Going for PhD later in life


Hi, I've been toying around with the idea of going to get my PhD for years. I partially regret not doing right after my undergraduate schooling. I've since finished a masters and did really overly well, even put together several projects that were initially turned down because they were at PhD level.

To add more info, I've been working in the Biotechnology area for about 10 years now and have done really well for myself (I currently hold a position usually only held by PhDs in a very large company, competitive company). This kind of work has been just that work, nothing I see as a career so I haven't even really applied myself.

My undergrad and masters were focused on marine science and I have always wanted to work in that field. I've hit a point in my life were pursuing a career I enjoy is more important than just working for a paycheck.

My question is, at 30, married, with a small child, would it be advisable to go back for a PhD now? I'm in a situation now, were I will be getting rid of all of my debt (being relocated for current job so they are selling my house - will have until 2010 before I could start a program), so it seems like a good time to think about making the leap as it were. I have some contacts in my field of interest and a few possible ideas for research programs. I also assume my current contacts in industry and my diverse research background in molecular biology, microbiology, etc... would be of some benefit to potential academic advisors.

Any and all comments welcome.



would it be possible for you to look into perhaps doing a part time phd? that way you could keep a part time job as well as doing research. it seems to be quite a common option for people doing a phd after taking a break away from academia. there is always the possibility to change to full time at a later date if all is going well/you can afford to not work etc. it sounds like you really want to do something more fulfilling, and if you feel that a phd would be the way to go then i would say go for it! you have plenty of time to look into all your options for a 2010 start, so use your contacts to do some looking around in the areas you would like to work in. at least with your experience in industry you should be able to go back to work if it turned out that a phd wasn't for you after all. good luck! :-)


If you and your family can come to an agreement on how to manage financially then go for it if it's what you really want. I'm a good bit older than you and had my daughter during my PhD. What does your wife think about this idea and can you manage financially - they're the only other things to consider. My husband took a couple of years to really get on board with the idea as he was afraid it would turn out to be a passing whim. Once he realised I was really serious and in it for the long haul it was fine. I agreed to either go fully funded or work and go part-time (I'm funded). The financial complