (with substantial research) in a related subject. Thankfully, this is optional here. Most PhD programs in the US, unlike in the UK, don’t require a master’s degree for admission. Students can move straight to doing a PhD with an undergraduate degree.

Here’s a sample of PhD requirements from the University of California, Berkeley , a public research university regarded as one of our most prestigious. This is a list of their graduate programs and application deadlines. We chose Berkeley as an example, because it had the highest number of top-ranked doctoral programs nationwide, according to a National Research Council report .

Required documentation includes, but isn’t limited to official transcripts, course descriptions from previous institutions attended, proof of language proficiency, references, and cover letters.

How to Apply

For admission to your chosen institution, visit its website. Check its rankings, course listings, faculty, and requirements specific to your field of study. Talk to other students and professors, learn about your desired department, and uncover the social scene.

Deadlines for applications to PhD programs are usually between December and February. You’ll get an answer by April. Most institutions recommend that you apply way in advance to give both parties plenty of time for arrangements. They require international students to have a TOEFL score of around 90, but this varies depending on the institution.

In Europe, students choose their PhD subject area before they apply. Here, potential PhD students can take up to a year or two deciding on their research subject while attending classes at a graduate level. Students normally apply to more than one institution—and separately because there’s no central organization that processes applications.

Students in Europe are expected to apply with existing knowledge of the subject via a master’s degree. They begin PhD studies right away. Here, universities accept that students don’t have an in-depth understanding of their subject and permit them to decide later.

Tips to Get a (Slight) Advantage

Get the best quality general research pre-training possible. Apply to as many top schools as you can. Visit all the institutions that accepted you. Narrow down your choices according to fit and quality.

Applying to many places is crucial because the admissions process is competitive and random. Whittling 100 promising candidates down to 30 is subjective. Even outstanding candidates might not be admitted.

Institutions are more likely to admit you if you demonstrate a good fit with their faculty. That’s why you have to research the faculty and their work, and explain how you fit in. Mention in your cover letter the staff members you see as complementary to your research. Note that deciding committees in politics programs take cover letters more seriously than their counterparts in economics.

Strive to gain entry into one of the top 10 schools in your field because it gives you a better chance at an academic job. This is true in economics, the most hierarchical field in social science.

Which University Should You Attend?

Getting a PhD in Your 50s and 60s: the Ultimate Guide

Rankings shouldn’t be the main deciding factor, but they’re an excellent indicator of educational expertise. To choose the best from the 4,000 nationwide, see this list of our best universities in 2020 and how they feature in worldwide rankings. The top five are Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Princeton.

How to Choose the Right Institution

Consider these factors.

Your field of study, their programs, specialties, facilities, and faculty rating. Your choice depends on your preferred career and the course credit you’ve accumulated. 

If you’re certain about your field of interest and feel confident it will sustain you for the entire program, you’ll have a greater chance of getting accepted.

Researching their specialties will tell you if they’re appropriate for your area of study. See what areas they’ve worked in, their study focus, what they’ve published, and how well their work has been received. Also, investigate the quality of their student-faculty, as a postgrad study is collaborative and intense. You need to have the right people in your group.

What is the university best known for? Choose one renowned in the field you’re interested in to ensure you have the appropriate experts on hand to help you. Evaluate the kinds of research projects done in the university.

Choosing a venue depends on your circumstances. Staying near your home allows you to work part-time while studying. Most PhDs require only occasional visits to the university, so you may opt to take the course far from home, then travel when necessary. Alternatively, you could move closer to your university for greater immersion into the social scene and a closer connection to the student community.

If you choose to study away from home, contact your chosen university’s accommodation office first. Many university towns have student accommodation in place, but spots tend to go quickly, so apply early. Next, research on- and off-campus accommodation. Check online local listings and bulletin boards for private rentals.

Social Life

Check out student life on social media. What organizations do they have? Are they the sort you would want to join?

Staff/Student Ratio

The more staff available to each student, the better.

Choose From These Categories of Institutions

  • Public Universities (aka state colleges)—open to anyone who qualifies. They’re funded by state governments. Being larger, they can accommodate many students and offer a wide variety of degree programs. Some offer scholarships.
  • Private Non-Profit Colleges —their tuition is much higher than that of state universities or community colleges, but they don’t profit from it. As they’re smaller, they offer specific courses and specialized degrees. They receive funds only from tuition fees and donations.
  • Private For-Profit Colleges —similar to non-profits in course study and general cost, but they’re set up as a business. This affects the type of degree programs offered.
  • Liberal Arts Colleges —offer one expansive area of study rather than specific degree tracks. As they’re smaller, instructors give you more attention. Though most focus on undergraduate education, some offer good postgraduate degree programs too. Campus culture is quite different from that of a traditional university.
  • Online Postgraduate Colleges —perfect for those juggling jobs and family as it offers flexibility in assignment completion. Most coursework and classroom discussions are held online, but you may have to go to a physical classroom part of the time, especially as you get closer to graduation. An online degree is as valuable as one you physically attend.

Ask Your Intended University These Questions

  • What are my chances of finding a job after graduation? See the career prospects below.
  • How flexible is your program? This depends on the subject area. The Humanities and the Arts offer a greater degree of flexibility than science-oriented ones. North American institutions offer slightly less flexibility than their European counterparts. See whether you can pick and choose components, or if the whole program is indelibly fixed from beginning to end.
  • What research resources are available? Decent computer networks and an equipped library are not enough. Serious research requires office-based administration support, reprographic services, and essentials of a proper business center. Disregard any institution that lacks support.
  • How versatile is your department? Some departments prefer one research method. Others favor newer ones, non-traditional teaching styles, or a radical approach. Extensive departments offer a wider spectrum of methods and potential areas of study. You may thrive better with a broader tradition of research methodologies or value the security of knowing what is expected of you.
  • What are your non-academic amenities? Also, check out other facilities, like leisure programs, for maintaining a work/life balance. Small universities in remote towns offer lesser cultural or social options.

How to Get Into a Top Institution

Entry into the top 10 or 15 schools is extremely competitive. Focus on getting exceptional recommendations, experience, grades, and GRE scores. Most departments appoint a small committee of four to six faculty members for admissions. The committee changes every year, so results are hard to predict.

Work on research projects with professors. Try before you commit. Become a research assistant (RA) in your department or secure RA jobs with professors in top departments in your area. This will help with references and your statement.

How to Fund Your Studies

Getting a PhD in Your 50s and 60s: the Ultimate Guide

The cost of traditional programs can vary between $20,000 to $60,000 per year. Shorter programs are cheaper. If a PhD is going to drown you in debt, think twice. Attend an institution with full funding if you can. This is often a barter deal: free tuition in exchange for research and teaching.

Another reason for applying in advance is to give plenty of time to arrange funding. Deadlines for application for funding can be as early as December for studies beginning in the fall. Many students can get part or full funding through scholarships, fellowships, bursaries, loans, and government assistance. Help is also available for parents, such as childcare subsidies, single-parent grants, bursaries, and free school meals for children.

Some PhD students will receive a university stipend with an assistantship position, but this varies between institutions and between departments within institutions. This is an example from Cornell University . Many government schemes like The Fulbright Program offer scholarships.

You can also obtain bursaries from abroad. An example is the Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries in the UK, open to all nationalities. In Canada, senior citizens can have their tuition waived for one undergraduate and graduate degree.

What to Do After Admission

Once you’ve secured funding and accommodation, these are the next steps:

Find a Supervisor

Write your research proposal if you’re self-proposing your PhD. Then find an institution and a supervising academic to support you during your research. Choose those with whom you’ll work well. To achieve this, you must network and meet people in your field of research.

Apply for an Assistantship

Doctorate assistantships are advertised on university websites and wherever academic jobs are advertised. Applications for these are very competitive, so apply for several.

Clarify Duties in Your Department

While researching and writing, many PhD students take on additional responsibilities, such as helping professors and lecturers with their classes or marking and evaluating undergraduate work. These extra tasks may be paid or not.

Prepare for Your Dissertation Early

A dissertation is a means to contribute new knowledge, theories, or practices to your field. Introduce an entirely new concept, develop it, and defend its worth. Your dissertation should be around 70,000 to 100,000 words.

Your subject area will determine if you have to write your dissertation while attending classes or do so after research completion. Regardless, preps always help at crunch time.

You are expected to defend your dissertation with a public presentation. Afterward, you will have a private session with the dissertation committee to evaluate if you’ve earned your doctorate. This is why it’s important to have a positive relationship with faculty, peers, and supervisors.

Career Prospects 

What type of job can you expect after graduation?

Traditionally, graduate school hones students to become future scholars and live an intellectual life, produce innovative research, and become professors at four-year institutions. Fulfilling research careers are plentiful, but there are other ways PhD recipients can use their degrees to benefit society. For instance, they can pursue alternative academic careers in K-12 administration or the nonprofit sector.

The top 10 to 20 schools staff the top 100 to 200 universities. So PhDs outside the top 30 schools are unlikely to lead to careers in research universities, though this varies by discipline. Graduates of lower-ranked programs can work for the government or at teaching universities, international institutions, and think tanks. Job satisfaction rates are usually high.

If you aim to teach in a business department in a community college or a four-year school, an MBA may be enough. You need a doctorate, however, for a full-time job at a four-year teaching-focused school. Community colleges may hire you full-time with just a master’s, but you’ll be competing against those with doctorates.

Jobs should properly compensate you for the time spent completing your PhD. Ask your targeted institutions what the employment rate is for their graduates and their links to prospective employers. Institutions with strong ties to private companies offer more chances of future employment.

Ultimately, it boils down to your chosen subject matter. Some PhD courses like law will definitely enhance your career. Non-vocational fields like Greek mythology, however, are less likely to improve your future earning capacity or alter your career trajectory. Intellectually, of course, the reward is priceless.

Advantages of Being an Older Student

The obvious one is that your decision to return to university is likely the result of planning over several years, not a rushed, uneducated hack at the dartboard. This gives you ample time to choose your field of study.

Your work experience, professionalism, people skills, and ability to manage multiple commitments will prove invaluable throughout your studies. Course tutors also treat older students differently than their younger, undergraduate counterparts—in a good way.

Keeping Up With the Young Ones

Despite there being no age barriers in a PhD entry, age makes a difference somewhat on campus. The gap in the life experience of a young adult and a mature student is vast. The ramifications for the latter have to do with social life, interactions during class discussions and group projects, and how older students are treated by professors and non-academic staff.

For an Equal Footing…

Join organizations, societies, and sports clubs. These aren’t exclusive to undergraduate students. Not all activities are drunken, drug-crazed meet-ups. Being a part of a campus association could benefit your career development in the way of learning a unique skill or developing a new interest.

Maintaining a Balance

Many mature students return to school juggling study with family and work commitments. This makes prioritizing studies challenging. Some, especially working moms, feel guilty about not giving everyone equal attention. So they study part-time or employ creative means to manage their time.

Avenues of Support

As a mature student, you may wonder how you’ll cope with the demands of scholastic life as you’ve been out of academia for many years and can’t remember the last time you wrote an essay.

Fear not. Most universities run workshops on topics like researching, essay writing, referencing, and library use—usually at the start of the academic year. Approach your university for help with matters off-limits to family and friends. Ask your tutor for advice. Your cohort group is also a source of support and shared experiences.

The Value of Networking 

Although a PhD elevates academic achievement, it doesn’t guarantee employment in your field. Networking adds value to your career and provides growth opportunities. Relationships ease career transitions needed to pursue better opportunities. Give back by sharing your connections and expertise.

Ageism and Sexism in Academia

US universities may not be perfect, but education-related discrimination is minimal compared to many countries. Be thankful for this, and take advantage of the privilege. To illustrate what women PhD applicants have to deal with in other countries, in China , you cannot apply for a PhD after age 40.

In the Philippines, admissions departments ask invasive questions and request antiquated requirements, such as copies of marriage certificates. These are requested from both foreign and local applicants but ONLY WOMEN. You may think this requirement is from a patriarchal provincial college, but it’s an item from actual requirement lists from two of the country’s Ivy League universities, which are supposed to be progressive.

The pursuit of a PhD is a life-changer. We trust the pathways we presented will help you make the right choice based on your needs and preferred course of study. Good luck with your aspirations in higher education, which will hopefully lead to your dream career. The fulfillment will surely be unparalleled. 

A Scottish student in her 50s encapsulates the postgraduate sentiment impeccably: “There is value to being an older PhD student, and there is value to universities having us. There just needs to be more of us.”

  • PhD Studies: Three Reasons Why It’s Never Too Late to Get a PhD
  • The New York Times: Taking On the PhD Later in Life
  • The Independent: Real late starter—age is no obstacle if you’re motivated
  • World Economic Forum: Which countries have the most doctoral graduates?
  • The World University Rankings: Best Universities in the United States 2020
  • The World University Rankings: World University Rankings 2020
  • Berkeley Graduate Division: Graduate Programs & Deadlines to Apply
  • Berkeley News: National Research Council ranks UC Berkeley’s PhD programs among nation’s best
  • Thesis Rush: Can You Get A PhD Without Masters? Let’s Find Out!
  • Senior Living Blog: University-Based Retirement Communities
  • Inside Higher Ed: Receiving Your Doctorate to Work at a Community College?
  • Quora: What is the lowest accepted GPA for Harvard admission?
  • How to apply for a Postgrad Solutions Study Bursary
  • Save the Student: 10 ways American unis are different from UK unis
  • Postgrad: PhD in UK
  • Postgrad: PhD in USA
  • Postgrad: Graduate School USA
  • Postgrad: How To Get A PhD
  • Postgrad: Studying for a PhD—the basics
  • Postgrad: 5 Steps to Getting Ready for Postgrad Study in the USA
  • Postgrad: Common PhD Myths
  • Postgrad: What? Where? Why? When? How? Is A Phd Right For Me?
  • Postgrad: 5 Things To Ask When Looking For A Phd
  • Postgrad: What Are the Different Types of Postgraduate University in the US?
  • Postgrad: PhD Studentships

Hey there, my name is Anja, I’ve seen and supported my mom’s incredible transformation in her fifties. Seeing how my mom “awakened” and took full control over her life really impressed me. I got inspired and started dreaming about how we could inspire more people, especially women, to open up and create a second life for themselves. That’s how the idea of came to life…

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Average age of a phd student: when is it too late, published by steve tippins on june 16, 2022 june 16, 2022.

Last Updated on: 2nd February 2024, 02:36 am

In 2020, the average age of a graduate from a PhD program in the United States was 33. However, 6% of the graduates were over 45. 

When people ask what the average age of a PhD student is, many times they’re really asking, “Am I too old to get a PhD?” The answer is almost always no. Let’s explore some different scenarios. 

When Is It Too Late to Get a PhD?

As an academic career coach, I’ve been asked by more than a few people if it’s too late for them to get a PhD. Some of these people were even in their twenties, worried that working for two years after their undergraduate degree had inexorably barred them from the halls of academia. 

Others were past middle age, looking for a career change. In either case, the answer is ultimately no, it’s not too late to get a PhD . However, there are some important things to keep in mind if this is something you’re considering.

Getting a PhD for Your Career

woman studying in her home office filled with plants

Let’s say you want to get a PhD to pursue a career in academia or elsewhere. You enter a PhD program at 25 or even 30, the average PhD duration takes six to eight years. That means you will finish when you are around 30 to 37. The normal retirement age to get Social Security in the United States is 67, so that’s at least 30 years ahead of you – lots of time for your career. If you look around academia, there’s a lot of people older than 67.

You have a chance for a very long career, even if you’re 42 and finish your PhD at 50. That’s still over 15 years before retirement age. These days, very few people stay at a job for 15 years. Rest assured that you have ample opportunity to have a meaningful career.

Over 50% of doctoral candidates don’t finish their dissertations.

doing a phd at 45

Student Loan Debt Considerations

If you’re 61 and taking loans out, it will be a while before you pay those off. Debt is something to think about before getting a PhD. If you can get into a PhD program that pays your tuition or even provides you a stipend, you may be able to graduate with a much smaller student loan debt. That assistance could allow you to consider a PhD later in life. 

What Is the Minimum Age for Getting a PhD?

top view of a woman studying in her home office

To get a PhD, you have to have graduated from undergraduate school. From there, some people can go right into a PhD program. If you graduate at the traditional age of 22, you’d be getting your PhD somewhere around age 25 at a minimum.

There are stories about people who graduate from high school at 12 and college at 16. They could theoretically get their PhD at 19 or 20. However, people like this are quite rare.

Can You Get a PhD by Age 25?

It is possible to get a PhD by age 25, particularly if you graduate from college at 21 or 22. If it takes three or four years to get a PhD, you could graduate by 25.

What Is The Best Age to Get a PhD?

The best age to get a PhD is three years ago. The second best time is now. In reality, the best age to get a PhD is whenever you are able to complete it. The earlier you finish your PhD, the more of a life and career you’ll have with it , but there is no optimal age.

Does Having a Master’s Shorten the Time it Takes to Get a PhD?

blonde woman at a master's graduation in the sunlight

Having a Master’s can shorten the time it takes to get a PhD , depending on your discipline. If PhD programs in your discipline are structured such that they assume you have a Master’s before you enter, then yes, you’re going to finish a PhD faster. 

If you enter without a Master’s, you may have to get the Master’s first to be allowed in the PhD program. Otherwise, you may have to take some remedial coursework. If your discipline is not set up in that manner, having a Master’s may not allow you to move faster.

Final Thoughts

As society ages and with employers having problems finding eligible workers, the problem of ageism will become less severe. Getting a PhD at any age is going to be a viable option. If you are interested in a PhD and it’s something you have a burning desire to do, don’t let age stop you. 

doing a phd at 45

Are you considering getting your PhD? We’re here to help. Check out our Dissertation Coaching and Academic Career Coaching services.

Steve Tippins

Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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Taking On the Ph.D. Later in Life

doing a phd at 45

By Mark Miller

  • April 15, 2016

ROBERT HEVEY was fascinated by gardening as a child, but then he grew up and took a 30-year career detour. Mr. Hevey earned a master’s in business and became a certified public accountant, working for accounting firms and businesses ranging from manufacturing to enterprise software and corporate restructuring.

“I went to college and made the mistake of getting an M.B.A. and a C.P.A.,” he recalled with a laugh.

Now 61, Mr. Hevey is making up for lost time. He’s a second-year Ph.D. student in a plant biology and conservation program offered jointly by Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Mr. Hevey, whose work focuses on invasive species, started on his master’s at age 53, and he expects to finish his doctorate around five years from now, when he will be 66.

“When I walk into a classroom of 20-year-olds, I do raise the average age a bit,” he says.

While the overall age of Ph.D. candidates has dropped in the last decade, about 14 percent of all doctoral recipients are over age 40, according to the National Science Foundation. Relatively few students work on Ph.D.s at Mr. Hevey’s age, but educators are seeing increasing enrollment in doctoral programs by students in their 40s and 50s. Many candidates hope doctorates will help them advance careers in business, government and nonprofit organizations; some, like Mr. Hevey, are headed for academic research or teaching positions.

At Cornell University, the trend is driven by women. The number of new female doctoral students age 36 or older was 44 percent higher last year than in 2009, according to Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the graduate school.

“One of the shifts nationally is more emphasis on career paths that call for a Ph.D.,” Dr. Knuth said. “Part of it is that we have much more fluidity in career paths. It’s unusual for people to hold the same job for many years.”

“The people we see coming back have a variety of reasons,” she added. “It could be a personal interest or for career advancement. But they are very pragmatic and resilient: strong thinkers, willing to ask questions and take a risk in their lives.”

Many older doctoral candidates are motivated by a search for meaning, said Katrina Rogers, president of Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif., which offers programs exclusively for adult learners in psychology, human and organizational development and education.

“Students are asking what they can do with the rest of their lives, and how they can have an impact,” she said. “They are approaching graduate school as a learning process for challenging themselves intellectually, but also along cognitive and emotional lines.”

Making a home for older students also makes business sense for universities and colleges, said Barbara Vacarr, director of the higher education initiative at, a nonprofit organization focused on midlife career change. “The convergence of an aging population and an undersupply of qualified traditional college students are both a call to action and an opportunity for higher education.”

Some schools are serving older students in midcareer with pragmatic doctoral programs that can be completed more quickly than the seven or eight years traditionally required to earn a Ph.D. Moreover, many of those do not require candidates to spend much time on campus or even leave their full-time jobs.

That flexibility can help with the cost of obtaining a doctorate. In traditional programs, costs can range from $20,000 a year to $50,000 or more — although for some, tuition expenses are offset by fellowships. The shorter programs are less costly. The total cost at Fielding, for example, is $60,000.

Susan Noyes, an occupational therapist in Portland, Me., with 20 years’ experience under her belt, returned to school at age 40 for a master’s degree in adult education at the University of Southern Maine, then pursued her Ph.D. at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. During that time, she continued to work full time and raise three children. She finished the master’s at 44 — a confidence-builder that persuaded her to work toward a Ph.D. in adult learning, which she earned at age 49.

Dr. Noyes, 53, made two visits annually to Lesley’s campus during her doctoral studies, usually for a week to 10 days. She now works as an assistant professor of occupational therapy at the University of Southern Maine.

At the outset of her graduate education, Dr. Noyes wasn’t looking for a career change. Instead, she wanted to update her skills and knowledge in the occupational therapy field. But she soon found herself excited by the chance to broaden her intellectual horizons. “I’ve often said I accidentally got my Ph.D.,” she said.

Lisa Goff took the traditional Ph.D. path, spending eight years getting her doctorate in history. An accomplished business journalist, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in history at the University of Virginia in 2001 while working on a book project. Later, she decided to keep going for her doctorate, which she earned in 2010, the year she turned 50. Her research is focused on cultural history, with a special interest in landscapes.

Dr. Goff had planned to use the degree to land a job in a museum, but at the time, museum budgets were being cut in the struggling economy. Instead, a university mentor persuaded her to give teaching a try. She started as an adjunct professor in the American studies department at the University of Virginia, which quickly led to a full-time nontenure-track position. This year, her fourth full year teaching, her position was converted to a tenure-track job.

“I thought an academic job would be grueling — not what I wanted at all,” she recalls. “But I love being in the classroom, finding ways to get students to contribute and build rapport with them.”

As a graduate student, she never found the age gap to be a challenge. “Professors never treated me as anything but another student, and the other students were great to me,” Dr. Goff said. The toughest part of the transition, she says, was the intellectual shock of returning to a rigorous academic environment. “I was surprised to see just how creaky my classroom muscles were,” she recalled. “I really struggled in that first class just to keep up.”

Mr. Hevey agrees, saying he has experienced more stress in his academic life than in the business world. “I’m using my brain in such a different way now. I’m learning something new every day.”

His advice to anyone considering a similar move? “Really ask yourself if this is something you want to do. If you think it would just be nice to be a student again, that’s wrong. It’s not a life of ease: You’ll be working all the time, perhaps for seven or eight years.”

Mr. Hevey does not expect to teach, but he does hope to work in a laboratory or do research. “I’m certainly not going to start a new career at 66 or 67,” he said. “But I’m not going to go home and sit on the couch, either.”

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Deciding to Pursue a PhD in your 40s and 50s


Deciding to Pursue a PhD in your 40s and 50s, time has a whole new meaning. Researchers find that people in their 40s and above tend to value different things like relationships and making a difference. For example, Carstensen et al (1999) suggest that time plays a role in our goals and behaviors when time is viewed as limited or expansive.

I always knew I wanted to earn or pursue a PhD but other things in life took over. It wasn’t till I was in my 40s that I decided it was time to pursue that goal. If you’re in your 40s and 50s and ever thought about Deciding to Pursue a PhD, there’s no better time than now.

After working in industry for many years, I went back to school in 2011 to complete my master’s. In another post, I’ll talk about that journey and how I decided on doing it in a business school rather than the school of engineering.

Like many people, I completed my master’s degree while working. Afterward, I decided to go ahead and apply to pursue a PhD. This decision was not easy. I had been talking about my intent with two of my professors during my master’s program. They were supportive.

There are many things to consider in Deciding to Pursue a PhD in your 40s and 50s.

The decision might involve resigning from my job. Oh no, this was not an easy one. The decision might involve not always being available for my kids who were in middle school and junior high school at the time; also not an easy one. What was I going to do about income if I left my job to pursue a Ph.D. education full time?

You see, many of the reputable schools in my area only accepted full-time students. This made the online pursue a PhD programs seem inviting, if only for a fleeting moment. But, a good friend of mine and the two professors steered me away from that notion.

The income question also led me to think of pursue a PhD in the UK. Many of the Ph.D. programs in the UK had 3-year commitments rather than 4. Again, I was steered away from that decision because I had a growing family.

It came down to 3-4 universities. My choice of the University of North Texas and their selection of my candidacy was perfect. In hindsight, it is still the best decision, especially because of the culture; collaborative, but at the same time, rigorous.

I did quit my job. Though it was a hard decision, it is one that I’ll make again given the Ph.D. workload. I had saved some money from working full-time for a number of years. Since I was a student, I was going to live like a student. Besides, the Ph.D. program was funded by the school: tuition and a little stipend.

The first semester of my Ph.D. Education (in my 40s)

The start of my first semester was a bit difficult. I was learning so many new things at the same time. I was learning another way of thinking about problems. But most of all, I was learning how to unlearn stuff.

Because I came from industry where I had spent almost two decades, I had a way of thinking that was at odds with academia. I just could not reconcile academic thinking with what I already knew. I kept hitting roadblocks because of this.

A professor advised me to recognize that these were two hats that I was trying to wear at the same time and that I needed to take off the industry hat for a bit so I can wear the research hat. It was a tug of war, but I eventually learned how to move seamlessly from one space to another.

When most of your classmates are in their 20s and 30s

Out of a cohort of about 16 Ph.D. students, only two of us were in our 40s. The work/reading load was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I used to say I enjoyed reading. After that first semester, the exercise that used to bring me joy became a burden.

My previous work experience helped me in one key aspect. It helped me with time and project management. I treated each class like it was a project with a start and end date, and deliverables. I knew how much I had in the day and how to split the time based on the deliverables. I accounted for 15 minutes intervals.

At the time, pdf reading apps were not popular but I found the available ones and used it for reading articles as I drove back and forth from school. I read while cooking or doing other chores at home.

Even though I knew I could strive to complete my Ph.D. in 3 years, I knew the cost to my family and my research portfolio . It meant that I would spend more time on the education front and even less time with my family. It was a cost I wasn’t willing to bear. So, I took the normal route of 4 years.

I am happy I took this journey.

What about you, what’s your story?

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Is it a good time to be getting a PhD? We asked those who’ve done it

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Researcher, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University

doing a phd at 45

Postdoctoral Research Associate, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University

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The number of Australian PhD graduates reached around 10,000 a year in 2019, twice as many as in 2005. However, the number of PhDs has been exceeding the available academic positions since as early as the mid-1990s. In 2020, universities purged around 10% of their workforce due to the pandemic, and many university careers are still vulnerable .

Given these statistics, you might wonder if doing a PhD is still a good idea. Based on our discussions with PhD holders, there are still plenty of very good reasons, which is good news in 2021.

Read more: 2021 is the year Australia's international student crisis really bites

In June 2020 we interviewed 12 PhD holders from multiple disciplines for our podcast Career Sessions to investigate the question: why do a PhD?

Why do a PhD?

The PhD is a mechanism for developing high-level research skills, learning about rigours of science or the development of theory. It sets you up with project management, problem-solving and analytical skills that are meaningful within and beyond academia.

“It just taught me all those transferable skills, project management, and also now starting businesses. I’m amazed at how close starting a business is to doing a science project.” – Dr Andy Stapleton

For our interviewees, the PhD is an opportunity to dive deeply into a topic they are passionate about. They also considered contributing new knowledge to be a privilege. The process taught them to be better thinkers, critical thinkers, and to view the world through new eyes.

“The mental fitness to work at a high level, to be able to think at a high level, to be able to write it […] The topic is less important.” – Dr Gareth Furber

The PhD is a voyage of discovery to a better understanding of how things work. It gives them a credible platform from which their voice can be heard and respected, and they can contribute to change.

“I think it’s definitely like a springboard or something. It launches you into a whole other place and it gives you […] more of a voice. It’s a political act for me. It’s about making change.” – Dr Elizabeth Newnham

The PhD is a tough and sometimes painful journey, but ultimately rewarding. The extraordinary was tempered by frustration, and the experience shaped their lives, increasing self-confidence and leading to new self-awareness.

Read more: PhD completion: an evidence-based guide for students, supervisors and universities

When asked whether they would they do it again, no-one hesitated in saying “yes”.

“You will never stretch your brain in a way that a PhD forces you to.” – Professor Kate Douglas.

The PhD is not necessarily a golden ticket to an academic career, but the experience and skills you develop will be meaningful for your future.

“What I’d done in my PhD gave me a lot broader sense than just my own personal experience. There were a lot of people that have heard me speak and a lot of that’s been informed by the PhD. So it might not be direct, but it’s informed who I am.” – Dr Susan Close

Advice from our guests

Checklist of honorific

Keep both your eyes and your mind open. Pick a topic you are passionate about. Speak to people both within and outside academia to find out where this could lead. Think about whether you actually need a PhD to get to where you want to be.

You’ll have to make some judgement calls about how a PhD can fit into your life.

And find the right supervisor! They are the most important relationship you will have throughout your candidature, and they are a solid reference for what comes next. Finding the right supervisor will always enhance your PhD experience .

Read more: Ten types of PhD supervisor relationships – which is yours?

A PhD isn’t right for everyone. Ask yourself, is it the right time for you and your research interests? Are you resilient? Mental health among PhD students is poor

Our podcast guests have witnessed PhD students’ struggles. The pathway of a PhD candidate is not linear. There are many ups and downs. You will meander in many unplanned directions and often take wrong turns.

When you have completed your PhD, the hard work is really just starting. It is a gateway, but there are a lot of PhDs out there. It is what comes next that really counts.

“It’s a gateway. You’re learning how to do research. But if you really want to be successful afterwards, you need to apply that, and be diligent about that as well, and have a good work ethic.” – Dr Mark Krstic

Read more: 1 in 5 PhD students could drop out. Here are some tips for how to keep going

A PhD in any field is an achievement. Even the most niche topics will contribute knowledge to a field that is important for many people. The reward is intrinsic and only you can identify how doing a PhD will contribute to your life. It gives you a great toolkit to identify the doors that are appropriate for you.

“The first paper was the most exciting thing. […] at that time I thought of papers as like a version of immortality. My name is on something that will last forever. I think this is my legacy.” – Dr Cameron Shearer

Table showing guests of Career Sessions podcast, their PhD thesis titles, and what they are doing now

  • Higher education
  • PhD supervisors
  • PhD students
  • PhD research
  • PhD candidates

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Academia Insider

Older PhDs student experiences – should you pursue a PhD later in life?

In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for individuals to change careers or pursue higher education later on in life.

For those considering a PhD program at an older age, there may be some hesitations and concerns about the experience.

  • Will it be worth it?
  • How difficult is it to balance academic responsibilities with other commitments such as family and work?
  • What are the experiences of older PhD candidates?
  • And many more questions…

In this article, we will explore the unique challenges and rewards of pursuing a PhD later in life, and share the insights and experiences of older PhD candidates.

Whether you’re considering a career change or simply seeking personal growth, read on to discover if pursuing a PhD is right for you.

Two specific case studies:

This case study explores the experiences of two mature PhD students, who despite their age, successfully navigated through their doctoral programs.

These students come from diverse backgrounds, having pursued their PhDs in Marketing and Computer Engineering. Their stories highlight the importance of determination, support systems, and practical experiences in achieving their academic goals.

Case 1: Marketing PhD Student at 48


This student began their PhD journey at the age of 43, having accumulated 15 years of corporate experience, 5 years of teaching, and some consulting work. They decided to pursue a PhD after talking with their advisor during their master’s program.


One of the main challenges faced by this student was knowing when to stop working and take breaks. Managing workload and maintaining mental health were essential aspects of their PhD journey.

Key Factors for Success:

The student emphasized the importance of having a good advisor and a support network. Their prior experience in the corporate world helped them form interesting and relevant research questions. This also made them more relatable to students when teaching.

The student is now in the final stages of their PhD and has been offered a tenure-track assistant professor position at a university in New York.

Case 2: Computer Engineering PhD Student at 32

This student completed their PhD at the age of 32, having taken five years off after their master’s to work in the aerospace industry. They had always planned on getting a PhD and built significant experience in their field during their time off.

Working full-time while pursuing a PhD consumed most of their time, making it difficult to balance work, studies, and personal life. They acknowledged that having children would have added another layer of complexity to their situation.

The student’s success can be attributed to a fantastic advisor, a passionate research topic, and the ability to work from home. Their company’s financial support for their PhD program played a significant role in their decision to continue working full-time.

Having completed their PhD in three years, the student now plans to continue climbing the technical ladder within their company and aims to achieve a Technical Fellowship.

The experiences of these mature PhD students demonstrate the importance of determination, support systems, and real-world experience in successfully completing a doctoral program. Both students managed to overcome challenges and leverage their unique backgrounds to achieve their academic and professional goals.

If you want to know more about how to do a PhD at an older age you can check out my other articles:

  • What is the PhD student average age? Too late for your doctorate?
  • What is the average masters students age? Should you return to graduate school?
  • Typical Graduate Student Age [Data for Average Age]
  • Balancing PhD and family life – tips for balancing a busy life

Life Experience Helps with a doctoral degree 

Life experience can be a valuable asset when pursuing a PhD. The journey towards obtaining a doctoral degree can often be challenging and demanding, requiring dedication, hard work, and resilience.

Other benefits can include:

Iindividuals with life experience may have an advantage as they already possess a certain level of maturity, self-discipline, and time-management skills.

Life experience can bring a unique perspective and insight to research, as individuals may draw from their personal experiences to inform their research questions and design.

Moreover, being part of a cohort with diverse backgrounds and experiences can also enrich the doctoral experience, leading to greater learning and growth as a researcher.

You’re never too old to become a PhD student

Age is just a number, and this is especially true when it comes to academic pursuits. It is never too late to do a PhD, as academia welcomes learners of all ages. Long gone are the days when PhD candidates had to be in their early 20s to pursue this degree.

Nowadays, more and more people in their 30s or 40s are pursuing doctoral degrees, and many have even found great success after graduation.

Here are some potential advantages and drawbacks of doing a PhD later in life:


  • Greater maturity: You have a better understanding of what you want to do and can focus on your goals.
  • Real-world experience: You have a better understanding of real-world problems and can work on more relevant research.
  • Stronger mental health: Having other commitments in your life can help you maintain a better work-life balance and prevent you from dwelling on research-related stress.
  • Financial resources: You may have more financial resources at your disposal, which can be helpful during your PhD journey.
  • Less need for validation: You’re likely pursuing the degree for genuine reasons rather than seeking status or validation.
  • Better relationships with professors: You may find it easier to connect with your professors as peers and friends.
  • Research relevance: Your research may be more relevant to managers because you’ve experienced management roles.
  • Time constraints: You may not have as much time to enjoy the benefits of your PhD, especially if you plan to retire in your 60s.
  • Additional life commitments: You may have more personal responsibilities, such as children, a spouse, or aging parents, which can make it more challenging to balance your PhD work.
  • Potential need for relocation: You may have to move around for job opportunities, which could be difficult if you have a family or other commitments.
  • Opportunity cost: Pursuing a PhD at this stage in life may come at the expense of other career opportunities or financial gains.
  • Difficulty in obtaining tenure: You may not obtain tenure until your late 50s, which may be a drawback for some individuals.
  • Not a financially sound decision: If you’re pursuing a PhD to make more money, the return on investment may not be as high as you expect.

Older PhD candidates often have a wealth of experience and knowledge that can only enhance their research and academic contributions.

So if you are considering pursuing a postgraduate degree, don’t let your age hold you back. It’s never too old to follow your academic dreams!

If you want to know more about how doing a PhD later in life you can check out my other articles:

Who is the oldest person to do a PhD? 

The oldest person to earn a PhD was a 95-year-old woman named Ingeborg Rapoport.

She was a Jewish-German physician who began her PhD studies in the 1930s but was unable to complete them due to the Nazi regime.

After a successful medical career, she decided to resume her studies in 2008 at the age of 94 at the University of Hamburg in Germany.

Her doctoral thesis focused on diphtheria and included research conducted in the 1930s, making her research especially significant.

In 2015, Rapoport successfully defended her thesis and earned her doctorate, becoming the oldest person in history to do so.

Her achievement received widespread recognition and admiration, and she demonstrated that age is just a number when it comes to academic achievement.

Wrapping up – doing a PhD later in life

In this article, we explore the unique challenges and rewards of pursuing a PhD later in life, drawing from the experiences of older PhD candidates.

Two case studies showcase the importance of determination, support systems, and practical experiences in successfully completing a doctoral program.

Life experience offers numerous benefits for older PhD students, such as a broader perspective, problem-solving skills, transferable skills, time management, an established professional network, emotional resilience, enhanced credibility, motivation and purpose, adaptability, and mentorship opportunities.

Age should not be a barrier to pursuing a PhD, as older candidates often bring valuable real-world experience and knowledge to their research.

Key advantages of pursuing a PhD in your 40s include greater maturity, real-world experience, stronger mental health, financial resources, less need for validation, better relationships with professors, and research relevance.

Drawbacks may include time constraints, additional life commitments, potential need for relocation, opportunity cost, difficulty in obtaining tenure, and lower return on investment.

The oldest person to earn a PhD was 95-year-old Ingeborg Rapoport, exemplifying that it’s never too late to follow your academic dreams.

doing a phd at 45

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

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doing a phd at 45

Chris Blattman

When are you too old for a phd.

  • June 12, 2015

A fewf years ago a reader wrote me to ask how old is too old to start a PhD. Will schools penalize your application, and is it harder to get a job?

I blogged some thoughts in this spot. Not very deep ones. 18 months later, to my surprise, it was my most-read post of 2014: almost 40,000 views. Clearly, it was time to write a more thoughtful post. I sought input from readers and here’s what I’ve got.

In my case, I was 28 when I started my PhD and 33 when I finished. There were a handful of people older than me in the class, in their mid-thirties. Probably the median was about 25. Even though I wasn’t that much older, my (tenured) advisor was two weeks younger than me. That smarted a little.

Anyways, there were some clear advantages and disadvantages. I’ll talk about what I experienced, and what people who started older than me have added.

The short answer I like best came from one reader : “if you’re curious enough, never.” True, it is never too late to advance your professional career or your personal fulfillment with a PhD. With two important caveats. First, you properly understand the time, cost, and job prospects. Second, that if your goal is to enter elite programs and advance the research frontier, I think this gets tougher as you get older.

If you’re under 35, I don’t think age will be a huge concern for an admissions committee. They are mostly concerned with your raw intellectual potential and ability to produce distinguished research.

Naturally, an admission committee will look at your career and consider what it says about you, whether it’s going to contribute to or detract from your research potential, and what the career switch says about your focus. So a lot will depend on your specific story and experience.

I’ve sat on committees where experience was an advantage: political science applicants who had spent many years as international correspondents or in the state department, economics applicants who had spent several years in Treasury or finance, or sustainable development PhDs with careers in environmental science. All are field where applied knowledge is useful, rather than raw intellectual fluidity and power (as in, say, in math or economic theory).

All the successful applied applicants I know, however, had a good rationale for a PhD and a very clear intellectual and academic thread to their previous work.

On balance, I do think that thirty-something applicants are treated with some suspicion, and that the burden is on them to make a case that they are going to be intellectually vibrant and focused. But only a little. Don’t sweat it too much, and don’t feel you have to write your statement defensively. Use your statement to describe, like anyone else, what questions interest yo and how you want to push the field ahead.

(For related advice, see my advice on whether and how to apply to PhDs , whether an MA program is for you , and how to get a PhD and save the world .)

If you’re over 35, I think admissions committees will start to wonder how much of a contribution to the field you can make, starting late and presumably having less time to contribute. This will matter most at elite research institutions.

Indeed, all of the above advice mainly applies to the top research universities and PhD programs. Their goal is to train the generation who will push the field ahead in terms of research. There are many more PhD programs that serve people who want to research, teach, practice (e.g. in the private sector, government of international organizations), or simply learn.

My sense is that there are dozens of very good research universities with PhD programs who not only are used to older applicants, but welcome them for these purposes.

Career considerations

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If you have an MA already, you might get away with a 2-3 year PhD at some universities (e.g. the UK), though almost never in the US. Plan on a minimum of 5 years, and more likely 6-8 depending on your discipline.
  • At best your program will cover your tuition and living expenses, and you won’t graduate with debt. You can calculate the present value of your salary sacrifice, and it will probably be large. Many people make their peace with this choice (I did) but do make it a conscious choice.
  • Remember that your counterfactual to a PhD is to spend 5-6 years investing in something else: your current job, a new career, a non-PhD skill set, etc. Some of these opportunities might actually be paid. They will get you experience, respect, and great opportunities. The opportunity cost of a PhD in terms of salary and other work is high. This is true for every age, of course. Your opportunity cost as a more experienced person is probably higher, though.
  • Make sure you understand your post-PhD career options. In some disciplines, like economics, there’s a lot of demand for PhDs and almost everyone gets a well-paid professional or academic job. Political science too, I think. Academic and even professional jobs in your field get scarcer in some social sciences and the humanities. I once heard that under a third of graduates from the best history programs in the world get academic jobs.
  • If you’re not planning on becoming a professor, think twice about a PhD. Yes it might advance you in your field. But most jobs I know would reward six years of intensive experience in many things, not just a PhD. I’m not sure the PhD is rewarded more. You have to want it for its own sake.
  • A lot of people gripe about the terrible options for many PhDs, and the maltreatment of adjunct professors. This says to me that a lot of people get a PhD with erroneous expectations.
  • PhD students are not known for being good at managing people, projects, or money. Presumably you learned a few things about being a professional whatever you’ve been doing. This will serve you well, and make up for some of the disadvantages of age. Maybe even more than compensate. Certainly my experience as a management consultant helped me run large research project better and sooner.
  • When you’re done, as long as you’re under 35 or 40, faculty hiring committees are probably going to focus more on what you can do relative to your cohort rather than your age. They might not even look at your age or previous experience. If you’re over 40, then yes I think you’ll see job market discrimination with any major career change, whatever the career.
  • You may or may not enjoy being around a lot of 25-year old peers, and being treated similarly by your professors.
  • Unless you have savings or take on debt, you may have a much poorer lifestyle than you’ve grown accustomed to.
  • You’re more likely to have family or financial obligations when you’re older, and so you’ll have less freedom when you graduate to make high-return investments that are far flung or unpaid. Some jobs, post-docs, or fellowships won’t work out for your more complicated personal situation. You might also not be able or willing to pull 12-hour days for the same reasons.
  • This is true of any later-life career change, of course, especially ones in non-profit sectors or public service.
  • Once you’re in it, remember that no one finds a PhD easy. It is a constant source of existential angst when you’re in the midst of it. Just know that everyone else feels the same way, and it’s not a special product of how old you are or what you brought.
  • As one commenter put it , “I’m tempted to counter, when are you too young?” A good point. Here is another person voicing the same view. A topic for another day.

Other PhDs or faculty out there have comments?

277 Responses

Well, for me age is only the numbers to any thing, especially for the PhD in my opinion there’s no age limit to do it. you only need the passion to learn and adapt the capability to do it. That’s it

To Satyajay: Well, that may be so and often refusal is typical for those programs and institutions that are narrowly tailored to recommending post-docs, and finding tenure-track research positions for their younger charges. in general, older PhDs continue to face all types of roadblocks, stereotypes and outmoded behaviors no matter where they are. Money is always is a concern since most PhD students rely on fellowships and other forms of assistance. Often the institution will not welcome a student into the group because in a social sense — the old one does not fit into the club’s idea of who and what a PhD student should be. PhD clubs, as I call them, are still alive and well, though the trend is slowly changing toward acceptance and inclusion. I know several PhDs who have very secure teaching positions. They were hired at 50+ years. What I find interesting is the continual air of superiority that pervades the PhD club. I still say, if you want that degree, go for it and ignore the rest as best you can.

I think if your guide/supervisor is younger to you in age then they may not like to take you into their group as after completion of coursework,thesis,viva,degree etc. they may not be able to recommend you for a post-doc due to the reason of you being older to them

I appreciate everyone ‘s responses to this question. Of course I googled the question because I am 35 and I too think I am getting old for a PhD. Considering my family is growing (bigger than I had ever imagined), I have responsibilities. Though I have to say that my unique family structure gives me a bit more flexibility than most families so for that I am grateful. But I want to provide for my family and at the moment I’m not bringing in so much income. I feel I have finally decided on the perfect program for my PhD venture. PhD in Peace Studies & Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Yes, Notre Dame! I never ever imagined the University of Notre Dame but after taking a grad lever qualitative social research course as an auditor, with my mentor Dr. M, I was able to add a significant piece to the puzzle of my journey. So I thank you all for your comments and for giving me a spark to continue and know that age really doesn’t matter. Though I am not officially accepted in the Peace Program at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, I am very excited.

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Getting ready to graduate with my PhD in ed tech with a stats cognate. Finished in three years while working full time, raising young children, and making a 1.25 hour commute two to three times a week to get to class. I was hired for a university tenure-track position as a first-year doctoral student. I’m a 40 year old woman. What can I say? I have grit.

I think if you are not interested in doing a PhD,then once you are 32 or 32+,you cann’t be enrolled for a PhD,but if you are interested in doing a PhD,then at any age you can be enrolled for a PhD

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So sorry about the above typos — I am writing a lecture, took a break and zoomed into this site. “to hear” of other older students is what I wanted to say.

I am so happy to here of other over 60 and successful PhDs It has been a while since I commented on this page, as I am busy working on a paper and revising my dissertation for a monograph. I also have a full load of teaching at the local community college. It is far from the usual moonlight adjunct job. I also am mentoring two honors students in history with their special projects. While it is not a tenured position, few college/univ. jobs are anymore, it suits me and affords me time for research and writing. I am over 65 now and retiring is far from my mind I agree that perhaps 70 is the new 50 and definitely we need to rethink the entire educational framework — especially here in the USA. One of my honors student is 57 and wants to be an art teacher. She will be 61 when she finishes teacher training, I hope she makes it and lands her dream job. Again I say to all older students — Go For It!

At 63, I’m finishing an LLM (advanced Law) degree, and my intellectual curiousity is only growing greater. What is striking to me is how simple-minded things like law school are at this age, when they are a challenge for kids in their 20’s and even real people in their 30’s. It’s like at this age, you already know the answers (LOL)! We may have to rethink education as 70 becomes the new 50, both medically and intellectually.

I obtained my PhD at age 65 years; it took 3.5 years and I have never looked back. However, while my PhD became a wonderful experience, ageism was initially experienced and this is my PhD story; one that reveals ingrained social attitudes and individual self-determination. I started my PhD in Education at a top UK Russell Group university at the age of 61, after having worked in a research centre as an administrator looking after the needs of PhD students. Initially I handed my draft 5000 word proposal to 2 academics and was told that it ‘was up there with the very best of them’ and I was advised to submit my application right away. I did so. After months of waiting and chasing and being ignored, upset, I asked one senior academic if he could check it out. Consequently I received an offer for PhD study and planned to use my redundancy money (the research centre I worked in had closed in a university restructure). Yet on my first day of PhD study, I was called into the Programme Officer’s office. She told me that my second supervisor – a young lady about 30 yrs old who had passed her PhD a year previously – did not think I should be doing PhD as I lacked passion, would get very tired and they did not want to take my money which would be wasted, and she agreed with this. I was told that they did not think I realised what a PhD entailed, what I would be taking on. I firmly argued that I had an BA hons, an MA with the Open University (OU), a PGCE in research methods with the OU – all studied part-time while working full-time and raising a family – and that I had worked for years with PhD students discussing their thesis ideas and encouraging them when the going got tough. It was what I really wanted to do. In the end I won the argument as I refused to step down, but this first-day left me dismayed and wondering what help I would get with my research. Most academics were very nice and supportive but over the next 7 weeks it was clear that the Programme Manager and my second supervisor were not prepared to give any encouragement. Their body language and facial expressions made their attitude to me clear and I was told (incorrectly) that my previous studies in history and English bore no relation to my PhD research with a sociological framework. Yet, as I felt miserable and crushed, a new door opened. Another top UK institution had also accepted my research proposal and I had declined as the university was further from my home. They now contacted me again, asking if I was currently happy or would I like to go and have a chat. There seemed little to lose and I went along pouring out what I had experienced since starting PhD. They assured me my research proposal was detailed, well written and showed passion. They understood that women like me, born in 1949 to working-class parents who thought education for girls was unnecessary, had been disadvantaged in their life – (My parents refused to let me sit the 11+ for grammar school or to study GCE “O’ levels, insisting I learned shorthand and typing at night school and go to work at age 15 – after all I would marry and have kids, any job would do till then). After leaving a rough school in 1965 with no qualifications I studied exams over future decades at evening classes but higher education became possible with widening participation in the 1990s. My A-level history teacher at night-school suggested a degree and, amazed, I applied to a local college offering HE degrees (it is now a university in its own right). I obtained my BA hons over 5 years part-time evening study, then joined the OU for postgraduate qualifications in history and research methods. With such encouragement from the second university for my PhD, I went back to the Student Services in the Russel Group University where I had spent 7 weeks and told them what had happened and that I wanted to transfer to the University of Reading, IoE. I never looked back. They could see I was a good independent researcher, they let me work and research, advised and guided when required, and I passed my PhD Viva after 3.5 years with two small minor corrections which I did immediately. I had loved doing it but at 65 years, what was next? Well I had worked on several projects for the university as I did my PhD, earning a little income, so had gained good experience. Head of school and supervisors told me I was a model student; the hardest working they had ever had. After a year they employed me part-time on a longitudinal contract which I am still enjoying. While doing this I decided to write a book, using my PhD data, and put in a book proposal to a reputable publisher. The Editorial Board accepted my proposal, once revised to satisfy reviewers, and my book was published in December 2017. This has been thrilling, to think I have published a book at age 68 years – and collaborated on 2 published journal papers. Now I want to think about my next publication. The PhD experience, shaping and deepening my knowledge and thinking, plus the book, has increased my confidence and happiness. For decades I felt useless in society, as a woman always put down. I did jobs I did not like (even in factories) just to earn money to survive, yet from age 60 my brain was delighting in accumulating wider, deeper knowledge, in writing, in learning and understanding. Recently I put myself forward as a candidate for a political party and was duly elected to stand in the May local elections. Challenges in earlier life were ‘not possible’ being a working-class woman particularly with a mother and sister suffering mental illnesses. But now I know I can take on challenges that appeal; societal attitudes have changed and are still changing Having a go, can lead one along unexpected paths and hugely increase quality of life. Yes, one needs to pace oneself, especially over 50 or 60+ years of age, to sensibly take rests when eye strain occurs or tiredness ensues, but plan and time manage well and you will succeed. Education is key – at any age!! Go for it.

@art Fulley No online program engages in ageism… that’s not “the kind” of program that we are talking about here.

Anyone know an online accredited clinical psychology program that does not engage in ageism?

Not truly relevant to most of the discussion, but my father has just passed his viva, aged 78, having started an MA when he was 71

Awesome. Some years ago, I had an 80 year something veteran taking one of my beginning computer classes. He kept plugging away and his enthusiasm for learning was inspirational to other students to be sure. Be very proud of your father. You have the right to be!

I started my Ph.D. program at the age of 38. I was not the oldest (by far). In fact, most of my colleagues were in their mid-to late 30’s. In my field, the good programs in Public Health require 5 years of professional experience to meet the minimum requirements for admission to the program. I graduated with my degree 3 years later. I started the program with a Master’s degree, but in a different field. I only experience a few raised eyebrows when applying for post-doctorate positions, but was offered and accepted a junior faculty position at a very well-known institution. Now, twelve years later I have advanced in the field and am now a Associate Professor and Program Director at a research institution. If you have a really good reason for getting a Ph.D., it shouldn’t matter what other people think about your age. There are opportunities available, especially if you are getting a Ph.D. in the medical sciences.

Thank you for sharing your story, ALM. In some cases, fields of study are relatively new compared to other disciplines and are cutting edge. I recently retired at a major land-grant university that had a new Masters of Public Health program and because of my expertise in the human aspects of natural resources management, I was invited to teach the Environmental Health course for the Public Health program. Because I belonged to a different department, this was a ‘teaching overload’. My class sizes were typically 25 to 35 students, some of whom were biologists, Pharm Ds and other health professions. There were three oncologists from a local hospital in my last class. I recall having a student or two with an animal science or plant science background. The other uniqueness were the number of Tribal members and international students going through the program, which added much depth and breadth to the class discussions. I think that the graduate work in Public Health is still evolving and is a fantastic opportunity for anyone considering a Ph.D. no matter the age.

Admittedly, as it happened to the two institutions I approached (both teaching unis!) and I don’t really have much exposure as to how grad schools operate, I did assume back then it must be the norm and let the desire go–though, obviously, not totally let it go as here I am reading your blog post :D Hopefully, life situation aligns again favoring going back to school and find the right one. Appreciate your reply, Bruce, thanks!

Sorry to sound so simplistic, but why do they (the institution and faculty) make it hard for one to enroll for a Master’s or PhD? It’s not a free service/mentorship out of the goodness of their hearts as students pay tuition and it’s not cheap. Why are they assuming the position of judgment whether a candidate will be able to contribute or not post-degree, what’s with the academic elitism? Their job is to educate, first and foremost, the willing, are they not?

I applied for science-related course a few years ago, in my early 30s. The curt replies I received when they found out I was more than a decade out of school was so off-putting. My questions above is just mere curiosity.

Van, there are serveral factors for turning down applicants depending on the institution’s mission. A research university, for instance, relies on financial sources such as grants, and the number of advisees that faculty members can handle. On the other hand, being more than a decade out of school as an excuse from a teaching university or college is their loss. I personally know several non-traditional students who took two graduate classes before declaring their major to “see how it fits.” They showed themselves and the institute that they would do well and were consequently admitted. The question I have for you: would you want to attend an institution with the mind-set that you are put off because you were more than a decade out of school? Henry Ford was purported to say, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Apply at a different institution.

I think 35 to 40 is enough for completing your PhD but if you are fit and your mind working very well then there will be no time limit for you to complete your degree.

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I love all the comments here and the encouragement. would love to connect with few of you who have pursued a PHD in their late 40s. I am there and am completing my MBA next year, want to start a PHD but cannot afford to not work as am a single mom to a 12 year old child. Is it possible to make money and do a PHD ? I could perhaps pull along for a year or so without having an income or having a very minimal income but not more. Please advise.

Anita, I first want to congratulate you in advance on your MBA! To answer your question about earning money while pursuing a PhD, in my experience, yes there is. On the other hand, earning enough to survive is a bit more tricky! Consider seeking graduate research assistance positions, which may help defray tuition and fees plus provide a stipend. A rather sneaky trick I used in my doctoral studies (age 50+) was to ‘fund my own research.’ That gave me the liberty to research my agenda and not rely on department funding from someone else. Some supplement their income from being federal grant ‘reviewers.’ Personally, I wrote and lived off of community grants. Consider sitting down with trusted peers and faculty to brainstorm ways to financially stay afloat. Finally and most importantly, try very hard to stay away from student loans of any kind. I wish you the best!

I started my PhD aged 47 and hope to finish next year when I’ll be 51. Like many others I’m not doing this for an academic career but so that I can undertake better and academically more robust research in my work as a health improvement lead in the UK NHS. I’m doing the PhD part time and the topic is in the area which I have been working in for many years. For me the ‘journey’ of the PhD has been very positive; I have very inspiring supervisors who have years of experience in the field I’m researching, I’ve had all the support and encouragement from my employers as I could wish for (and more) and I have gained invaluable experience and insight into the science of health improvement. At the end of the PhD I’ll go back to my NHS post full-time but with a deeper understanding of the topic and and a wider skill set. That may or may not lead to promotions and increases in salary but promotions in the NHS generally take you further away from research toward strategy and management. Doing the PhD has definitely meant I am better in my NHS role and it means I am a greater asset to my employer and the health service in general (which is why they are so supportive). It has already opened up opportunities to working collaboratively with others who are also undertaking health improvement research within the NHS (and the plan is that this will continue). So long-term I intend to have a non-academic research career within the NHS where I attract research funding in topics of interest to the NHS, that I publish in as prestigious journals as is possible and I focus on implementing improvements in health in an effective and scientifically robust manner (to be honest prior to the PhD those improvement projects I was involved in were a implemented a little haphazardly and with less rigour than they are now).

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A few days ago I read an article in the local newspaper that a gentleman recently earned his B.A.–at the age of 85. One must first consider that individuals age at different rates and many seniors maintain their intellect well into late age. The other thing to consider is that a PhD may be a life dream and has nothing to do with career or work or earnings; the degree is its own reward. What needs to change is the myopic thinking of academics who can become very fixed in their thinking. I will even go so far as to say that new avenues to leading to graduate degrees need to be explored. One cannot apply the same standards to a man or woman who has spent a lifetime developing wisdom and life skills which someone in their twenties or thirties can’t begin to comprehend. This is a complex issue with no easy solutions. Programs need to be developed specifically for older scholars who wish to pursue advanced degrees. I must also say that the notion that a 65 year old should be put in the position of being a twenty-five year old’s peer is ludicrous. I mean no disrespect here, but in terms of life experience, a twenty-five year old is still a child in some respects.

I started a PhD in Natural Resources when I was 47… did course work, proposal, etc. but did not finish dissertation due to all of those familial obligations mentioned in the article. I was only offered an assistantship one year, but funds were very tight in that department. I would still like to finish but not sure to what end. My wife, however, started her PhD in Hospitality & Tourism when she was 44 with full funding. In fact, her undergraduate department head reached out to her and asked her if she was interested in doing a PhD. They expedited her into the program in about 3 weeks after they contacted her. She finished last year at age 49 and started her assistant professor position the day she defended. Great job, income and benefits, and almost done with first year of teaching, she loves it.

Hey Andreas: I just thought of this funny story. I was visiting our local art museum one day not so long ago. While sitting in the A.M. café I recognized a retired professor who was having coffee. Thirty plus years ago he advised me not to go into a PhD program because so many students would be younger than me. I might feel strange sitting there in class with students in their 20s. After all this time, he did not recognize me. But when I told him I was a PhD candidate, he remarked that when one is old is an excellent time to get the PhD — one has time to devote to study. Its odd how people can change their minds.

I plan to do a PhD when I am old. It’s the perfect thing to keep the mind active and to get out of the house from time to time.

In Europe, you don’t have to pay tuition fees for most PhD programs, so it’s not a big deal to finance it either.

What an ageist load of shite. Stop writing off people who are past the age of 30. That in itself shows the advantages of more mentally mature people going into education. ‘Smarting’ because someone was two weeks younger than you? Are you for real? How snide and strange. Not everyone can get everything done in one decade. Life goes on and circumstances alter, and often people actually see sense the older they get as opposed to the narcissistic and egostical grip of youth where we want to be everything all at once – the most accomplished, the most attractive etc. Eugh. We get older and realise that we take things as they come, we calm down and get our heads out of our arses and change perspective. I would think that holds a lot for PhD work and perhaps some people are too young and ignorant when they’re taking on degrees/PhDs because they don’t know who they are or whether they’re doing it for the right reasons. Just a nation of over-achieveing plastic people with no real merit, and nothing which shows for true grit or character building. Those people who succeed really early are also the most incredibly dull. Little tired of the shame brought on by our year of birth. Life is just a journey, I wish people would stop having audacity to act like they know when the expiry date beginson that journey…Speak for yourselves, and just evolve for christ’s sake. Out of all the ridiculous ‘isms’ out there in liberal looney land, why is this one ‘ism’ still used so loosely? For everyone – it’s better that you set your own standards and not ask these types of questions anyway. There will be some conceited moron who will have the brass stones to tell you whether you’re ‘past it’ even though they know sweet f*ck all about you on your own merit. In fact, no-one will ever know you like you know yourself. Get on with it if you have an opportunity, you’ll feel good and they don’t have a clue about what you want to do with it – you may not even want to continue in te academic world (it is a very toxic environment anyway), but the PhD will certainly be a colourful addition to your CV and open more doors for the career that you really have your eye on (where people are sane, and more human). I’ve seen people in their fifties, sixties doing PhDs. Why should they give a sh*t what any of you think? For your information, I’ve witnessed people in their mid-thirties, late forties and early fifties get accepted onto funded life sciences programmes so quit with the ‘ideal age’ garbage. Follow your own nose and be limited by nothing, seeking answers from those who already think they have the answer to a question which is tantamount to ‘how long is a piece of string’ will not help you. Life really isn’t that serious if you think about it (a PhD is just a long thesis that only a couple of people will read in your lifetime), but if you take it too seriously you’ll be trapped by everything. Don’t fall for it….

To be sure to some extent but when it normally won’t want me I’ll make possibilities personally. Basically could possibly get with the PhD I’m able to make my very own way. I have not permitted anybody to find out my revenue or my possibilities. I’m able to only control myself not others.

In an ideal world education should be available to all. But universities are all about reputation and money. Its not about the pursuit of knowledge. Its “what can you do for me now.” How can a student getting a degree from our school, dept. etc. enhance the reputation of the school, bring in grant money, and make us all look good.

Education is a fundamental right and everyone must get an opportunity to pursue a course including PhD and age must not be a hindrance in this age of rapid human development. Universities must abolish age restrictions and open door for the benefit of the learners. They also must provide full financial assistance for the adult students.

SS I would say generally that you are correct. PhD programs do not exist for personal fulfillment. But that does not mean one’s goal should only be dictated by the potential for academic contribution. At a certain point, personal goals and enlightenment really count and if the university lets you in and you want to work that hard for the PhD, then do it. I still write and give papers for presentation and publication even though I know I am too old to ever be considered for a tenure job.

All excellent points. But I would also add that it depends upon what you have done in your field up until now. In Education, it is not uncommon to begin doctoral studies after you have been in the field teaching K-12. This is critically valuable experience to conducting further research and making sense of existing research, and it brings quite a bit of credibility. This is probably true of many fields: if you have been compiling a competitive record in your 35-40 years of work, you may be worth the investment; a PhD is not the beginning of your career. However, if you haven’t really been building your competitive record in your field by the time you are 40, then I would say you are not a good candidate, if what you’re hoping to do after you graduate is be a research professor. Moreover, if you don’t have an impressive track record at that age, it would beg the question – how ambitious are you, really? Ambitious enough to finish, attract funding, and continue to do high quality research after graduation? PhD programs are not there for your own personal fulfillment and enlightenment. That’s undergrad. PhD programs are there to create the next generation of scholars pushing the field forward.

Thank you for the informed insight. I hear faculty asking undergraduate students what students want from their class. My first question to graduate students is “What will you contribute to this class?”

That’s great Bruce. Your story is even more encouraging to me. Thanks for sharing.

I am liking this post and the comments herein. I would lie if I never mentioned that I am feeling motivated and well on course towards getting my PhD.

I am still sourcing for PhD funding and doing all that is within my means and trusting in God to have my PhD before or when I am 35.

I am already into entrepreneurship and consulting and I believe having a Phd will not only limit me into academia but open a wide berth for me to do embark on other things as well.

Good on you Notepad! I sourced everything myself including my own research project. I worked with the U.S. Forest service on a project they wanted and was not bound or tied to university department for the funding. I also peer reviewed a few federal grants that I got paid for. The other trick for me was to write or co-write a few community grants. I found that when an academic department does not hold the purse strings, I had much more latitude. I know you can do it Notepad!

Bruce: One more thing — that last comment about face-to-face communication skills. I just finished giving finals to my freshmen classes. Part of it was an oral presentation. Few students feel comfortable facing a group, even a group of their own peers. Chalk it up to the wired-in generation and texting.

To be blunt from my own experience at a land grant university, I began a masters degree program at the age of 51 with a masters of public administration already in hand. After the second class, the graduate dean convinced me to pursue a doctoral program (sociology had none), and at the age of 52 I began a PhD study in natural resource management (my own choice). It took nearly 6 years to complete a fairly intense qualitative study and the prelims were brutal, but done. I am now beyond retirement age at the same university in academic affairs filling my ideal niche (for me) – academic advising and affiliate graduate faculty. I had no ambition of tenure on faculty – who wants to start all over at the bottom of the proverbial Marxist totem pole? Here is what I learned in my own lived experience and from working with many other older than average graduate students: (1) it is not the job of faculty to hand-hold; (2) it is not the responsibility of faculty to get graduating students a job; (3) it is the graduate student’s responsibility to network and understand the labor market (to include colleges and universities); (4) when graduate students behave as peers, faculty will treat them as peers; and finally (5) the majority of employers I speak with tell me that graduate students have great technical skills but often lack face-to-face communication skills – and that will kill job prospects.

Bruce: You said it better than I did. Networking, understanding the labor market, and how one’s skills fit into that market are essential ingredients for anyone at any age finding a job. I never expected my professors to get me a job, rather I would put them in the “May I use your name as a reference” category. Hand-holding is a relative matter. The ageism and sexism (especially the latter) are blatant in my department. There are too many examples I and others have noted over the years. One senior librarian referred to the department as “That good ol’ boys’ campus club”. I would say that for an older student, your experience and your NETWORK will do you more good than a professor’s recommendation.

Liz, I think we all appreciate your insight, and thank you for sharing them. I did at one point experience ageism from a much younger faculty member than I. I chose not to take it personally but to move on professionally. Not every university department is the same – some healthy and some toxic.

Within my own department, we build group and individual oral presentations into the curricula, especially in upper-level classes. Now many of our students are getting hired before they graduate based on university and department reputation, internships, and career related part time work.

I agree with you, and if I had it all to do again, I’m not sure I would go for the PhD — at least not at the University I attended. But, my options were limited at the time and I did not think that it would take me as long as it did. After two MAs I figured I could do it in 3 or 4 years. I should have taken the cue from several younger women who quit the program and did not look back. I hate not finishing what I have started. But, I have the degree now for what its worth and I have a job. I have spent my life networking — that is what landed me a job at my advanced age, along with experience and teaching credentials in three different areas of humanities. My professors were little help in getting any job. They were too focused on the junior PhD candidates finding plum research positions. I still say, if you want something go for it even if the path to the goal is uneven and unorthodox.

Dear Toothbrush: Every one in a while I visit this website. True — I received my PhD after working on it part and full time for 15 years. I had a good job and received another OK job teaching at a Community College. I have held full-time teaching positions in a couple of colleges. But, unfortunately the reality is that Universities are interested in their own reputations as are professors in their respective departments. Age is not the only factor, but how much investment will the department — professors, etc. be willing to assume in a student if there is an assumption that you as a student do not have enough years left in your life to make a mark in your field. It is not about you as a student, but about the institution, the department and your advisor. What payback are they going to get from you? Granted, it is unfair. I will say this since I now have a job and it will probably be the last job I have, but my university is a well-known Catholic institution with an ingrained and systemic bias toward non-traditional students at least in some fields (Not all). Again, this seems to be the traditional attitude in many universities which pride themselves on research more than teaching. Of course, you can learn and of course a degree should depend on whether one can read, write, and think, regardless of age, but that is not the current reality. Case in point and I forget if I already stated this. A young female PhD student was complaining that her PhD advisor did not even know what her dissertation was about. This student is under 30. But, I had problems with my advisor even getting through my entire dissertation once written and I am over 60. I had blamed my problems on age, but sometimes the issues are more complicated. Once, more ( I forget again if I had said this) but a fellow student once said to me that if I was not young (under 30) Irish Catholic and male, I would have a hard time making it through the program. Well, I proved him wrong and He did not make it through, but this goes to show that there is more to getting through than ability and desire. The politics and the profile as to what constitutes the institutional portrayal of the ideal student is very important. But, you can do it if you want the degree bad enough.

I agree to a certain extent but if they don’t want me I will make opportunities for myself. If I can get through the PhD I can make my own way. I have never allowed anyone to determine my income or my opportunities. I can only control myself not others.

One is never too old to learn. The problem is availability, location, or those who decide whether or not you should enter “their” program. The question may be, are they willing to invest their time in you considering your age? Age is a factor like it or not, and importantly you must find an area a professor with your topic interest .

As a divorced single parent I re-entered the academic arena later in life to earn a Masters degree. Learning was not a problem, my brain functioned as well as the younger students. One notably difference was the experience, which showed up in their reasoning.

After acceptance to the PhD conference, gaining insight into strategies for successful entry, I tried “on and off” for years to gain entry into PhD Business in my state with no success. Either I could not find 3 professors alive or space availability. The PhD was not offered part time and relocation was not a choice, making it impossible to attain. Children were my priority and therefore work was necessary. Today it is offered part time but I am no longer 35, although my brain functions well; evident in the fact that I changed careers and successfully completed another master. Today, it is more difficult to meet some of the admissions criteria which has nothing to do with your ability to manage but whether or not you can find professors to support your application. Age, a factor makes it difficult to find more than one professor alive to provide references.

Why can’t a person read/pursue a degree if they want? Why should there be age discrimination? If a person wants to study for a PhD the year before they die, then why not? Learning is lifelong and should not be limited to the ‘young’.

Hi Terrance. I applied to undertake it through work and was turned down for funding (I can’t complain, they had already funded my Masters through a ‘refund of fees scheme’). Subsequently I researched scholarships and after identifying a suitable supervisor I approached them to see if it was feasible. They liked my research proposal and were kind enough to assist me through the scholarship application process. As I am very busy in work, I attended the School of Law in the University of Limerick in Ireland, but only when essential (supervision sessions etc). It was hard to manage my time, but I think by only attending the University when I had to it allowed me to concentrate on writing the thesis. For me the process is all about independent work, that is, the supervisors are there to guide you but it’s up to you to put your bum on a chair and start writing. I believe that the main requirement for successful completion is work ethic, good supervisors and old fashioned graft. It’s gruelling, but if you pick a research question you know is ‘answerable’ I believe most people who are good writers can achieve it. In saying all of that, as I work in a prison and my research topic was on prison officers, it was a labour of love and. Found the process enjoyable and fascinating. I hope that info is useful to you and I wish you well in your endeavours.

I don’t know where to start with this. Firstly, it shouldn’t be age related. I’m 49 and undertook my PhD whilst working in a very busy managerial job. Secondly, to say it takes circa 6 years is nonsense. Granted, it will if you get distracted by squirrels. If you have average focus it should take no longer than 3-4 years. Seriously, we dress it up to be unachievable, perhaps to impress those who haven’t had the same opportunity? I’m not sure. Either way, it took me less than 3 years, part time, and I enjoyed every little bit of it.

Hello Richard, did you complete your PhD online or on a campus and what discipline did you receive your PhD in. Also, were you able to find any free money?

Hello! I deferred my admission into Brown, so that I could work in my Hawaii job. Thanks for all the advice.

Now, University of Hawaii has a very generous tuition waiver option if you work there. I can easily get a well-paid job there (Hawaii is small, and I have developed a good rapport here). I can do the PhD part-time on the side (can take 6 credits per semester) and work full time with a great salary.

Should I do this, or go full-time at Brown? I know University of Hawaii is not as prestigious, and it is a PhD in Sociology. So wondering how job prospects will change.

Another big aspect is that my Significant Other would much prefer to stay in Hawaii, than go to Providence. We are warm-weather folk :)


PhD # 1 — begun 1991 (age 47) finished in 1997 (age 53). No cost because I worked as a teacher from the adjunct faculty pool.

PhD # 2 — begun 2003 (age 59) finished in 2014 (age 70). Low cost because I worked a deal and (hopefully) will eventually teach online for them.

And now I would like to get into another PhD program. So much I want to learn!!!

As the first in my family to graduate college, let alone go on for advanced degrees, I wandered through my 20s without much guidance (albeit managing to earn a B.A. and an M.A. [the latter from NYU], in five and six years each, respectively). 30 loomed as a deadline (Time to become a grownup, in other words). I entered my PhD program–in English–at 30, found I loved teaching, and finished in six years. At the time, CHE was calling seven years the average for finishing the doctorate, across all fields. I was hired to a tenure-track job at 37–and still have it 25 years later.

Age is a peculiar thing. In those years I when I was writing my diss.–from 33 to 36–I felt ancient, older than everybody. I was aware that my diss. committee members each had his/her PhD at 26 or so, and were tenured or even full profs when they were about my age. When I started my first job, however, it all changed, and I felt 22 again. I’m now 62, have no plans to retire, and am at a point with my research and in my department where I feel like I’m starting a new stage. Academia can age you if you don’t keep up and stay fresh, or make you feel ageless if you do. It’s a wonderful profession that way. Being surrounded always by young people is a similar phenomenon. It can make you young if you keep learning and changing, or, I suppose, make you feel like a fossil who would rather rot if you just resist change. I teach (some) online courses; most in my age cohort shudder at the prospect. As a Film Studies professor, I could mourn “the death of cinema.” But what my students want me to teach them is Renoir and Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio Era. It’s not as if we’re construction workers who can’t do the heavy lifting and the climbing at a certain point. I survived cancer at 46; in many professions I would have been applying for disability then. I also had gotten a job without great pay (to be sure) but with more than adequate health insurance–something to which I barely gave a thought when I was hired. This will sound cliched, but if you look ahead instead of back, and find new things to do, age doesn’t matter a whole lot.

I never let my true age be known and some people still try to guess how old I am. None of their business and if anyone reads this blog, they’ll find out. If someone wants to know, fine – – look up my school records. I know of people in their 80s who go back to school for personal and professional reasons. Went for my 2nd master about 20 years ago and there was a man who was in his seventies who just finished a BA in history and was starting his MA. He eventually went on for the PhD. But, I was careful for years about my age (still am a little bit) since there really is ageism out there, ingrained in the system.

Rebecca Butterworth…. I love your comment. You are exactly what I described in my post before even looking at yours. I knew a woman in my undergraduate class who was 40. She was getting her second bachelors. Everyone thought she was in her late 20’s……She never offered the information and why should she to people who really did not need to know…

Everyone’s situation is different.Someone in their mid 40’s can go to even get a masters abroad with no problem in my opinion. If the person has no children, not married/or married with a flexible spouse. If the person looks young it may help with ageism among classmates. If the person has 2 bachelors one being very recent will help I feel with the stigma of the school administrative committee thinking you are out of touch with your industry. I like what Richard says “I have no desire to retire until I mentally of physically can no longer function.”

A beautiful vibrant woman/man who is in shape, has a youthful attitude, and does things to keep mentally sharp CAN STUDY ABROAD PAST 40. I feel that you can keep a level of respect and dignity for yourself by not trying to socially hang out with the students as you are not in the same age group…. They can be immature BUT I would take the amazing experience of study abroad/plus travel included……. and run with it. Many of the abroad degrees are shorter as well so you can get in and get out quickly. I see many older women staying in Hostels while travelling in London and it’s OK.

Age, drive , and your ambition have to do with you and the person you are inside. The nonsense about over 30’s everything is old and terribly outdated.

I earned a BA in social psychology in 1986 and a Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in administrative and organizational behavior in 1988. I used the education and knowledge in the public sector and adjunct teaching, Much later, I discovered how I can merge my environmental interests with education and experience, and tackled a PhD program of study in natural resources management, with a focus on the human aspects. Because my research was qualitative and seasonal, it took eight years to complete (while I worked full time) in 2011 – at age 61. I saw the challenge as the successful climbing of a personal mountain. I am now at a major land grant university where I primarily advise and teach both graduate and undergraduate courses such as environmental sociology, environmental policy, and environmental health. I won’t even discuss tenure at my age and publish at my leisure. That did not happen in a vacuum but through departmental networking. Now that I am full retirement age according to Social Security, I have no desire to retire until I mentally of physically can no longer function.

There is hope out there for everyone in their 60’s. I am just glad I have a decent teaching position. I think that constant networking and keeping up with your field is the key.

I have seen many people in their 50’s doing a PhD.

In my country (central Europe) you actually get paid by the university as a PhD student, plus college is free, and since most people are able to work full time in their respective fields and do the PhD at the same time, they actually financialy benefit from their studies and don’t lose years working in their field. Of course you have to work hard, you have to sacrifice some evenings, weekends and vacation time to write papers, do research, study or attend conferences or seminars, but it’s feasible and a lot of people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s make it happen.

I am starting an MA this Fall at age 49 and then will eventually complete my PhD in IR when I will be 54 or 55. At first i was concerned about my age, but upon reading many of the contributing posts I feel that I have made the correct decision in returning to school and changing careers. I can’t thank everyone enough for their thoughtful comments regarding this matter.

I am starting an MA program in accounting next week and then plan to obtain my PhD. I would like to hear some comments concerning on campus or online for PhD programs. Also, would welcome comments concerning sources of free money for MA and PhD programs.

I will come back here to read all the postings, but for now, I need to say that I found this article very inspiring.

Not sure if everyone has watched a video on TED about “Hiring a scrapper”, well, I do feel like I am one. I’m turning 45 this year, most of my work experience is in the Customer Service field, but I’ve been all over; I ended up finishing a B.Com. in International Business in 2013, recently got hired in part time base by a college to teach Customer Service & Sales and Communication Skills that made me conclude that I have finally found my true professional calling: Teaching.

I do wanna go for my Masters in Sociology, and am considering a Ph.D. in the same area, but have to admit, am a bit undecided about the latter. I speak Portuguese, English, and Spanish fluently, am not sure whether this would help me in any way but am certain that if I wanna teach degree programs at the college, I’d have to have a Ph.D.

The truth is I am a bit concerned because I have not accumulated any wealth throughout my life nor I have any retirement plan other than the public one. I’d have to get into student debt to pay for all my education, not to mention I do have anxiety as a condition.

I’d appreciate it very much any response to my thoughts.

Institution, not instruction…auto fill! Too bad I can’t edit it. That post will plague me until I die.

I just completed at age 66. One is never too old and must simply have realistic expectations of what can be accomplished. I already work at an instruction of higher education so I’m not job hunting. I do have much more credibility in my field now and can better compete in the grant and contract world. I’m satisfied.

Good for you. Like I said in a previous comment — I received my PhD at age 65. The prejudice in my department in terms of both ageism and sexism is astounding. I have worked in higher education and in high school for many years. I totally agree with your statement that one must have realistic expectations. Job Hunting is difficult and I have a job — don’t need to find one. But, one’s credibility is greatly affected when you can put PhD behind your name. That in itself is an unfortunate reality for I know many people in my field who are knowledgeable, but have not earned the doctorate.

Hello Everyone! I’m Rabina and I’m 33 years. I completed my Masters in Sociology this January 2016. I want to study further. Will you please tell me where and how should I apply for PhD? Hope I can go straight for PhD after Masters. Or, do I need to do MPhill? (wanna go direct). I’m not financially strong and I don’t have any working experience too. I want to study Psychology (which one will be the best; sociology or psychology?). I have no idea whether it’s possible or not and if yes, how. Studying further i.e going for PhD is my dream. I have obtained very less marks except in the dissertation. Do I have any chances? As I went through all your comments, I found that everyone have lots of experiences (long term) and seem to be highly educated with top marks.

Please help me! Thank you!

Actually, if I don’t get all this crap done by August 15th – and that’s probably how much longer the PASSPORT alone will take as the Irish Embassy has a 12-week processing time these days – I could always either enroll at certain choices in Belgium ANYWAY (as an “auditor) and just take more pre-doctoral Calculus and Physics classes for an entire YEAR and start this mess all over again for NEXT fall — on some of Switzerland’s universities’ application forms the only problem was going to be that I was nowhere near having MOST of what they require in the ONE MONTH application opening period that they have. (Switzerland is more competitive than a lot of other European countries because it’s so popular, that’s why I focused on Belgium) … I mean, high school diploma and transcripts that I have to PAY to get all over again, and I’m currently 3,000 miles from where I went to high school and have no desire to drive that far just to yell at the transcript office for taking so far 3 months to even look at my request (!!) – having to PAY to take a French language level certification test or something and they’re only given in NEW YORK, etc. Then the CV and the “verification letters” for all the time since 1989/high school graduation….Belgium is cheap to live in, and initially “sounded too easy” but that crap is just ridiculous. The Scandinavian countries’ universities only require you to submit transcripts of your LAST degree earned, not all the way back to HIGH SCHOOL. All this administrative rubbish, I’m almost forgetting my subject matter!!

Thanks for all the encouraging words. At 50, I’m starting my Masters in Accounting next month and plan to go straight into a Phd program afterwards. I was a little concerned about the age thing with the Phd but not anymore. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

I just got hooded from the Dept. of History and I am 65. Another 65-year- old also walked in May — a PhD in public policy. I have always worked in my field — teaching. With a PhD in Early Modern European History, I hold no illusions. I have been a music teacher and Latin teacher for years and I do translations for pay. But, I also hold a couple of state teaching certificates and I have a background in music education (B.S. and a first MA). Strictly a research tenure track job in the humanities is tough even for the very young PhD (few and far between and they don’t pay well, at least in the beginning). If you can’t move or have family obligations it is almost impossible to find an academic job in the humanities. But in a math or science field, a tech field that is needed and/or if you already have a job and the school and program can accommodate you, it may be easier. But, anything can be done if you are determined enough to forge ahead. Accountants are needed at any age. And, here is another point. Some folks prefer to deal professionally with people close to their own age, so there is a special place for the recent but older graduate. Finally, there is no price you can put on the experience that only life can teach you. It is a selling point. GOOD LUCK!

You’re never too old! I did a science PhD at the usual early-mid 20’s age and in my mid-40’s I started a part time mathematics degree for interest and because it helped my research (in industry) and I have learned so much and applied it to my job and my consulting. Now I’m 50 and I’m going to do a masters or a PhD in statistics. Finances are important and can be an obstacle but if you can find the means and you have the drive, do it and enjoy it.

At age 54, and with 30 years of experience working in the energy and environmental consulting fields, I returned for a Masters in Public Policy at George Mason Univ in Northern Virginia near WDC. It was time to “sharpen the saw”, learn some new approaches, stimulate some different ways of thinking by reading a wider span of authors, and some of the best thinkers. GMU caters to working professionals and I enjoy a student body that isn’t all students — most are working and doing interesting things. I finished the Masters in 2015 and rolled into the PhD in Public Policy program at GMU after being awarded Scholar of the year in 2013. Some important notes: 1) I did not go back to graduate school to work my way into an academic career; I returned to gain perspective, interact with bright people again, and learn more about how Millennials see the world, plus more international students; 2) Because I had already worked in the agency (Dept. of Energy) most sought after leaving, I brought tremendously useful insight to class discussions — I had practiced policy, now I needed deeper theory. I brought more experience than several professors, but lacked their understanding of theory and methodologies. 3) I structured my work so that most papers and analysis in graduate school fed my consulting work; I recognize not as many PhDs can do this, but I could in Public Policy. My academic work paid for itself through consulting work and new engagements with clients, some of it by publishing some of my work. ADP, age 59 — hope to finish my PhD by 2020 in National Nuclear Energy Strategies and Sovereignty

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Came back here after someone checked me out from my post way back when and is great fun to see where everyone is at. Voice of Wisdom, sadly, is a troll. Love Kiffy’s comment RE: prophet of doom. ROFL

Again, I got my PhD and it ends up being my fifth degree. I know, I’m whack. Not going for another though I know dual PhDs are all the rage. But I’m committed to lifelong learning and a lot of doors have opened since getting the doctorate. Feel free to check out my other comment on this board here: .

I admit, I had a full life before the PhD so getting one was just icing. Once you get it, aim high, real high (someone has to get those jobs and you never know who might find you attractive for whatever reason). “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” Some Proverbs 16:33 for the ‘Voice of Wisdom.’

Very inspiring to see so many people go for their dreams in the face of debilitating illness and chronic distress when I know I could not do so. There’s more strength in this thread than we realize!

Thanks for continuing the conversation, Dr. Blattman. Peace, out.

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Pamela: I never thought of combining everything I did into a consulting position. I guess I always thought that I would have to give a name of a boss, or company. I could just say that I worked for myself, which in many instances I did. Good idea — the consultant. Thanks.

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@Pamela Kennedy You could combine all of your temporary, sporadic jobs into one long career as a consultant. I have friends who have done this kind of project-to-project work in international development and on their resumes it just says “20 years experience as a consultant in blah blah blah” It also would look more like you chose the flexibility of the freelancing life. Good luck!

I have found out, at least at my institution, that not every minute of your working life needs to be cited. I combined jobs, abbreviated what I did, and only included what was appropriate or what would make me look good. I did not include everything I ever did. Not too long ago (this year) I took a survey for grad. students and those who had recently graduated. It seems that my department is being audited for efficiency. The survey wanted to know how many papers I had given, published, books published, conferences attended and organized, grants received, etc. Well, I know there are some who have done more — but I have some papers to my name — no books yet. But, I capitalized on my work experience, adjunct experience, full-time employment especially where I could say that I directed something or headed up a committee. I can say that in my life I had very little down time. I don’t know how Great Britain organizes their collegiate processes. But, I have heard that it is considerably different than in the US. I have two friends who received their PhDs from Cambridge, and to hear them talk, the expectations are quite different than in the Midwest, US. They both feel that getting the PhD in England is much more difficult than what is encountered in the US. I still say that much depends on your institution, your department, your advisor, and what you expect of yourself. I am not above a few white lies about what I’ve done or massaging the truth if necessary. Lets just say, I don’t put everything down in applications or surveys.

@Vanessa: Regarding your friend who took his PhD in Wales at the age of 70 – how the hell did he get past the part where they require you to account for every thing you’ve done and everywhere you’ve been since HIGH SCHOOL – presumably the age of 18??

Or maybe your friend was not like me, getting kicked in the head around the country (US, Canada, and the UK) on temporary sporadic jobs that never last more than a few weeks or months, over and over again, for the amount of years between the ages of 18 and 70. Hell, if you can keep one job in the same place for 10 years at a time then that CV thing is easier to do, now isn’t it.

I’m finding that even getting through the application process in my mid-40’s after getting my Master’s and law degrees in my late 20’s, is so awful that I’m wondering if I’m ever going to do anything else with my life EVER. And thinking that I’ve overstayed my welcome ON THIS PLANET. Yes, I’ve found PhD programs in Mathematical Computational Physics in countries in Europe that don’t require that you get recommendations from your undergrad professors, who, after all, by now are probably DEAD. Or wouldn’t remember you from Adam because it’s been over 20 years since they last saw you. That one alone was the reason I looked to Europe in the first place. Then I get to the actual applications and they’re starting to do this thing: they make me put my date of high school graduation down and then make me recount where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing since that time. You know. NINETEEN EIGHTY-NINE. After looking up every curse word I could think of in the French dictionary, I slog through ONE of those and then I get a letter from admissions asking for my high school transcripts/diploma and everything since then, also a CV accounting for all that time. Yeah, I’m too old to do ANYTHING. And I was only even looking to get a PhD because I’ve found that I can’t get any job doing anything at all without one, also because of my age (which people “guess at” on my applications due to when I graduated high school and college.) Also, the times being what they have been for the past decade and a half, my “career” has been gradually going into the TOILET over the years. I’ve got to find a COUNTRY in which a brown-skinned minority woman can get a job with “just” a Masters earned 20 years ago, without having to account for all the years since high school on a CV!!! Either that or lay down and DIE in my 24-year old PAID-FOR car.

I mean, the university applications are requiring a “letter of motivation” my MOTIVATION is that I can’t find a damn JOB anymore!! (Combination age and skin colour.)

So sorry — Seniors do waiver: The name is Arthur Schopenhauer.(d. circa 1860) I knew after I wrote “Jacob” that it was the wrong first name. There is a Jacob in literature but not nearly as well known. Oh well, Schopenhauer was a devotee of Plato. Schopenhauer, I believe, also felt that angry or dissatisfied people represented unfilled will.

Dear Voice of Wisdom: Who are you? No, wait — don’t tell me, I may actually know you. I have been in academia and in teaching for years. I will not tell you how many credentials and positions I have held sans the PhD that I will soon get. And, I am VERY WELL over 40. How do you like that for a near Ciceronian praeteritio? I have never had a problem finding and/or keeping a job in academia, provided that one includes the teaching field as part of academia. I choose to define the term “academia” rather broadly. Achieving and maintaining employment with a PhD depends on what field of endeavor one has pursued; and no, not all of us grayed-haired types look or act grayed-haired, nor do we seek to stave off dementia. One should not count a life in terms of decades of employment. One also should patently ignore what I was once told by a professor prior to not being accepted into a program. He said, “We question whether you have a sufficient number of years left in your career field to warrant a significant contribution to research.” I was taken aback, cried a lot, and then mustered up some determination to tell that person what I thought. By the way, I was 35 years old when that happened and I will always remember the incredibly elitist ego that accompanied that prediction. Like the philosopher Jacob Schopenhaur once said, and I paraphrase since this senior’s memory may waver — it is better to have fewer books and better books in one’s library than to have many books. Unfortunately, there are more than many academics who are forced to publish to keep their jobs — a sad state of affairs since not all books are worthy of publishing much less reading and moving from shelf to shelf. I champion any and all who wish to pursue higher education for whatever reason. There is no just reason to defend one’s position to anyone. Keep trying until you get it!

VW I see two things going on here.

1. You are distressed that there are people who do not want to follow what you deem to be age-appropriate behavior and you feel it is your responsibility to urge them to conform to perceived norms and expectations.

2. You are assuming that everyone who gets a Phd is seeking an academic career. Have a look at this Stanford website which shows post-Phd employment for their graduates.

While the data is not perfect it shows that only 45% of their Phd graduates are working in academia with the rest in government, industry, non-profit or other.

I did not pursue an academic career earlier because I wanted to make money. In my field, government and industry pay several times what academia does. I have always known that research informs practice and am now in a position to pursue research. The Phd is simply the best way to develop those skills.

A parting shot: clearly you don’t travel much because you will see plenty of sweaty, gray-haired types (usually men) discoing away with the young in nightclubs all over the world from Cancun to Phuket.

How is pursuing a doctorate an “ego-trip?” It is true getting educated early helps to rise up the ladder, but it sounds like you think it actually hurts a person. I was speaking to my friend yesterday who just finished his PhD at 54. He is financially secure and one of the smartest people I know. There is not doubt he could have had a PhD at 30.

Now, if you want to say he SHOULD have pursued his PhD by 30, I may be inclined to agree with you. Are you bitter about something? If you are incredibly successful as a young PhD I do not begrudge you for it, good on you.

You said that @35 you (and your ilk-) were juggling parenting and busy careers. Precisely! Except, why weren’t you busy juggling academic career at that time like it is a widely expected, gasp, norm? Get it? Your “tremendous obligations that come with early adulthood” are the norm everywhere including academia, so get off of your pedestal. You aren’t that special. Academia is not a “last train” that exists just so those timewasters, who originally lacked maturity and/or foresight and/or strategic skills to get into it in the first place, could hop on it at their leisure and convenience.

Also, my advice is for those who are serious about getting into academic careers, and not for those who are pursuing PhD for the sake of it (or for cute reasons like staving off potential dementia and what have you).

If you are not PhD-in-hand and on the academic market by 40 – forget it. Like everything else in life, there’s time and place for everything. And academia for newbies in their 50s or 60s is not that place.You don’t see (m)any double-chinned, gray, wrinkled 50+ people in trendy night clubs hobnobbing (and looking to score) with young people in their 20s and 30s; so what makes you think that academia is different?

People, save your dignity, and look for your ego kicks someplace else.

Dear Voice of Wisdom, I agree with you about deferring admission for one year, a vesting allowance is always worth it and sometimes allows the retiree to opt-in to the employer health care plan – far more valuable than the allowance for sure.

I disagree with just about everything else you said. I do not know who you are describing but many who return for a Phd later in life,myself included, are financially secure with solid careers who have reached a place in their intellectual development where pursuing research is the natural next step. There are many part-time Phd programs in the UK that accommodate just this type of learner.

We either have no intention of working in the low-paid, low-benefit world of academia or we work in applied fields that are always short of Phd trained teaching faculty like computer science or nursing.

I also disagree with your assumption that satisfaction at age 55 is not as sweet as when one is 35. I would argue that it is the opposite. At 35,I and many like me were juggling parenting and busy careers – we had no time for satisfaction – we just wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Now with kids out of the house and finances in place, we can afford to pursue a life of the mind without the tremendous obligations that come with early adulthood.

A lifelong career is no longer the norm. There no rules that must be followed.

Last, if you are going to insult and ridicule please be brave and sign with your own name. I do.

Voice of Wisdom: you sound more like a prophet of doom than a wisely balanced guardian. There are various motives people go for PhD at a later stage than just capitilizing on it as single source of hope and hapiness in life – even for so, it always ones choice. Also, illness can be of varied sources and can strike at anytime of ones life. Finally, the academia is one of the rare areas that people retire formally but continue produzing and being useful to sociedade even from a will chair. So, I don’t I consider your negatively loaded emphasis on age and ailments sufficient factor for dissuading anyone from choosing at any time convenient to do PhD.


Life is a strategic game of chess.

Get that pension if you can (even if “only” $500) because in the great scheme of things one year doesn’t make any difference in academia.

As long as you finish your PhD by 40 (even better if by 35-) you will still be academically OK, especially if coming from a place like Brown.

This goes for the rest of you:

It is not enough to just finish PhD; it’s not even about getting a job — those are given. The bigger issue is how much meaningful and productive time, while at reasonable physical robustness/health, will you have after your PhD? What will be your inner satisfaction. Will you be constantly miserable and self-destructive that you haven’t started that endeavor earlier in life? Because, make no mistake, satisfaction at 55 is just not the same like it is at 35.

For those who are interested in academic career, my strong advice is to not embark on this path unless you can complete your PhD and be employed (even if adjunct) by 40.

40 is absolutely last age for embarking on a full and meaningful three-decade career. The rest of you are just lost, insecure souls frightened with diminishing professional prospects, failing health, and increasing social irrelevancy, and so you are desperately invested in the idea that by running into academia you will find a safe haven that will magically erase all those difficult things from your life. It won’t.

So if you recognize yourself in these descriptions do not throw the rest of your life away pursuing something so fickle. There are many other more dignified/more worthy pursuits outthere.

Turn around and never look back.

Academia also plays by the same rules as the greater society — they may just be more cunning about it. They don’t give a shit about you. There’s no “life of the mind”. There’s business as usual: egoism, careerism, nepotism, ageism, classism, politics, gossip, backstabbing, prejudice, snobbery, fluff, etc. etc.

Turn around. And never look back.

Dear Ken & Joy,

Thank-you for the insightful comments! It definitely helps ease the twinge of pain I still feel about the rejection, but makes me hopeful, in case I have to apply again next year. Thank-you again for the sound advice and direction regarding your own PhD/MA experiences.

I’m 26, just got rejected from a PhD program, applied to another Master’s program as well, waiting for the results. Because I work full-time, and have consistently decided to apply last minute to these programs I feel my applications haven’t been as strong as they could have. I’m turning 27 this year, if I don’t get into any programs I’m already getting anxiety about applying again/potentially entering a grad program at 28…age is definitely a reality I didn’t consider a few years ago, until a PhD friend of mine recently told me not to wait to apply as the reaction to older grad students is a little non-accepting. Fingers crossed that the other application goes okay, I really don’t want to wait to start school again…

I completed my Master’s Degree at 46 after basically failing at it when I was 25. This is due to selecting the correct major as well as your maturity level I admit, I was reluctant to go back to school 20 years after my BA, but I am so happy that I did. I am not sure about the older grad students comment. I felt far ahead of the younger students because I had real life experiences. Also, they respected the fact that maybe I had learned a thing or two in 20 years. If you are doing it for a specific job or field, they may have prejudice, but individuals and schools do not seem to.

I agree with Ken. I started my accelerated PhD at 53, graduating at 56 (this year). I received a full fellowship and full salary and many very low interest or forgiven loans. My cohort of 6 ranged from ages 32 to 53! I don’t plan on retiring!

I finished my BSc. in physics 8 years ago and my MSc. in Space Eng. 3 years ago. I work as a flight dynamics engineer and soon i’ll get promoted, however, I miss my physics lectures, my physics background and I was thinking to apply for a part-time PhD in theoretical physics.

In 2 years I’ll be 40 and honestly, I’ll do my PhD just to have fun (yeah… fun) and because I love physics. I don’t think I’ll get any troubles to apply with my background and I don’t think as well I’ll have problems with my age… What if I finish my PhD at my 50’s? Still I have 30 years to give something to the community.

Does this work?

I am in my mid 30’s and I returned to get my PhD in physics. I have a youtube channel with some videos of my first year and a half in graduate school.

This comment is for Carole. I hope you finish your PhD and I wish you all the luck in the world. It is a tough go, but if you want it bad enough you will do it. There are so many hoops to jump through, I can’t even remember all of them. But, you have my best wishes and as I said in my first comment — Go for it!

Liz, thank you so much for encouragement and the reminder that it is certainly going to take a lot of determination to finish. I will finish my course work next year and then on the the dissertation. I must admit that I am finding the process both challenging and requiring adaptation in study habits. I can almost remember when I had short term memory, unfortunately I no longer have it. This has been and continues to evolve my note taking and info filing strategies. I haven’t solved the issue yet but continue to engage the process. Reading for more than an hour at a time is impossible but that just means I get to take more breaks. I must be clear though, this is the most fun I have had in decades..I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I do suppose that a lot depends upon the program you are in and the passion you bring to the project. Thanks for your good wishes, my I offer mine in return for you in whatever passion you are following.

I have a young friend who gave up a good job — a high salary — to start her PhD. One year into it, she decided that she hated academia. Fortunately, she got her old job back. My advice to starting a PhD at any age (and I started mine very late in life) is to realistically balance living in the present with planning for the future. Where do you see yourself in five years — in 10 years? Do you think it is feasible and do you like what you see? What will you be sacrificing? If you are a woman, you may be sacrificing a lot. You must search carefully your own values.

Thanks for the feedback!

I should have mentioned that since I only worked for a few years in the government (5 years vesting period), my pension will be around $500/month (w/increase for inflation).

Is $500/month in today’s dollars worth me waiting a year and deferring my PhD program?

Brown is the program that I would want to go to, because of its focus on development studies/globalization. University of Hawaii does not compare.

If you heart is set on Brown, you are young enough to “go for it.” Just check out your options that you are confident you can get a good job like your current one when you finish your PhD.

Hello! I love this blog.

I am at a difficult decision.

I am 28 years old, and got accepted into the Brown Sociology PhD program with full funding, excellent advisors, etc.

I currently work for the government in Hawaii and if I wait one more year in my current job, I will be “vested” into the pension system and get a government pension when I retire.

I am so excited about the PhD that I do not want to defer. (Brown allows you to defer for a year). But I wonder if I should wait for financial reasons (plus, I earn close to a six figure salary in my current job which doesn’t hurt building my savings).

If I wait a year, I will start the program when I am about to turn 30.

Not sure if that is too old?!

You are only 28 years old. I will be 47 tomorrow and I just received my MA last April 2015. I understand that a PhD is important to you, but if you keep your current job and invest wisely you will be set for life before you are my age. You may not have full funding through a university, but you will have a fuller pension. Especially if you will be vested in a year earning six figures and not even 30 years old. Check out PhD programs in Hawaii. So, you do not go full-time, you will still have a PhD before you are 40 and you will not be hurting for money.

I was in a Ph.D. program that I start at the age of 40 and finished all my course work successfully. I was sidetracked by being misdiagnosed as being terminally ill. Now I am 58-year-old single parent with a chronically ill child. I have done some major things – I have been recognized by a CEO of a major fortune 500 organization. I miss the mental stimulation of the Ph.D. program and my Ph.D. colleagues. I still long for the Ph.D. but I think the door has closed.

Go for it! It will take a lot of time but the rewards are immense both intellectually and socially. I am 71, in my second year of a PhD program in transdisciplinarity, and I love it. You have my best wishes.

I find it surprising that 60-80 hour weeks are required to train an anthropologist. Even in medicine, we are questioning if the grueling hours produce better doctors or just more tired ones. I think in the clinical sciences this is accepted as part of the socialization process that readies you for the great responsibilities you must take on. I suppose your professors are trying to achieve the same thing without having reflected on the effect of overwork on student performance. Maybe your student cohort should share with them the findings from the medical literature about this.

I disagree that self-education is possible if research is your primary goal. The resources and networking that a university provides cannot be found elsewhere. As someone making a late life career switch from family medicine to environmental sciences, I naively thought I could show up and be embraced. Now I am studying for the GRE and taking graduate classes in ecology to prove I am worthy of a research doctorate.

I don’t expect to make a living from a Phd but I do hope to find an intellectually stimulating community of like-minded scholars. Does such a thing exist in academia or is it just brutal competition and one-upmanship? If one is not seeking a traditional academic career is age-discrimination less prominent?

A very interesting post that I could address from the other side of the coin. I’m 26 right now and I’m in the second year of a PhD program in Anthropology (in the US). For myself personally, I couldn’t envision taking all of this on in my later years, particularly if I had children. I think that if you’re going to go back, you have to consider how much of a time commitment is involved and what you are willing to invest. During my first year, I had to work 60 to 80 hour weeks and I had a hell of a time. I did this side by side with a woman who entered the program in her late forties with a child. She was an incredible student but just could not keep up with the huge amount of things that we had to do to stay afloat. She had a life outside of school, which seems to be a “cardinal sin” from the perspective of academia. To me, this is shameful.

Beyond this, I would also consider if you are able to take a large pay cut. My tuition is covered, but my stipend is only about 15K a year. I live in a rural area that offers affordable housing and I commute to campus. My lifestyle is not glamorous and I go without a lot of the time.

Perhaps this is just my perspective from the social sciences, but these were my honest reflections. I completely respect anyone over 35 who wants to go back, but I also know the challenges that await them, particularly the various degrees of discrimination that I have witnessed. At times, even I have been made to feel “older” at 26! Crazy, right?

I also believe that a PhD is not an end all be all in terms of education. You could still feasibly educate yourself at any age without formally enrolling into a academy. There are a lot of different ways to learn that don’t necessary fit neatly into this one, tiny little box.

Started mine in the social sciences at 27 and finished at 32 (1983). Through poor planning had done no networking and my field was not doing well in the job market anyway. Did get a government job for a year but was kicked out (too liberal in a very conservative state) and then had years of unemployment/minimum wage work. Finally got on a tenure track at a small university, but guess I’m a slower learner–thought schools wanted open discussion of topics outside the (conservative) students’ comfort zone (and the chair liked Nixon too). At this point I discovered that a bad work history, being in one’s late 30s, and having an obsolete Ph.D. (+2 masters’) in a dead field was not a ticket to success. After 7 awful years ended at a for-profit for 23 more. At least it was teaching and nobody gave a damn what I said. The place was finally put out of its misery after 1 lawsuit too many. Moral is to pick your field carefully, plan your career, expect the unexpected, and don’t diddle around. Yes tenure track academia is a dying option, but older Ph.D.s can certainly make it in some fields, and you’ll have the fun and sense of achievement of doing it. But know what you are getting in to. And try to get some practical experience too; if you want to teach know how before you get up in front of a class. If you expect to work with other people understand something about group dynamics and socialization–some folks get this intuitively but as a group I think doctorate holders find these areas more difficult. Give yourself every advantage possible.

I am in my mid 30’s and getting my PhD in physics. Feel free to follow my journey on my youtube channel in the link below.

I am over over 50 and just now finishing my PhD. And, I have a job teaching — a good job. it is never too late. I have a friend of mine who started a PhD over the age of 70. He is very bright and everyone loves him and he is not looked down upon. Another woman I know received her law degree at 84. She will not use it — but then again, as long as she wanted it and paid for it, who cares. If you love the process and love learning — go for it

Hi there, very interesting comments. One question: can someone share experiences of late started (>40 years old) phd in scientific disciplines like applied physics or math?

If someone has a dream to attain the highest level of education then age should not matter. The legacy left behind is what matters. If someone is healthy and intelligent with the passion to work towards a PhD then no one should stand in their way! My motto is that it’s never too late to educate!

Hi all, I’m 49 years and am considering a Phd in Accounting. Having spent over 20 years in public accounting and industry, and having a law degree as well, I realize that I have a passion for teaching and research. I was doubting myself whether I should pursue the Phd, but having read your posts, I’m going for it! Thanks for the encouragement!

It is true that the earlier you start, the better! But for many of us, the PhD wasn’t on our radar in our 20s. I know that after I finished my Master’s degree in my mid-20s, I wanted to make my mark in the professional world, which I like to think I did. At 40, with the satisfaction of senior level work experience and some earnings under my belt, I returned to academia for the PhD. I’ve loved it. Fortunately, I don’t feel isolated in my program at all. We have folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, though the majority are probably late 20s or early 30s. There is one individual who is over 50, and this person is an incredible scholar, in addition to being a highly valued member of our cohort. We also have some incredibly smart and prolific twenty-somethings. The bottom line is that once you enter the graduate seminar, or the research conference, or the publication process, you are all equals. That said, it takes a few years to figure things out. Older students have less time to waste. They need to hit the ground running HARD from day one. However, for those of us who have endured the hectic life a management job (or whatever else) the opportunity to study deep theory or conduct meaningful research is an absolute dream — and the politics of academia are often no worse than any other job.

As for the post-PhD job market, be open to any and all outcomes. An academic career might be ideal, but a PhD also lends itself well to a number of high-level positions in industry and government. So — provided that you can afford the drop in income during the time it takes to earn the degree, AND provided that you have the support of your immediate family, AND assuming that you have the pedigree, grades and CV to be accepted into a program or several — just go for it!

It is never too late for learning. I am 40, and I just started my Ph.D., and love it. Also, you mentioned that faculty people may get wondering if it’s “too late” for contributing to the body of knowledge. It isn’t because we are living approximately 90 years, and so we still have plenty of times ahead to contribute. Don’t you think that life becomes boring if we continue the same path for so many years! So, cheers to everyone who wants to start a Ph.D. at any age

I totally agree with Viivin no such thing as retire at 65! :)

I am 57 and will be submitting my final thesis next week. I joined for the PhD programme after clearing an entrance test five years ago along with 25 year olds. It has been a learning experience . My 29 years of experience in the corporate world gave me contacts and insights which gave me an edge for my depth interviews (mine was a mixed methods research in social sciences) . Financially it has not been a burden as I was a full time faculty. I had registered as a part time scholar. I have since left my teaching job for personal reasons but plan to reenter after a year’s sabbatical when I also hope to complete the PhD process. I am optimistic. The 5 years has been very challenging and required a fine balancing between teaching and research . I recommend it to anyone interested in an intellectual stimulating life . I presented papers at conferences, got papers published, the works ! Very very different from a corporate world !

I have a DBA, but found this was not fully appreciated by my colleagues who has a PhD or the institute I worked, so at the young and tender age of 44 years old, married for 12 years and have a bouncing boy of 2 years old, I am going to start my PhD in Management with a UK university via distance learning and will probably graduate 5 years later in 2020, but what the heck, I will still have 15 years left of the working life before retirement and should be able to recuperate the funds I will be spending on the PhD. But for me its the achievement that when I complete the PhD, I will have two doctorates to my name and a HERO to myself:). So all those who have written the posts above and in my age bracket, its true you never too old to learn and the more I learn the less I know. All the posts has inspired me to want to move ahead with the PhD and lets see about all those who posted this year and in the early or later years, how they are doing when they have completed their studies…Good Luck all and once again thank you for INSPIRING and MOTIVATING to want to continue.

Don: That is wonderful! I will be 56 next year when I graduate with my PhD in nursing. I don’t plan to retire, I figure that as long as my mind works I will work. I am guaranteed a tenure track position upon graduation and if I want to work hard I can obtain tenure by my 65th birthday. I can also develop my own consulting firm and then maybe only work at the university 9 months out of the year! With the world being so unstable I don’t trust retirement accounts so might as well do something that you can do in your golden years and get respectable pay and great benefits! Remember, we are living long and healthier than ever before and academia keeps your mind sharp!

I will be turning 40 next month. I completed my under graduate in 1996. After working in different support level jobs for 19 years, I have decided to pursue a regular post graduate programme (MBA) followed by Ph.D to try my luck in teaching/research. I will be 46 at the time of receiving my Ph.D. I too was concerned about my age. I felt I would be too old for a teaching job at 46. After reading the posts of many people here, I am confident that passion and hard work will give us the desired results and age will only be a number. Thanks to all those who have inspired me!

Im 37 and had cold feet about taking on a PHD. For all the right Reasons, wanting to contribute to Science. I went ahead. After reading the many of comments posted i feel uplifted. There is room for success and room for failure. Thus far on my road to a PHD i have found my most useful asset has been my socialism skills. Forget my shiny white beard, my class mates enjoy listening to my many life stories.. Zero age discrimination (thus far!) I’ll be doing my PHD with total confidence of a fruitful long career.

I guess I am getting a mixed feeling from reading everything – but more positive rather than negative.

I do think older students can bring a lot to the program – I hope all adcom will give ignore the age factor.

I am just starting the PhD journey myself….and I am old also older than then the average PhD students..

I am 38 and wondering if I am too old to start a PhD – but then someone told me of a woman of 86 who is very proud to have just got hers. I reckon if you want to do something just do it! Don’t get hung up on age.

You are some of the most self-absorbed people I’ve ever read comments from.

Go study. Study to learn, not to get your PhD. Help other people just for the sake of helping them. Stop being so self-important.

Apparently there are scholarships specifically for elders. I can’t find me source right now but I will look and post later if I can find it.

I’ve just read the majority of the posts, they are all so inspiring, and I’m 47 YOUNG and going for it!! Thank you all.

Think my real question, in all of this, actually is: does age matter in terms of getting a FUNDED PhD? It is evident that it doesn’t necessarily count much in terms of doing a PhD you can fund yourself, luckily.. but is it the same with funded PhDs? I wanna hope that what counts the most in the decision is your academic value/research potential but.. I do wanna know from you lot. I don’t think I’ll start a PhD before 34/35 years old

Depending upon your circumstances you are eligible for a student loan and there are scholarships out there as well. You just have to hunt for them. Good luck

Yes, absolutely… I was just wondering whether age is often an eligibility criterium for those scholarships/funds. It often doesn’t seem to be but you know.. Fear, psychosis and all, haha

Age was NEVER a factor for me. I received a full fellowship, $ 60,000/yr for 3 yrs (under contract to complete the PhD in 3 years plus have to teach at a gulf coast 4 yr nursing school for 3 years) plus last year I received a $ 20,000 Jonas scholarship plus nurse teacher loans that are 80% forgiven! In admission interviews, scholarship talks etc. age was never mentioned, it didn’t matter. We have professors in their 80’s still teaching and doing seminal research! I will be 56 when I graduate next year! Doing my candidacy exam this summer!

As a 48 year old preparing for admission to a PhD program I find this post and comments inspiring. But what is the best strategy for admission in middle age? I am torn between applying now to a low-residency PhD at Antioch university that is not a good fit for my research interests but where I could continue to work or wait another year , get my government pension and apply to traditional programs where my interests are allied with the program. I feel like one year makes a difference when you are starting at my age and am tempted to do a program that while not very prestigious will allow me to make to keep job at least initially.

Also, I will not need funding of any kind. Can I say that up front in my statement? I don’t want any school to think that I will burden the budget.

I came on the internet looking for some kind of reassurance I wasn’t too old for a PhD, I was doubting myself, but thank you to the older people who have posted , who are doing theirs, gives me the courage to do mine, thank you

I am 46 and am finishing my Master’s Degree tomorrow. It will not be official until 15 May 2015. I received a BA in English on 15 May 1992 at 23 and 23 years later my Master’s. I did much better this time for many reasons, mostly because I wanted to do well. I am graduating with honors. I want a Ph.D. for the accomplishment, but I would also like another career. The nice thing is that I will have another retirement coming so there is not the same pressure. I plan on taking it slow and ten years is fine with me. I even plan to take a short break of up to two years before I start.

I’m 43 and I can tell you from experience that age is discriminated against. I’ve been applying for a long time and have an excellent research track. This year the department where I work (at a top tier university) admitted my intern from last year for the exact same PhD student position as I was applying for. The only difference in qualification was age.

Do it now, Vandu, there is a very real difference between 60 and my surprise. But no matter when, if you still feel deeply curious and are drawn to it then do it. We need more ‘older’ students to bring our perspective to the evolution of thought.

Here’s the bottom line: YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE!!! So, if you still want a doctoral degree and are “older”, SO WHAT?!?! Do it anyways! There’s no cap to learning and growing!!

This last bit by Carole sounds encouraging. I am just past sixty and contemplating starting a PhD programme. I think it’s worthwhile.

I just started my PhD program last year and am now 70 years old. I received my masters in 1971, so it has been a while since I have participated in academia. Thus far it has been a daunting, terrifying, exciting and reaffirming experience. I would love to contact anyone else my age who is going through this process. I still have high hopes of finishing and publishing.

I started mine aged 44 at what would be described as one of Britain’s best universities. I’m now halfway through. My topic relates strongly to the career that I spent 20 years and I’ve been able to draw on a lot of experience. I’m financially independent so have been able to fund myself. The overwhelming positive has been the intellectual stimulation. I’ve truly found it a journey of the mind. An incredible experience. Assuming I pass I’ll really feel that I’ve earned it. But….there have been a lot of things that I’ve struggled with. Universities are extremely hierarchical and as a humble student I’ve often found myself in meetings where I could actually contribute far more than I do, but I don’t want to tread on the Prof’s toes. I’ve also found far more patch protection than I am used to. I’m used to working in teams and academics don’t seem to be that way inclined. It’s also hard to deal with egos – naturally I’m not as subserviant as a 20 year old would be, expecially in the case where the person is my age or younger. Graduate students are expected to be extremely reverential and that’s not easy approaching 50. Also I’m not willing to be ‘dumped on’ in terms of being given work; the younger ones put up with it as they’re trying to forge a career. But the hardest thing has been the hostility from some of the PhD students in their 20s….they’ve not been that friendly…the older PhD students on the other hand have been great. As to what I’m going to do with the degree if I get it? Truth is I don’t know but I suspect I won’t remain in academia. I also suspect finding a job in academia would be hard. For all the noise about welcoming older people it is a conservative industry.

I’d say ‘go for it’. It’s a good experience and you learn humility too which can never hurt. And….conversely….I heard the other day that a 24 year old had finished her doctorate in record time and my reaction was…. how can a kid that age have any wisdom…. it is supposed to be a philosophy degree after all. So turn the question around….when are you too young? I think you get much more from it when you’re older. But be aware of some of the emotional challenges.

I am so happy and inspired by reading all those articles in which people have entered in Ph.D program late in life. I am 47 and want to start my Ph.D. I was hesitant to even think about it due to my age, but now i am confident about joining the program if i get accepted.

I began mine at 53, will finish at 56 and I was the first one accepted into an elite program with only 6 available seats. This is a second career for me and it totally opposite my first. I received a full fellowship of $ 60,000/year with additional $ 20,000’s in scholarships. I am obligated to teach for 3 years and after that I can do what I want and either stay in academia or go into industry. I am finding that being older is an advantage. My current PhD will be in nursing, my prior career was in international business with an MBA so go figure!

You’re lucky and blessed Gioia! Keep the luck and blessing enhanced by redistributing knowledge and understanding – it helps to grease the wheels that make the world rotate with less frictions..

I plan to Henri and thank you for the encouragement! Will be graduating Aug 2016, must complete in 3 years, its part of the contract!

Dear I have completed my bachelor degree(I have no study gap but we have completed our 4 years hons course in 6 year and 1 years masters course in 2.5 years due to our university session concession) when I was 27……I am now near 30 just finished my course based master degree but no job experience yet and I am going to do second research master degree(3 years master program in China) with scholarship in medical image processing and after finished my second masters I have desired to do PhD in Medical imaging and I am so disappoint about my carrier because I will be too old if I do begin my PhD and my frustration is I have no job experience yet and going to be older……..when I will finished my PhD my age will be then 36 or 37…..Is this too old for Academia without job experience?

I am in late 40’s and considering PhD in Computer Science/IT Business Management. It seems that only feasible option for me at this point is online PhD. What are your opinions on credibility and quality of online programs. By the way, my goals are mainly educational, progressing the field and have somewhat a competitive edge in otherwise relatively successful career. Of course, I would like an opportunity to teach in the future, but that is a “nicety” not a primary goal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Hello. I think I read this post sometime back and came across it again when Googling today: Is it too late to pursue a PhD in your 40s? I started college a little over four years ago to pursue a long time passion, evolutionary anthropology/archaeology. I’m now 42, my bachelors requirements fulfilled. I have driven many professors crazy asking all sorts of questions regarding pursuing a PhD as an adult in your 40s, therefore I think I can contribute a little to this post.

I literally started out by walking to the nearest college thinking you can just stay until you’ve reached a PhD. That’s not the case. I discovered that graduate programs aren’t keen in taking their own undergraduates. It can happen, but you would have to really “wow” a professor and/or did some outstanding research. So of course, one would have to look at other graduate programs. This is where it may be problematic for some, because it literally means packing up and moving to a distant state/country. In a sense, you are re-establishing your life from square one.

I think it REALLY matters what type of PhD program you are pursuing. I think that the more advanced a PhD program is (biochemistry engineering, medical, etc), it will become more difficult for an older student. However, not saying it cannot be done.

There are advantages to being an older student and many professors also remarked the same thing: older students tend to be more serious, mature, less-partying, more focused, and most importantly, have a mission in mind. One professor mentioned an older “successful” student, who came in, funded his own research, and did a stellar job.

The best advice that I can dispense is 1. in whatever you are doing, do WELL, 2. ask your professors if you can help them in any of their research, 3. do a senior honors thesis (if in your undergrad years), 4. accumulate as much experience doing internships (whether paid/unpaid, a week or 2 months), 5. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO!! This is probably number 1!! Don’t just pursue a PhD because you want to be ‘distinguished,’ know what you want to do and why 6. Understand that this will consume lots of time and you won’t be living luxuriously (unless you have a healthy bank account). 7. My professors have all said one universal thing, grad school is not about grades, but about how well you can get along. I have slowly discovered this fact to be true.If you are an introvert, or don’t have people skills, consider brushing up social interaction techniques. 8. A lot of where you go in your graduate studies is not really about grades, but who you know and how well you get along with others. 9. Accrue as much field work (if applicable in your field) as you can. In my case, I volunteered for months doing archaeological work. 10. Research. A big factor faculty look at is what research have you done. This can be accomplished by doing an honors thesis, asking a professor to volunteer in their lab, etc.

You ultimately want to create a CV that you will tack on all experiences, all research, all internships, all fieldwork, etc -everything that you can add on to show that you are serious and experienced. Many professors admit to me that they look through stacks of applications from students with good grades and/or good universities, but what they look for is experience and what research, what skills, what have they done with their time. You’ll want to authentically paint yourself as the best possible applicant.

Oh, GREs. This seems to be of importance when applying to gradschool. Most require them. It is important you do well on them (it’s like an SAT but for gradschool). Again, professors stated that although they look at GREs, what is more important is what you bring to the table (see above).

Originally started out with extreme joy pursuing a BS in the last four years, but I must admit, I feel a bit uncertain. I have met many PhD and other grad students who are literally living on the edge. Meaning getting by with bare minimum: tiny apartment with just a bed/books, ramen noodles, etc. Some are lucky to have great parents. Some aren’t. I myself have sacrificed lots of things and live sort of on the edge. It is no joke going fulltime, doing lab research, and volunteering your time to accrue experience. Keep this in mind.

I have met some older students who are military veterans that use their GI Bill to fund their studies. Some are single parents. You must know what you want to do and why. Professors have told me that some students come but don’t really have a passion for what they are doing. You get a certain amount of time to complete a PhD (I think 7yrs max for my university). You can get kicked out of the program if you have produced nothing. Keep this in mind.

If you are pursuing a Phd/Grad in something else, do your best to fuse your talents and/or past experience into the new. Example, I met a former IT guy who also pursued archaeology and he used his tech skills in archaeology by creating a remote archaeological lab, archaeological scanning utility, a database, and other cool stuff. People really look for this.

Hope my tidbits are useful.

Read about this professor if you still think you are too old:

I could have agreed intoto with you if not that the world out there does not admit a perfect Prince simply because the real world is full of imperfections, once said Nichole Machiavelle. It is a capitalist world that demands results and profit, leaving many if not all without lovelier options. Under this circumstance, doing PhD at retirement seems more suitable for learning with love and for the sake of love than learning under materialist pressures.

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I say it is never too old to study for a PhD. Of course, it depends on the reason you want it. However, I do feel the world of learning has moved too much towards “vocational” qualifications and away from learning for the love of learning. I love learning. I would love the challenge and the discipline in taking a PhD purely for the pleasure of learning when I retire.However, looking at the comments here, it would appear I will need to return to my home country (UK) to get the best opportunity and the best experience. (I do not like the sound of the way the Americans organise these courses). A friend of mine took his PhD through a University in Wales (UK) upon retiring at the age of 70 – the fees were a retirement gift from his colleagues. he loved it, and did extremely well. People who are continually excited to learn are very good for society, and a great example to their children and grandchildren. Indeed, it is a shame that our curiosity as children is so quickly corrupted into learning for results and profit.

When are you too old for a PhD?

When I got my MS at 52, many suggested I’d make a good college professor. It’s very hard to do that with just an MS, and the length of time to get the PhD would leave me at 57 – 59, hardly enough time to find work for any reasonable length of time (20+ years would bring me to almost 80). Not saying I couldn’t do it intellectually, but with two kids in college that would give my family 3 people of 4 not working and trying to pay for undergrad and grad school for several years. If it was only me, I’d probably go for it, since my thought processes work best in academia… but my family has to count for something.

Nice article, though; thanks for sharing your opinion.

As a 64 year old returning to the job market after many years raising my children whom I had later in life, I found that I needed an advanced degree to re-enter with ANY hope of getting a job. Degree inflation is real. A BA no longer cuts it. It really wasn’t that difficult getting back into the swing of school (not having children at home made it much easier), but I really don’t think that I want to spend the additional 4-6 years getting a PhD.

Not sure if this helps or worsens my perpetual existential dilemma. “When are you too old for a PhD?” by @cblatts

When are you too old for a PhD?

@ksarkar_When are you too old for a PhD?

Please Professor, don’t say or use ***anyways again, it’s anyway. no offense intended.

When are you too old for a PhD? – Chris Blattman

When are you too old for a PhD? What do you think AFSAAP-ers? Is it different here?

RT @javieraparicio: When are you too old for a PhD? | by @cblatts

I started my PhD (Kinesiology) at age 30. I am almost 32 now. It’s very hard.

The most important advice comes after answering 1 simple question:

Do you have what it takes to complete a PhD?

If you think you do, and you KNOW it’s right for you, do it. If you hesitate, or think that maybe you won’t finish, or that you are not smart enough, or you just deep down on the inside don’t think you have what it takes, don’t do it.

Informative post by Blattman. When are you too old for a PhD?

RT @docteo_net: “Quand est-on trop vieux pour faire un #doctorat ?” (EN) Le point de vue de @cblatts, prof. à @Columbia ->…

RT @horatiurus: Very sensible advice from @cblatts: “When are you too old for a PhD? The updated advice post.” #PhD …

Very sensible advice from @cblatts: “When are you too old for a PhD? The updated advice post.” #PhD in soc sciences

When are you too old for a PhD?

When are you too old for a PhD? by @cblatts

RT @msantoro1978: Quando você é velho demais para o doutorado? “Se você é curioso o suficiente, nunca.” Com duas restrições.…

Quando você é velho demais para o doutorado? “Se você é curioso o suficiente, nunca.” Com duas restrições.

“Quand est-on trop vieux pour faire un #doctorat ?” (EN) Le point de vue de @cblatts, prof. à @Columbia ->

RT @Kapongola: When are you too old for a PhD? Started at 34yrs, still most people in my country think its too early #Tanzania…

When are you too old for a PhD? Started at 34yrs, still most people in my country think its too early #Tanzania

“I’m not sure the #PhD is rewarded more. You have to want it for its own sake” @cblatts #PhDChat #DoingaPhD #career

RT @cblatts: When are you too old for a PhD? The updated advice post.

When are you too old for a PhD? // I did start mine at 28 and still going… ho oldness….

RT @cblatts: My “When are you too old for a PhD?” post is updated. Thanks to readers for so many comments.

When are you too old for a PhD? – Chris Blattman

PhD-life tradeoffs in general: “a constant source of existential angst when you’re in the midst of it” h/t @cblatts

When are you too old for a PhD? – Chris Blattman

When are you too old for a PhD? | by @cblatts

“A constant source of existential angst when you’re in the midst of it.” @cblatts on when one is too old for a PhD:

@raulpacheco @cblatts The best time – when you are ready and have funding.

When are you too old to start a PhD? Some good advice from @cblatts

“@cblatts: My “When are you too old for a PhD?” post is updated. Thanks to readers for so many comments.”

.@cnbinaa well done! As @cblatts indicates, mid-career folks who start PhDs presumably have time/project management skills youngsters don’t

@raulpacheco @cblatts I’ve started a mid-career PhD, at age 43 – we’ll see how it goes, but I think it will help with my applied research.

In which @cblatts updates his 2013 post on whether anyone is too old to start a PhD TL:DR – it all depends.

When are you too old for a PhD? – Chris Blattman

Too old for PhD? Not necessarily

RT @cblatts Asks when we are too old for the PhD – perhaps never? @HowardAldrich @raulpacheco @amhst20

This a very usefull and thoughtfull post, and I personally thank you for it since I am exactly 28 and I am thinking about applying for a PhD.

I have some complementary thoughts though, regarding an applicant context and nationality. For instance, I am from Nicaragua, and here not many people have the opportunity to study graduate programs, and those who do are either very very previledged young people (meaning a 1%) or are professionals over 30 yearsold, who have develop a special interest in research and academia (which is pretty rare here, believe me), especially in the field of Humanities (including Economics and Political Sciences).

So, there are two options for these people: (1) apply for a scholarship abroad, either in the US, Europe, or any country worldwide that offered funding; or (2) do a PhD here (at home) which follows a completely different logic, since it is not fulltime, not even part time. Here, PhDs are done by meeting twice a month or during weekends, so PhD candidates can work and pay attention to their family and domestic obligations. My guess is that responds to a large demand of 40+ years old university professors and private sector proffesionals who did not get any graduate degrees before (cause it wasn’t necessary workwise) but now see it as important.

In my particular case, I did my bachelors in Canada (International Development Studies and Anthropology) but I always knew I wanted to work and live home. During the past years I have done research and taught at three Universities. This helped me get a better understading of what I wanted to do for my graduate studies. However, I want to do it abroad, since I like the academic logic of US and European academias.

So I feel I am in the middle of two very different academic worlds (kind of north vs south) with different admissions requirements and working logics. Therefore I wonder if the suggestions and thoughts you express about PhD applications apply equally to international applicants, especially those from the global south (it can pass as a Development topic too hehehe).

My guess is that I might be equally evaluated by Admisions committees as locals, this might include considerations about my age, and of course my carreer path so far, just as you highlight. But I also hope that there are some considerations about my context too, and its particular circumstances.

I would like to know if other Internationa Applicants relate to this situation, or is it just Central American.

Thank you again, and I hope to hear if you have any futher thoughts.

HAPPY 2015 :)

I started my PhD at 30 but had to immediately take a leave of absence when I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month after starting classes. One advantage of starting later was the time to fully consider and explore my career choices, as well as what getting a PhD would mean for those choices. It also meant that I had the opportunity to live abroad and travel extensively for several years. The two biggest challenges, however, have been health issues and children. Although 30 is extremely young to be diagnosed with breast cancer, the older you are, the greater the chances of having a serious medical issue. Unfortunately there is no concept of “medical leave” at most graduate programs, and complications due to my lengthy absence almost forced me out of the program. As for children, due to my age it simply wasn’t an option to wait until getting a job or tenure. Not only do graduate programs typically not offer “medical leave,” but there is no option for “maternity leave” as well. The clock to complete the program on time and in good standing doesn’t pause for these life issues either. I don’t regret the age I began my PhD, but the lack of medical and maternity options do make it harder for older students.

I took a variety of PhD level courses at Harvard econ as a special student on leave from UK Treasury aged 25 but kept asking myself whether any of it would be useful in the policy world so I went back to policy work. 10 years later I was finally ready. I knew exactly what I wanted to do my thesis on, had all the data from my work at the IMF and was lucky to find a loophole in the UK system which meant I did not have to retake the course work I had done for my masters. I wrote my thesis on a 9 month leave from IMF. My PhD has proved useful in my current job but I never wanted to be an academic (see my blog on academic vs policy work .

As of now, comments have focused on experiences of people older than 25-26 when starting their graduate programmes. I would like to turn the question around for a moment: Why are there (perceived or real) barriers for people slightly (or considerably) older and who have a different CV from the high school-BA-MA-PhD trajectory? I would be surprised if the feared inability to produce the same (total) number of publications as researchers starting younger—as mentioned somewhere in the comments—were a decisive factor. But youth is generally considered to be adaptable to change and to bring innovation. While it is not clear how much change and innovation are valued in academic circles this could be a perceived disadvantage for people who are considerably older.

Second, it may be argued that many strands of academia don’t give enough credit to ‘real life experiences’, which include relevant professional experiences. Having ventured outside the realm of academia seems to be a significant disadvantage – in the eyes of a considerable number of academics. In political science, for example, it is often assumed that anyone who has worked with governments and policy-makers would be suitable for ‘policy schools’ only (which are considered less academic). And so far most comments here have only talked about older faculty’s ability to conduct research. How do we stand on their ability to teach and mentor? (I think that faculty members with significant ‘outside-academia’ experience would have an advantage in this regard.)

Third, the standard vitae of most candidates for junior faculty positions follow a linear path. Thus, people falling outside the usual pattern are more difficult to rank according to the usual criteria.

Fourth – and maybe senior colleagues can shed more lights on this matter – there may be aspects of power to be considered. If someone joins as junior faculty at the age of 35, 40, 45 it can be expected that their integration process will be different from a 28, 30 year-old. Them being older and having a stronger opinion, while being in a formally inferior position, may change dynamics in a department (or this may be feared).

Thus, I hope that Chris will be able to aptly summarize the comments here and contribute to the wider debate that is needed in academia: Should academe put more value on relevant professional activities? Should this be connected to an increased focus on the relevance of academic research (and the acknowledgment that we should contribute less to “the literature” and more to real life problems, as Herbert Gans recently urged sociologist to do?). How should diversity not only in terms of ethnic, gender and socio-economic characteristics but also in terms of age structure and different life experiences be valued at departments?

I started mine at 37 and finished at 42. I’d say age is the last thing you should worry about.

The best bit of advice I got before going for the PhD was this: getting a PhD is like getting married – you have to love the subject. If you like the subject, it’s going to be a living hell. If you love the subject, it just might work out.

I’m tempted to counter, when are you too young? I started my PhD at 46, and hope to complete by the time I am 50 (ambitious but feasible because I am not starting from scratch). I sit in classes with some very young souls – all smart and curious but with so much experience still to acquire to help them understand what matters and what doesn’t. I also have to note that the majority of grad students I meet are on a scale of somewhat to very dissatisfied – no one finds a PhD easy, but do so many have to find it so hard? I think a bit more life experience would help put the agony into perspective. Though of course, there may be selection bias at work, too. It is a very (very) small subset of the population that embarks on a PhD in the first place.

The PhD in mid-career was a personal decision – intellectual curiosity, dissatisfaction with the policy loops I observed (and the dialogue of the deaf among the ministries/disciplines/constituencies that I wanted to break out of), living in a new place and needing an intellectual community, a desire for new career challenges after 20 very satisfying years in mostly NGO-based policy work. I do not find it easy, and have had to adjust my self-image as “good at school” (with kids and a long commute, as well as a few continuing professional obligations, I don’t have all the hours in the day most students have and I am not as focused either). Yet I have found it tremendously satisfying to be able to read, think, and argue about ideas without having to jump immediately to the policy-relevance, or the campaign design, or the funding proposal. It’s precious not to have to do something about everything you touch upon, but just to think about the issue for a while. Which is something I can appreciate from my vantage point, but that my younger colleagues, who have yet to experience the applied policy world, can find frustrating.

Like another commentator, I have found it easy to get funding, too – I cannot tick all the boxes required, but I do know how to write a proposal. And I know a lot about how what I investigate could make a difference. The big test will come this year and next – can I design and implement research to create new knowledge? I am looking forward to the challenge.

And after? I think I could probably get an academic post, but probably not in a traditional department in a traditional school – I am doing an inter-disciplinary degree, so age is not the only thing against me (nor the biggest). But there are lots and lots of kinds of jobs out there, and I didn’t start on this to become a professor anyway, wonderful as aspects of that life are. I wanted to learn how to learn in a more informed way, I wanted time to read and consider other perspectives, and a chance to ask a lot of questions. There simply is no age at which such a project could not have value, and no age at which such skills won’t be relevant to what comes next.

I finished a Ph.D at the age of 37. When I returned from an eight year assignment with FAO and the Dutch government in Nicaragua and had a valuable experience to report on, lots of data collected in research during action and in action and theoretical reflections that contributed to the theories of economic development and the role of agricultural producers.

Those to elements, experience and new contributions to theory are the two important elements that make a Ph.D study a valuable one and it takes more years of research and thinking. Therefore good Ph.Ds are produced by elder persons.

I do not think the argument for a Ph.D and the moment to produce it should be measured by the career opportunities of the student. The state of the Art and the possibilities to contribute to its progress is the only relevant measurement.

I started my PhD at 40. It is never too late, people. Stop searching for excuses on the internet.

I started my PhD in architecture at 57 and finished at 63. Might have been slowing down a little….. To be honest, I’ve not really looked for work afterwards – just took up my supervisor’s offer of temporary contracts as a research associate. May be assistant supervisor to a new PhD student soon.

At age 37, I went back full-time to the same university I dropped out of 18 years earlier (Penn State). Got two BA degrees at age 42 and more than one funded Masters degree offer; dropped out of the first one (Pepperdine) and graduated from the second one (Indiana) at age 48 with an MS. Had more than one offer and went into a fully-funded PhD program at 49 (Clemson), got the degree at 53 and during that time traveled to three continents and over 15 countries presenting research.

Challenges as a returning adult are real but so are the opportunities. I definitely have gotten age discrimination since getting the PhD but am fortunate to have also had amazing opportunities including visiting assistant professorships and teaching in renown graduate programs. I’ve taught at Johns Hopkins, been hired by NYU, and currently teach online with a university, and am on faculty at an ivy-league college.

Tenure-track doesn’t have much draw at this age apart from the obvious stability earning it. I’m far more interesting in grants (NSF grants are mostly awarded to older candidates) and collaboration (authoring and editing books), as well as keeping my research interests alive while teaching. My experience, while not typical, leaves me to believe the better question posed by this forum would be, “When are you too young for a PhD?” And my answer would be when you choose to go into a PhD program before you’ve lived your life to its fullest outside of academe.

We’re all different. Most worthwhile programs have admissions committees that encourage diversity and if your GPA, GREs, and entrance essay are attractive and compelling, they are not going to refuse you admission for a higher degree just because of your age. I once had an administrator at Penn State tell me the best higher degree programs don’t want you if you are over 35 because you are not malleable (I was 38 at the time). As with everything in life, you don’t let others pee on your parade but let their negativity be impetus to push you to prove them wrong.

Hi! Sorry for the intromission, I’ve read your posts with great interest, because I’d want to start a PhD too. I’m 24 yrs old, I’m italian and I’m up to graduate here in Italy. I know I have to pass lots of exams in order to get admitted (and I’m sorely aware that I have to improve my english before XD). I hope I’ll have a chance since I’d want to join a PhD in Italian Studies, but I think it’ll take a bit long until I’ll be ready to put in for admission. Maybe I’ll be 27 until then. Will I be too old to start as a foreign student? And what do you suggest me to do, in the meantime, in order to get more chances? What kind of experiences are most valuable and considered? Thanks you for the attention :D

27 is a perfectly normal age at which to atart a PhD, why on earth should that be late??? As you might have realised from the answers, plenty of people start it even later. Personally, I am not in favour of starting it too early, as one tends to know less what one wants, but that’s just my opinion. Maybe doing a master abroad would help you figure out more about research aims and would improve your academic english. As for requirements… apart from language, all you really need to gain access to a PhD is a good academic career… and a well-written research project a professor might be interested in supervising and working on later with you. You might have zero work experience and still be a very suitable PhD candidate. Many I know followed that path, in fact.

@BrandPhD Hello, it was a pleasure to read your post. I am 31 and thinking to “go back to school” after 6 years in the industry, but I am a bit scared about the financial part of it. I mean, at the moment I have a very good income and I don’t know if I would manage to support my current lifestyle (rent, car, private pension, etc) as a full-time student. If I decide to keep my job and try for a part-time PhD, then I’m afraid that I will be stuck every day with either my job or my PhD research and neglect my wife (we are hoping to have children soon as well). I just don’t want to take a selfish decision, but in the same time I really feel that I could do more. Thanks!

Dan Take the issue up with your wife by discussing frankly about it.The more she embarks on the project with you, the better. That is, table it down as something good not just for you but the family building. The idea that it implies collective improvement with collective sacrifice is worth noting. H

Great reading this thread and some really inspiring posts.

I started my PhD in marketing in my late 30s. I will be 43 when I finish. I am doing the PhD part-time – a luxury as I am able to work and have a respectable income while pursuing my academic goals. It is not for the faint of heart and it’s definitely not easy. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve woken up on a Saturday morning looking for that weekend’s motivation to work. One has to have a strong, inner motivation to proceed and finish (not unlike what full-time students feel – just exacerbated). I too was worried when I first started that my age would be a factor. Honestly, it’s not and no one cares. There are quite a few students who are quite a bit older than me in my business school. I’ve also attended conferences and met PhD students of all ages (oldest I recall was in their 60s).

I chose to do a PhD after completing my MBA and wanting something ‘more’. I took a good look at my counterparts in industry and wondered ‘is this all there is’? I wanted something more for my future. With a PhD, I can continually learn, meet new, interesting and like-minded people and most importantly – help others. Helping others could be in the form of consulting companies, teaching students, writing books and contributing to knowledge. I would like to move to a role in academia upon completion – and I know it will be a challenge. If for some reason the job market proves to be too tough – there are SO many more roads open to me with this qualification and the personal branding that will come with it. I can consult, teach MBA classes, write books, give commentary to media outlets, etc. The list goes on and on.

Something I learned when very close to death due to an illness a few years ago is to not let others dictate your future. Life is precious – if you want something – go and get it – don’t wait for others permission or acceptance to do so.

Thank you all of you for this beautiful conversation over the connection between age and tertiary education. I am 36 years old now…and have just completed my school diploma from one of the remote schools in Africa. I will enroll in an undergrad program in January, and will study for five years to earn my BSc Degree in Engineering.. The Kuliche University ( name altered for this story) has never felt bad about my age, I do not think they look at it at all. Following that i have a plan to cross over those famous countries, which I only heard about, such as USA or Australia, or UK or Germany or Honollulu to study for my masters and phd study in science.

I’m currently going to school for my Bachelors. I’ll be roughly 35 by the time I start working on my Psy.D. I know I’ll be closer to 40 when I finish, but I think it’ll be worth it.

Hi all, I’m from Mumbai, India, damn inspired by the post of you all, especially, Karen, Iris et al; as am 47 now with 25 yrs industry experience in sales/mktg and MBA degree. Wishing to pursue my PhD from overseas in marketing strategy.

I have an issue related to maths & operations research ad am weak in these areas. Can someone guide me as to whether my average past academic record with maths being weak will prove to be an impediment in getting admitted to PhD? I have an immense drive, patience and a will to pursue though, finance would be another issue.

I seek mentoring from my friends on this platform. Rgds.

It’s never too late to create a life you love. You must be prepared to hear, “How old will you be when you finish?” a number of times. I learned to answer this one with a quip, “The same age I’ll be if I don’t finish!”

Thanks Alexandra. Pleased to meet you. I started out in law but moved across to criminology. I won’t name the organisation where I did my masters but it is world famous. Many of the PhDs are early to mid 30s with a couple being ex-prisoners who turned their lives around. One of them has just finished aged 43 and got a lectureship. I supposed to finish this masters in my mid 20s and I actually felt intimidated by them. I don’t find early to mid-30s too late at all, especially if one is left working until age 70.

Hi Laura, I have a very similar experience to yours, and I, too, will be starting my PhD at around that age / 34, for pretty much the same reason. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it matters a lot, in most cases. Judging by a friend of mine who’s a PhD graduate in Financial Mathematics, it probably does in a field like hers, but it doesn’t in most others, if I look at the patterns followed by other friends in prestigious institutions – and yes, they did start their PhD’s in their 30s. I think all that really matters here is the drive. Competition, in sane environments, is essentially based around that. I also think that coming out of a depression and still being determined and dedicated to one’s own project says a lot about the temperament and endeavour of a person, and I think that counts in positive terms :)

I’ll probably be starting my PhD aged 32-33. Basically I have no choice. I graduated top of my class and won a scholarship for a masters at one of the best universities in the world. I had an awful time there – something serious happened to me. I spent much of my 20s severely depressed. The only serious work experience I have is an as research assistant for a few months with publications before things got massively out of hand. I am just about to graduate from a 2nd masters with very good grades this time. I am sad for the years I’ve lost but I am still alive and a friend was murdered.

I am coming to the end of my first year PhD in biomedical science and I am 55. I went to university to do my degree at the age of 48 after a long career as a theatre sister. I agree with William that your age is irrelevant. I could never envisage myself reaching retiral age as a nurse, but I can foresee myself in the research/teaching role for as long as I am able.

I finished a Master’s degree at 57 and started in a PhD program at 58, I will be in my 60’s when I finish my dissertation. How old you are when you start is irrelevant, what is relevant is that you continue learning. “Once you stop learning, you start dying” (Albert Einstein).

Great topic. I am 37 and looking at PhD programs. I currently hold a f/t staff position at a college and I am an adjunct instructor. The challenge is finding a way to make it all work together. I’ll be applying for the Fall 2015 and I’ll be 38 by then. I have a great deal of passion for this pursuit, but I am trying to be as logical and deliberate as possible for my family’s sake. I appreciate all of the information in this discussion.

I think it´s better to bring the family behind you, especially if you are the homely guy and don´t desire any squables with any member of or all your family during and after your PhD. The spur, however, can be more emotional than rational. The choice is always yours.

Thanks to all your comments. I’m 45 and considering to apply for a PhD in public health. it’s been inspiring to read all your experiences. Many thanks!

The issue has been the feasibility of opting for PhD at a considerably later stage in life. By the way, I don’t consider 28 as a very advanced age. But if it is assumed to be, what I believe is basically needed beyond a soundly rounded up master degree course (where required) is a competitive and enduring PhD project. If you are able, possibly through facullty contacts, to secure a supervisor before hand, that is, one that identifies with your project in terms of interest and supervisory capacity, I don´t think you´ll encounter outright rejection. In other words, what matters here is the differential contribution you will be making through your PhD knowledge or experiences.

What if you are applying for a PhD program at 28 and don’t have any work experience to use as a reason for applying this late in life? It took me awhile to finish my BA simply due to immaturity (though I eventually graduated with honors and ended up in Phi Beta Kappa).

At my late 40s, I started a fulltime PhD course with a fellowship grant from one of the leading universities in western Europe. I finished up in early 50s. The only problem I encountered was supervisory laxity from the first order supervisor. Unexpectedly and happily, though at an advanced stage, the second order supervisor took over in a more efficient manner. I remember there was an Asian colleague over 70 years that successfully defended his thesis. My observations are that age is no serious barrier. With objetivity, focus and determination you can go through the rigors of doing a PhD with others. Moreover, publications in mostly first order international journals boost post-doc job placings. I’m delighted I’m increasingly gaining ground in the research and teaching profession. As regards securing funding, particularly, scholarships, there are many institutions or organizations worldwide that offer financial assistance for PhD students, sometimes, independent of age. In short, some emphasize postgraduate work experience as an added advantage for admission. Sometimes, the internet can be source of information for institutions that offer financial support.

I completed my master’s degree in Anthropology at age 32, but then I got married and had 2 kids. I couldn’t afford to continue my education at that time. I worked as a research coordinator and research project manager for the next 20 years. Finally, at age 52, I had the time and money to enter a doctoral program. I will graduate next year at the age of 60! I know that I probably won’t get a high-powered academic position at an R01 university, but I’m looking forward to getting a teaching or reaching position somewhere. Don’t put off your dreams; if you can’t go full-time, try working a few classes in here and there. If you are older and still want to complete your doctorate, DO IT! You only live once! You might not get the job of your dreams, but I bet you’ll get a good position somewhere! GO FOR IT!!!

Started my PhD at 28 (in statistics). Before that, I was a high school teacher. I love my field and I love my work. If you’re passionate about it, you should do it.

Thanks for this most informative blog.

What are the chances of getting funding to do a PhD after 50?

Will a significant no of academic publications help in that regard?

Thank you very much fir that narrative, LebaneseDynamo.

I read every word and distilled it within me.

Your conclusion is inspiring.

I started my PhD in Computational Biology at age 50 and I should be completed by the end of this year (age 55). I know that students who have worked in industry for at least a couple of years are more likely to be accepted into programs in my discipline. I have already spent 35 years in the computer industry and wanted to expand my horizon. The real question is not the age of the person, but the desire and commitment of that person to completing the grueling process of research and publication. You must also look at the job market for your desired field of study. If there are many students graduating in the field, it becomes less likely that you will receive an offer when they can select someone with lower salary requirements or expectations (older students often have greater responsibilities and therefor cost more to hire). My goal is to teach at the college level, but I do not need to find a tenured position. I am not looking to build another career. Most of the graduate students that I am associated with, are in their late 20s and early 30s. Most of the ones that have completed postdoc positions and accepted tenured teaching positions are early to mid 30s. Receiving a PhD is not the final test into the hall of academia, but only pass that allows you to enter the competition of finding a paying position. No one is going to hand you a PhD, you must dedicate yourself and work hard to find a complete that journey. Likewise, you must dedicate yourself with the same passion and hard work to obtain a position.

I wished that I had seen earlier the post on this blog. Age does matter, not so much in terms of entering a PhD program, but after receiving your PhD and trying to procure a job. Usually I exude a positive attitude, but in this respect I apologize for being the “Debby Downer” of the group. Here is my lengthy narrative in hopes that people might learn from my experience. BTW, I am planning on presenting a paper on ageism in academe if anyone is interested in providing narratives, please contact me at : [email protected] At age 48 I entered a PhD program in international and intercultural education at the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California. At age 55 I received my PhD in May 2009. At age 60, after applying to 60 universities, I only received 3 interviews and yet no permanent job. I worked one semester as an emergency hire professor at the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC in Fall 2010 (because of my research interests and publications I can teach in both depts., Education and American Studies and Ethnicity). For three spring semesters, 2010-2013 I taught American Studies/Ethnicity at Al Azhar University in Gaza Strip. Yes, my luck of finding a job I was obliged to teach in a war conflict zone—I am of Lebanese descent and speak Arabic so the cultural affinity helped in teaching there. I also speak, write, and read fluently four languages, French, Spanish, Arabic, and English.

My grey hair albeit flawless unwrinkled skin has something to do with it, but if you are honest and list the year of graduation from college, Search Committee can do the math. Don’t ask me to dye my hair, won’t work I have terrible allergies, stopped dyeing my hair when I entered the PhD program at age 48.

I had received my BA in psychology from Pitzer College, one of the esteemed Claremont Colleges, and had completed my master’s coursework in cultural anthropology, along with submitting my master’s thesis proposal. I decided to make a change in my career trajectory while still in the MA program Bullocks Dept. Stores, now Macy’s Corporate, recruited me into their executive training program. Circa late 70s early 80s Federated Dept. Stores prided themselves in recruiting employees who had graduated from college and better yet pursuing a MA degree, unlike in the past who were high school graduate recruitees–no classicism intended. In my case, the recruiters favored my strengths in statistical analysis that would easily transfer to analyze financial statements as well as my background promised potential managerial skills. I state this fact as it relates to a comment by a former poster that Search Committees, whether you are applying for an assistant professorship or entrance in a PhD program, are interested in how your previous work experience fits in with your present interests. In reading my narrative thus far, a few of you might be asking why I made the change–simply I did not see a future career in anthropology (regrettably at the present anthropology departments have reduced in size and have become antediluvian). After working 3 years for Federated Dept. Stores, I opened up three retail stores for 20 years, and the last 12 years started a footwear line that plastered the front pages of most young fashion magazines (Marie Claire, Elle). My largest clients were Nordstrom and Macy’s with 300 independent shoe and specialty stores in US, UK, and Central America. In 2001 I was met with not only the 9/11 crisis but also my father at age 86 developed lung cancer (non smoker) and my mother, who played a key role in my business, had to not only care for him, but our well established new car dealerships. In addition, for the last 5 years of my 20 year business, I wanted to return to academia and pursue my PhD. I chose the field of education as it was a professional field and felt that my previous global experience, travelling quite a bit and speaking four languages would fit in with the international/intercultural education program at USC, and acceptance in the program would be easier. As a past academic, I had a strong theoretical foundation in the social sciences, and I probably would have been more well suited in the departments of sociology and psychology–and a high GPA. Upon the recommendation of the career center at USC, I do not list my work history in the 80s and 90s, unless during an interview the Search Committee person asks. With respect to the three interviews granted 1) two were for post doctoral fellowships, and 2) a lower level research analyst, coincidentally from my undergrad alma mater, Pitzer College. The first post doctoral fellowship position, the Chair of the Search Committee seemed intrigued by my research interests and one of my publications. She also was acquainted with the prodigious, awarding winning research of one of my Dissertation Committee members. Then the following comment slipped out of her mouth, “Oh, I noticed that you attended a PhD program at a later age like myself”. Our interview ended amicably, but I did not make the finals. The second interview, the Chair of the Search Committee invited two young international PhD students (in their twenties). One asked me a question about the types of theories that I apply to my research. Having a stronger theoretical foundation in the social sciences than most PhDs in education, she apparently did not like my response. Most educational theories are water downed sociological and psychological theories, and while I am eclectic, I tend to use the purer versions of sociological and psychological theories. Again, did not make the finalist list. Third job interview, I knew that I might be overqualified, but put forward a positive attitude and told them that I was able to help them out with part-time work especially for my alma mater. The interviewer was 30ish, an adjunct lecturer in education at a local Cal State University, and Afghani born, but matriculated in U.S. universities. As I left the interview, he popped the question, oh, what date did you graduate from Pitzer? I found out later that he was unskilled as an interviewer and the college profusely apologized. Okay, some of you might ask, how about your publishing record. Good question. I have 2 research publications, one that is cited by prominent scholars in education, who publish on the topic of diversity, campus climate, discrimination. My specialization is Arab American and Muslim Americans. I am known for conducting the first large scale study in an educational setting– post-9/11 Arab Americans and Muslim American community college students along with a comparison group of non-Arab and non-Muslim students (African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Whites). In addition, I had a qualitative component to my student, focus groups. I have three manuscripts, one collaborative effort and two other in international education, that are being submitted to journals. I realize that I should have more publications, but at an older age in entry to the PhD program at USC, they placed me with an associate professor as my doctoral advisor. He was 20 years my senior. He was not a grant producer, had published just enough articles to obtain tenure, and rode on the coattails of grant producing professors. Outcome: he did not have teaching assistants–so any teaching experience I had to find on my own–no research assistants as he was not the primary investigator on the research grants. From the outset he was honest, I do not want to work hard. Therefore, I took the initiative to ask him that I would like to be included in some of his research and publish, which we did one article. I tried to change doctoral advisors but one in particular told me we had overlapping interests, but not on the specific topic as my doctoral advisor. The end result I was not properly socialized in my PhD program—that is I was not part of a research team, who as a PhD student all you have to do is write a few lines along with your colleagues, who write another few lines, and your doctoral advisor puts all of you on their publications. By the time you have completed your PhD and looking for a job, you have 6 publications or more. In addition, your advisor knows the jobs, and most of my colleagues had a job in hand after passing their defenses. Answering cold call applications get you nowhere. Even in my humble position, all of my two teaching positions are because I knew the Chair of the Department. Within the education field there is this unspoken snobbery about those who receive an EdD (Doctorate of Education) and PhD. Other than Columbia and a few high brow universities, who offer only an EdD, the PhD is considered the best degree to land a professorship in a research university. With the exception of a friend of mine, who is a tenured elementary school teacher and whose advisor in a master’s program got her a position teaching on short term contracts at a local California state university. So what am I doing to market myself. Well, on the downside I have stopped as of last month applying for any teaching, lecture or tenure track position, I am concentrating on churning out journal publications. I attend educational conferences and present papers. I have given up on mentor programs at these educational conferences. I met an assistant professor now after receiving tenure has put our collaborative paper (that we presented at one educational conference) on the back burner to pursue research projects with her present doctoral students. So what did this mentor do for me, she offered me to present a paper to an ed conference she could not attend due to Storm Sandy. Then for a year I worked on her research beefing up a weak theoretical framework with even weaker findings. She chose the stronger of her findings to publish her own paper. Now she is saying that she has to reanalyze her findings and I should improve the theoretical framework. The truth being my part of the paper presented at last year’s conference was praised over her findings. Being taken advantage of for my research abilities but having no job is not the first time. In the Gaza Strip I worked for a prominent ngo, I edited twice manuscripts for psychiatrists to publish in community health publications and at the last moment they decided not to publish the manuscript or cut me out of co-authorship. My recommendation to those listening to my narrative, working with a research team is preferable, but if it doesn’t work out, publish your own work. You then have choice over your destiny. One more thing, the program advisor at USC always supported me during the tenure of my PhD program. At one of the ed conferences, learning that I did not have a job, she retorted, “oh, this is funny, all of our PhDs have found jobs”. I won’t let her deter me. My mother just passed away at 93 years and a half , ran our businesses, and still drove a car. Longevity on both of my parents’ side, do you think I will give up at 60 years old. No way! And employers should think the same way. My final advice, if you want to pursue a PhD, be prepared for a lot of disappointments. Bitchy colleagues are found not only in the corporate world, but academe. All political. If you cannot find a kindred spirit do it on your own, and when you succeed then just well, too polite to say it here, tell them to have a nice day!!!

Iris, Karen, thank you for your comments. I am 37 now but won’t be able to join a phd program until my 50s. Do you think I will be out of competition by that time?? Was it harder for you to be accepted due to the age??

I only applied to one institution, and I was accepted, so I’m not sure if it was hard or not. Doesn’t feel like it was. :) But I honestly don’t know if this particular institution reacted differently than others would have to my age or not.

Thank you all for your comments. I’ve started my PhD at 52 this Jan 2014. I have someone telling me that I can’t recoup the money I will spend on getting the PhD. This person doesn’t know my future, I have faith that I will make a contribution that will take care of me until I leave this life. Yet, I felt the need to google the question, how old is too old to economically benefit from a PhD. Art and Karen thank you both I believe it’s a balancing act of both your comments. Best Wishes! Pray for me that I will successfully reach my goals! I send the same prayers to all of you!

I think the question some might want to consider is “When is it not economically sound to get a PhD?” and the answer will depend on whether you will borrow money. I’m 52 and woke up to the fact that it’s too late for me because I would have to borrow the money to get the degree and not live long enough to pay it back (it would be in counseling psychology and the salaries are not high enough to make it work unless you start at 22). You need to look at several things here like 1) what’s the growth potential in the industry, 2) what are the salaries like, 3) when do you want to retire, 4) do you have a second income, 5) how much do you have to borrow, etc.

I will finish my PhD this year at 57. I have been fortunate to have had a full graduate assistantship at a flagship university. I have not experienced ageism and have been treated with respect. I am beginning the job search now, so I guess we’ll see how that goes, but I don’t feel worried. Everyone tells me I don’t look 57, but I find that annoying. I don’t think it should matter if I did. And frankly, I don’t think it does matter. I think I will get a job. I was a widow with young children for many years and when they were grown, I took the opportunity to pursue the PhD. I’m glad I did. Think positively, believe in yourself, and go out and make a contribution. Most age barriers are in our own minds.

Well, I think that admissions comittee will pay more attention at your skills to do research not to your age. I think by worrying about your age you are cutting yourself. Robert Morris started Phd at 30 and at 33 got a professorship position at MIT.

I’m starting my PhD at age 34 while wife starts hers at 32. Both our topics are substantial because of the work experience we’ve gained over the past 12 years since our undergrads.

The idea of people in their 20’s talking about (I) their age as too old (ii) their returns on investment (iii) employability as a gauge of whether to do a PhD or not (iv) the power admission committees seem to be afforded over applicant’s own future and fortunes is kinda disheartening. To me it speaks to a fundamentally broken system and a definite misinterpretation of the role of academia and indeed the PhD in society.

I digress. While 10 years ago it was just easier for us to get hot jobs and get wasted every night (I remember typing my masters thesis up in a night club over a mojito), I find that today we have a different level of commitment, maturity, insight and capability.

In summary, no, you are still very young, by all means do go foe your PhD.

I started my Ph.D. program at 40, in sociology. I think the benefits of advanced age (at least in Ph.D. terms) far outweigh the challenges. For one, I felt it was much easier to stay apart from much of the inter-departmental drama that tend to grip graduate students. For another, my various work experiences provided a trusty reserve of material to which I could connect theory and other headier ideas. These two advantages count for A LOT. And, for purposes of supporting my position (not bragging), I received a major government grant in support of my fieldwork which starts this month. I don’t think I would’ve have been a good candidate without all the experiences and (relative) maturity I brought to my studies. And I hardly think my enthusiasm was any less than my younger classmates. In fact, I think my advanced age bolstered my work ethic (no time to waste!).

This is all very depressing: “When are you too old for a PhD”

When are you too old for a PhD? Then again, I once overheard about me, “he’s only 25 and he’s starting a PhD?”

On the other hand, I overheard a mother of a friend once saying “He’s only 25 and he’s starting a PhD?” I’m from the Philippines and I suppose this could be too young for them.

When are you too old for a PhD? | Chris Blattman

In my case I was 49 and 52 respectively when I made my attempts at admission to a PhD (on finding a framework for enabling entrepreneurship in a significant manner). Afte 21 years working for large corporates I changed careers and focused on enabling entrepreneurship. At the first attempt I was still working for a Corporate. At 52 I had spent 2 years on entrepreneurship and come up with an idea that I felt was worth doing a PhD for. Way I perceived it, a PhD at the right place with the right advisor would help bring the idea to fruition or lay good ground work at the least. It was more to get the idea to work, than for the letters after my name, or job prospects (I now work pro-bono). Both times I first asked the University if my age was an issue. I was assured it was not. The first time I got a polite form letter of rejection. The second time I was told that I was being rejected because my MBA was not in the same field my B.Engg (Mech). The fact that I did a MSc in ECommerce Management at the age of 42 when working full time and graduated Beta Gamma Sigma obviously meant nothing. I understand the arguments noted by others above (my wife has supervised some 20+ PhD’s as a Professor) but in my mind, I was not expecting anything more than a stipend and fees in return for which I would have worked flat out and, if my idea did prove useful, the University and society, would benefit. The only argument against (IMO), is that by choosing me, a younger candidate would lose his/her place. I think that is ageist. A person should be judged based on ability, capacity, passion, and the potential impact on society should the idea come to fruition. Point of reference. Both applications were to Universities in Europe (France and Switzerland).

I started my PhD at 32, graduated at 37. I agree with everything here. 1. What you did before matters. I got my PhD in Finance and had experience consulting for banks and working at an investment firm. 2. I didn’t notice any discrimination. I was probably on the upper end of my institutions placements over the past 5-10 years, but not the best. 3. What I lack in ‘enthusiasm’ I feel pretty certain I make up for in efficiency and savvy. I don’t work 12 or 14 hours days (been there done that) but I think I do work very efficiently.

If you can handle all the other stuff like relative poverty for 5+ years), the academic rigor (also shocked me; thought I was ready but had to get up to speed), and are ready for professors teaching you and advising you that are younger than you, then go for it. Just make sure you check the job market to make sure it is worth it – there is a lot of info on “should you get your PhD or not” by discipline which you should really pay attention to, especially as career switcher.

When are you too old for a PhD? #phdchat #phdforum I’m feeling too old at the moment

This post came in a great time. I`m defining whether to apply this year or to work one more year as a field coordinator of IE and apply next year instead. That way I`d be in my late 20s. I haven`t made up my mind, but this post gave me the courage to maybe postpone it to enjoy more my actual experience, hoping not to damage my chances of being accepted in the PhD ;)

Julian — the possibility that younger junior faculty provide even a second-order benefit to the institution all else equal seems unlikely to me. Even if the younger faculty will have a five-year longer career, what’s the probability that the hiring institution will capture that benefit? What’s the median length of a first academic job? With that age difference, we’re probably talking about a productivity difference only in old age. And the proposition that the younger professor will have a longer career is also dubious — my prior is both would burn out after the same number of years. And Chris didn’t say age was second-order in the context of junior hiring, he said it was second-order in the context of admissions. The two aren’t the same: with junior hiring we’re talking about the impact of age conditional on having produced quality research as opposed to just a quality grad school application.

Kate — why does your undergrad contemporaries’ success in academia at a younger age have any negative impact on your own potential success?

I began mine at 34. Pros: I knew I wanted to do it, it’s fun hanging round with people 10 years younger, you might have some savings to help with the costs. Cons: I’d forgotten all academic skills (I was quite good at this stuff when I did my MPhil, really struggle now), hanging round with people 10 years younger can make you feel quite old. Job prospects maybe depend on whether you want to stay in academia. I think I’ve perhaps missed the boat for an academic career, esp as a couple of undergraduate contemporaries have recently become professors.

Well, the bright side is that in olympic gymnastics 28 is very old @cblatts some hard data on PhdS

When are you too old for a PhD? (I started mine at 33 bit late but worth it)

Arturo – I think the reason would be, as Nancy alludes to above, that they want to be associated with someone who becomes as prominent as possible, which is partly about total quantity of work (and more opportunities to write the quintessential home-run paper). But as Chris says, this is second-order at best and not worth worrying about I think. Two examples I know of who started their PhDs late but have been very successful are Terry Odean (berkeley finance) and Gary Charness (UCSB experimental econ).

The response ignores the claim “it is harder to you to get a job when you graduate” if you’re more than 32 years old upon finishing your PhD (projecting 5-6 years for completion). I can’t think of any good reason why junior hiring committees would consistently discriminate against candidate in their mid-30s to hire candidates in their mid-20s, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

@cblatts Reassuring to know I’m not on a fool’s errand (I’m 29, starting PhD this fall)

RT @cblatts: When are you too old for a PhD?

They let me in at 30–lower expected lifetime returns but well worth it! RT @cblatts: When are you too old for a PhD?

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  • 09 January 2019

Why earning a PhD is an advantage in today’s industry job market

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“Companies don’t want to hire PhDs because they’re overqualified and too independent.”

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What Is The Age Limit for A PhD?

Dr Harry Hothi

  • By Dr Harry Hothi
  • August 17, 2020

What is the age limit for doing a PhD?


I have seen and personally worked with PhD candidates of all ages, some older than me, some younger. In all my time within academia, I haven’t come across any university that places a limit on the age of an individual that wants to apply for and pursue a full time doctoral degree; indeed the practice of doing so would be rightly considered a form of discrimination at most academic institutions and even against the law in some countries.

However, a quick search on Google is enough to see that the question about age limits for doing a PhD is something that is asked quite often. This leads me to believe that there are many very capable potential doctoral candidates in the world that haven’t pursued their dreams of academic research almost entirely because they believe that they’re too old to do so.

age limit for doing a phd

There is No Age Limit for Doing a PhD

Simply put there is no age limit for someone considering doing a PhD. Indeed, on the opposite end of the scale, even the definition of a minimum’ age at which someone can start a PhD is not really well defined.

One of the youngest PhD graduates in recent times is thought to be Kim Ung-Yong who is a South Korean professor who purportedly earned a PhD in civil engineering at the age of 15 [1]. For the vast majority however, the practical considerations of progressing through the different stages of education (i.e. high school, undergraduate degree, a Master’s degree, etc.) mean that most won’t start their PhD projects until they’re at least in their early to mid 20’s; in the UK, for example, the average age for a PhD graduate is between 26 and 27 years old [2].

Meanwhile, the oldest person to be awarded a PhD degree in the United Kingdom is thought to be 95 year old Charles Betty, who gained his doctorate from the University of Northampton in 2018 after completing his 48,000 word thesis on why elderly expats living in Spain decide to return to the UK’ [3].

Charles Betty (Image:

What does the data say?

According to data published by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a total of 54,904 people earned PhDs at universities in the United States of America in 2016; 46% of all new doctorates were women and 31% were international candidates [4].

Looking at the age distributions available for 51,621 of these new PhD graduates in 2016, 44% (n=22,863) were aged 30 or below, 43% (n=22,038) were aged between 31 and 40 and 13% (n=6,720) were over the age of 40 when they were awarded their doctoral degree. In this same year, over 50% of PhD students in subjects related to physical sciences, earth sciences, life sciences, mathematics, computer sciences and engineering were below the age of 31, whilst less than 10% of these STEM graduates were older than 41.

Conversely, 61% of PhDs in humanities and arts and 52% in other non-engineering and science disciplines gained their doctorates between 31 and 40 years of age. Interestingly, the analysis by the NSF found that 94% of doctoral candidates aged below 31 supported their research financially through research or teaching assistantships, grants or fellowships. Only 36% of PhDs aged over 41 at graduation reported receiving similar types of financial support; approximately 50% of this age group were found to have self-funded their studies.

The reasons for fewer doctoral candidates aged over 41 receiving external funding to support their time as research students is not clear. On the face of it, the data may appear to suggest a bias towards funding younger students which unfortunately may be the case in some instances. In Germany, for example, the German Federal Training Assistance Act (BAfG) provides funding support for higher education but places a limit of 30 years for undergraduate degrees and 35 years for postgraduate students at graduate school. However, another explanation, at least in some cases, may be that non-STEM related subjects are less likely to be associated with specific project funding and NSF analysis suggests PhDs in these subjects are more often undertaken by older doctoral candidates.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages?

No one should be discouraged from pursuing a PhD program or entering into higher education based on how old they are and indeed there are several (albeit subjective) benefits and disadvantages of doing a PhD in your younger’ or older’ years.

A perceived advantage may be that gaining a PhD in your 20’s can potentially give you more time to develop your career. Younger doctoral students could earn their PhD and enter into academic jobs before starting a family (although many people successfully carry out doctoral research whilst also looking after young children). You could even afford yourself the time and flexibility to implement a career change further down the line if you so wanted.

Conversely, entering a graduate school and becoming a PhD student in later years means that you’ll be doing so having gained a lot more life experience and for some STEM research projects in particular, having work experience in industry can be invaluable. As an older PhD candidate you’re likely to be better equipped to work independently and the relationships / connections you’ll have built over time may be a useful factor in helping you progress faster. I’ve met several older students at university who had the opportunity to undertake PhD research years ago but have no regrets in having waited and started the adventure in later years.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

It’s inevitable that the question of age limits for pursing a PhD is going to invite some controversial opinions from some people; this unfortunately may always be the case when talking about differing social and demographic factors.

There’s no doubt however that PhD programs can help career advancement or a career change regardless of age however there’s also nothing to stop you from becoming a graduate student just for the academic pursuit!

The answer here is very simple: there is no age limit for doing a PhD.





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Is a PhD the right option for you?

Too often starry-eyed students rush into a PhD without knowing what it entails or how useful it will be. Daniel K. Sokol discusses what you need to consider before taking the plunge.

  • PhD or no PhD, explore a range of exciting careers on Guardian Jobs

Embarking on a PhD is a big decision. Not only will it consume three to five years of your life but, in some UK institutions, the failure rate exceeds 40%. During that time, the 'great work' (ie the thesis) will hover above the candidate like the sword of Damocles, even in moments of supposed rest. So when students say they are thinking of doing a PhD, I ask them why.

For most jobs, a PhD is unnecessary. I, and many of my PhD friends, dropped the title soon after our release into the real world. The initial buzz of having Dr before your name dims with time, and using the title in a non-academic context exudes more than a whiff of self-importance.

People also equate the prefix with a medical degree. On a plane back from Australia one year, I heard the call dreaded by doctors and title-wielding PhDs alike: "is there a doctor on the plane?" Sensing that my knowledge of grounded theory would do little to assist the feverish passenger, my wife, a medical doctor, volunteered to save the day.

If future income is a consideration, a PhD is worth little more than a master's. According to Bernard Casey, who published a study on the economic contribution of PhDs, male PhDs earn 26% more than those who could have gone to university but did not. However, men with a master's degree earn almost as much, with a 23% increase. For women, the difference is smaller still. Variations also exist within individual disciplines. Casey concludes: "PhDs in social sciences, languages and arts do not enhance earnings significantly for either sex."

When I enrolled on my PhD, I didn't care about so distant an issue as future income. Armed with three years of funding, I cared only about my subject and pushing the frontiers of knowledge, however modestly.

Enthusiasm fills the heart of most prospective PhD students, but this enthusiasm can soon fade. The drop-out rate for PhDs is high. In the United States, only 57% of PhD students obtained their PhD 10 years after enrollment. In the humanities, the figure dropped to 49%. In my department, four of us enrolled on the PhD programme in medical ethics; two completed it. Contrary to popular belief, a PhD is not intellectually difficult but it calls for discipline and stamina.

A PhD, especially in the humanities, is a lonely affair. Days are spent alone in front of a computer. Antidotes to the common ailments known as PhD fatigue and PhD blues are, first, choosing a subject that can sustain interest for several years. Often students realise after a few months that their topic is not as gripping as initially believed. An additional consideration, when selecting a topic, is whether the choice will bolster an academic career. Some topics lie on the fringes of the field and may raise eyebrows in reviewers of articles and conference abstracts and in interviews for lectureships. An obscure PhD is also poor preparation for teaching a broad curriculum to undergraduate students.

The second antidote is choosing good supervisors. Knowledge aside, a good supervisor should be willing to devote time to the thesis. Beware the elusive professor, however stellar his or her reputation. It is worth talking to a supervisor's past or current PhD students before making your request.

Sadly, stories of disastrous PhD experiences abound. Unsupportive or bullying supervisors, lack of institutional support, late or radical changes of topic, poor advice, unfair viva voce examinations – the list of potential woes is long. So common are such problems that, after representing an aggrieved PhD student at an appeals hearing, I founded a service to help university students appeal unfair decisions. A frequent fault of students is allowing problems to grow rather than nipping them at the bud; early intervention is key. When I ask eager students their reasons for enrolling in a PhD programme, I do not seek to dissuade them. My own PhD experience, and those of countless others, was positive. Meetings with my supervisors were regular and enjoyable. The viva (or oral examination), which lasted three hours, went smoothly. Although academic jobs were scarce, I was lucky to obtain a lectureship immediately after the PhD. My thesis may even have contributed, microscopically, to the field.

Too often, however, starry-eyed students rush into a PhD program with scant knowledge of what it entails or how useful it will be in the future. The drop-out rate would be reduced, and much misery avoided, if prospective students possessed a more balanced view of the challenges, as well as the joys, of the PhD.

Daniel K. Sokol PhD is honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics at Imperial College and director of Alpha Academic Appeals

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doing a phd at 45

Academia & mental health

Doing a PhD in your 30s

Over time, I’ve seen quite a few tweets from people asking whether one should do a PhD in their 30s and what it is like. I personally am of the opinion that it is never too late for education, including a PhD, and when it came to me making a decision to do one at the age of 29 it did not even occur to me that I might be ‘too old’. However, at that time I was single and without children, so the decision seemed a lot simpler. Nevertheless, there are a few things I learned along the way about doing a PhD from the age of 29 until 35 (yes it took me 6 years to finish) that I’d like to share with you.

Let’s start with the positives!

The major benefit of starting a PhD at 29 was that I was more mature – it’s a fairly obvious one I know, but in hindsight it was important. It meant that I (mostly) knew what I wanted and why I was doing a PhD. I had already tried other careers and was quite certain that a career in academia would be a good long-term fit for me and I was not wrong.

Also, because I had had a career before starting this degree, I had work experience which helped me not only with the PhD itself but also in the work I was doing alongside the PhD. I was self-funded which meant that I had to work part-time, and in my first year I worked as supply teacher in secondary schools; a job I was able to get thanks to my previous teaching qualifications. Later when I started working as a teaching assistant in my Department, the teaching qualification and experience also came in very handy. My previous work experience helped me build a profile for myself as a reliable and effective employee, which in turn helped me find employment after the PhD. This is, of course, not to say that if you don’t have work experience you won’t be a reliable employee, but rather that in my case I noticed it as a benefit.

I was more confident too as a lot of the insecurities about my looks and persona that I had in my teens and early 20s were mostly gone by 29. I felt right in my own skin, if that makes sense. Previous work experience in a job that I loved also enabled me to find out what I was good at and what were my potential weaknesses, which helped me in my PhD when it came to e.g., picking a topic or deciding on the methodology. Knowing who I was and being overall quite confident was also important in the fight against the imposter syndrome, which like with most people kicked in for me too. At those times it was useful to be able to remind myself that there were other things I was good at and that no matter what happened with the PhD that wouldn’t change. 

Although when you start your academic career later in life it means that some of your colleagues who are younger or the same age as you might be further along in their careers, don’t let that bother you. I personally find my own Department to be rather diverse in terms of staff ages and when people made a start in academia and that’s great. I found it rather refreshing that I was given the choice to completely change my career and start a PhD at 29 and that has never been an issue for me in terms of age or being ‘a late starter’.

Nevertheless, there were some negatives too which are worth sharing and considering. 

Overall, I think my previous career was a big help during the PhD but having had a job/career before also meant that it was fairly difficult to adjust to the PhD way of life/work as it is a lot less structured and with a lot less accountability to other people. I really missed having co-workers and meaningful deadlines, and it took me quite a while to figure out what routine worked best for me. Finding a routine also meant getting back into being a student again and all that this entails, like reading and writing academic papers, improving my concentration and sitting long hours at a desk. It had been a while since I did all that for my BA and MA, but eventually I got the hand of it.

Another important consideration are finances. I personally went from having a decent and steady salary to spending my savings on my PhD and working multiple part-time jobs. This is a bit different if you are funded, but even then the stipends are usually not large enough to allow for comfortable living. I would say that in most cases, the PhD years will mean living on a tighter budget. Especially, if you are coming from a well-paid and steady job, you may find this change in your financial circumstances a bit tough. 

I guess a fairly important consideration when starting a PhD later in life is family, whether you already have one or you are planning for one. I personally left family planning until after I finished my PhD and found a job, as I found it too much to be thinking about both at the same time. However, I know of many PhD colleagues who have had a baby during the PhD or started the PhD with children.  

What I want to say at the end of this post is that regardless of at what age you start your PhD, it will come with its unique challenges. However, none of these challenges are unsurmountable, especially if you are reasonably prepared for them and know what to expect. As I said at the start, I don’t believe that one is ever too old to do a PhD so if that’s what you really want to do, go for it!

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What Can You Do with a PhD in Psychology?

doing a phd at 45

Key Takeaways

  • A PhD in psychology will open career opportunities in the fields of research psychology, psychotherapy, forensic psychology, neuropsychology, and even management consultancy.
  • Psychology positions have a projected job growth of 6% over the next decade.
  • Those who earn a PhD in psychology work in medical settings, government agencies, educational institutions, or in private practice.

If you’re passionate about building a successful career in psychology, earning a doctorate in psychology could get you there. For those who are passionate about the subject but wonder, “What can you do with a PhD in psychology?“, we’ll help you explore your options so you can decide whether a PhD in psychology is worth the shot. 

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Featured Programs

With a PhD in psychology, you can pursue various career paths, including research psychology, psychotherapy, forensic psychology, neuropsychology, and even management consultancy. Alternatively, a doctorate also helps you pursue different areas of specialization within the field of psychology.

If you are considering a PhD degree in psychology, you’ve likely already earned your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. However, to progress further into the roles of research, academia, authorship, or lectureship, you have to take the next step. If you’re already employed in a field of psychology, earning a PhD helps you level up.

While a doctoral degree gears you up to become a licensed clinical psychologist, there are plenty of other career options to explore. Here’s a list of the most popular career pathways you can pursue with a PhD in psychology, along with their salaries and growth statistics.

Psychological Researcher

Psychological researchers, or research psychologists, deeply understand the human mind. Their primary duties include conducting experiments to test procedures to explore various aspects of psychology. This includes selecting candidates for clinical trials, administering tests, and carefully observing and documenting the outcomes of their research.

By the time they are done with PhD, psychological researchers are capable enough to review existing literature and contribute to scholarly discussions. Some may serve at universities, while others may work for hospitals or government agencies. If you’re passionate about research and writing, this might be a pretty lucrative field with tons of career opportunities.

  • National average salary: $99,577 per year
  • Growth: Projected to grow 14% from 2018 to 2028

Clinical Director or Supervisor

The clinical director is one of the most highly paid yet growing careers in psychology . Clinical supervisors monitor psychologists and other mental health professionals to oversee the quality of clinical care provided. They establish best practices for the workplace and check whether the institution complies with regulations in the mental health field.

As a clinical director, you’ll serve in various settings, including mental health clinics, hospitals, universities, or even private practices. Also, these professionals arrange development opportunities for staff members, gather feedback from patients, and delegate cases to team members.

  • National average salary: $120,761 per year
  • Growth: Projected to grow 28% from 2021 to 2031

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Like clinical psychologists, psychotherapists support individuals with mental health conditions and help them live a fulfilling life. Unlike clinical psychologists, psychotherapists diagnose more general mental health issues. They closely monitor their client’s behaviors, emotions, and thoughts to develop specific treatment plans for them.

Additionally, they use different tools and therapeutic techniques to develop coping strategies for their patients and improve the way they regulate emotions. A PhD in psychology potentially makes you a perfect fit to deal with the complexity involved in psychotherapy. Ultimately, you understand your clients better to know where they’re coming from.

  • National average salary: $115,281 per year
  • Growth: Projected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032  

Psychometrics Specialist

A psychometric specialist looks at assessments to gather information about a patient’s personality, symptoms, and cognitive abilities. They often join hands with mental health specialists to facilitate research or diagnose and treat patients. On top of that, these professionals play a key role in collecting data for research and ensuring its accuracy.

They use a combination of interviews, examinations, and standardized tests to gather data about a patient’s psychological state and decode it to help clinicians and researchers reach conclusions. As a psychometric specialist, you’ll work in research or educational institutions, clinics, government agencies, or independently as a consultant.

  • National average salary: $62,264 per year
  • Growth: Projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028 

Human Resource Director

If you would rather work in an organizational setting, a PhD in psychology also helps build a mindset that prepares you to work in HR. HR directors are highly paid individuals responsible for shaping the recruitment and selection process in an organization. They create and implement corporate policies in areas like talent management, employee relations, and workplace culture.

With a PhD in psychology, you bring a deep understanding of human behavior, emotions, and motivation to the role. Plus, as an HR director, you can use the knowledge from your doctorate to develop thoughtful policies, systems, and resources to support employee well-being.

  • National average salary: $116,601 per year
  • Growth: Projected to grow 7% from 2021 to 2031

Marketing Director

With a PhD in psychology, you can also serve as a business or marketing director and build a fruitful career. Marketing directors use the knowledge of psychology to bridge the gap between relevant products and customers. Serving at multiple profit or non-profit sectors, these graduates contribute to public relations, management, and technical services.

As a marketing director, your background in psychology equips you with the right knowledge of consumer behavior and effective ways to communicate with them. This, in turn, helps you develop successful marketing campaigns that resonate perfectly with your audience.

  • National average salary: $120,014 per year
  • Growth: Expected to grow 10% from 2018 to 2028

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Management Consultant

Management consultancy is another productive career path you can choose after a doctorate in psychology. Management consultants improve an organization’s efficiency, productivity, and performance. With a deep understanding of psychology, you can easily identify and deal with the underlying issues and patterns within your company.

Plus, management consultants provide feedback and recommendations on addressing employee and business management problems. They might also join hands with top-level management to devise practical solutions that align with the company’s core values.

  • National average salary: $108,555 per year 
  • Growth: Projected to grow 10% from 2022 to 2032

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychology is a rapidly growing field  that requires individual practitioners to obtain a state license. Psychologists in this field work closely with law enforcement to investigate crimes. For a license, you need to complete a doctoral degree from an APA-approved program and have clinically-supervised work experience.

Licensed forensic psychologists assist legal professionals with addressing the psychological aspects of the cases they’re dealing with. For instance, they conduct evaluations, assessments, and psychological testing to understand the case. Once they have come up with logical reasons, they present their findings and opinions to judges and juries.

  • National average salary: $87,877 per year
  • Growth: Expected to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031

Behavioral Health Specialist

As the name suggests, behavioral health specialists counsel and support individuals with behavioral or mental health problems. They use therapeutic techniques to help patients develop new behaviors and cope with their existing condition. Most importantly, they use their psychological knowledge to identify the root causes of their patient’s behaviors.

If you have a PhD in behavioral health, you can work with patients who have severe mental illness or developmental disorders like autism. The advanced degree helps you set developmental goals for your patients and implement evidence-based treatment plans to guard their well-being.

  • National average salary: $54,663 per year
  • Growth: Projected to grow 9% between 2018 and 2028

Addiction Counselor

PhD in psychology also enables you to serve as an addiction counselor, where you support patients on their journey to recovery from addictive behaviors. Typically, addiction counselors guide through the rehabilitation process and help manage withdrawal symptoms. They often work together with medical professionals to effectively detoxify clients from drugs and alcohol.

In addition to one-on-one counseling sessions, addiction counselors arrange group therapy sessions. This provides clients with peer support and learning about new experiences and coping mechanisms. They monitor clients throughout the rehabilitation process till they finally achieve sobriety.

  • National average salary: $65,310 per year
  • Growth: Projected to grow 18% from 2022 to 2032

Prerequisites for Earning a PhD in Psychology

If you’ve made up your mind and want to earn a PhD in psychology, you’ll generally need at least a bachelor’s degree to get in. While some institutions may also require a master’s degree as a prerequisite, it largely depends on the program you’re opting for. Some universities offer combined master’s and doctoral degrees, so you get both degrees at once.

However, the most integral part of your PhD program is the area you’ve chosen. When applying, it’s recommended to thoroughly research the specialties the universities on your radar are offering. This isn’t just about coursework since the topics of your dissertation will also depend on your chosen concentration.

Plus, to make sure you quickly get through the admission process, it’s important to prepare for it beforehand. While the specific requirements depend on your university, here’s a list of some basic prerequisites when applying for a PhD in psychology:

  • A bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field
  • A master’s degree (depending on the institution)
  • Strong academic record
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Relevant research experience or coursework
  • Statement of Purpose (SoP)
  • Interview (as a part of the application process)

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Benefits of Earning a PhD in Psychology

Even if you’re sure about earning a PhD in psychology, it’s best to take a look at the benefits to check whether they align with your future goals. While the time required to complete a PhD may be significant, the benefits you reap make it worthwhile. Here’s an overview of the pros of getting a PhD in psychology:

Obtaining a License

Earning a doctorate in psychology is the only path to practice independently as a licensed psychologist. A license allows you to diagnose and treat mental disorders and provide therapy sessions to clients.

Better Employment Opportunities

Many employers, including those in the educational sector, prefer PhD holders over candidates with a master’s in psychology . This is due to years of experience and practice acquired through a doctoral program. For instance, PhD holders are often preferred for faculty positions, research roles, and leadership positions.

Skill Development

PhD holders are seen as authorities in the field of psychology  and research. Through extensive training and coursework, PhD students develop advanced knowledge and skills in areas like research methodology, statistical analysis, and clinical assessments.

High Paying Positions

Doctoral degree holders in psychology are paid way higher than those with bachelor’s degrees. The difference in salary reflects the higher earning potential that comes with advanced degrees in psychology. For instance, candidates with a PhD may easily qualify for higher paying positions in academia, clinical practice, research, or consulting.

Related Questions

What do you learn in a doctorate program for psychology.

In a doctorate program in psychology, you dig deeper into the field of psychology. For instance, you study research theories and methods and do your own research for a dissertation. Most PhD programs also allow you to gain hands-on experience in real clinical settings through an internship program.

Where can you work with a doctorate in psychology?

Fortunately, you can choose from plenty of workplace options once you get your PhD in psychology. You may work as a psychologist in a clinic or even begin practicing privately. Some individuals with a doctorate serve at government agencies, hospitals, and even educational institutions.

How long does it take to get a PhD in psychology?

Generally, getting a PhD in psychology takes around 5-8 years , including some hands-on experience and a year-long internship. However, it’s worth noting that PhD programs are highly competitive. So, the earlier you prepare for your dream university for your psychology degree , the sooner you can secure a spot.

We hope we’ve adequately answered the question “What can you do with a PhD in psychology?” for you and you have more clarity about whether this is the right path for you. Whether you’re into clinical practice, research, or social service, a doctorate in psychology can accommodate your personal preferences if you pick the right area for yourself.


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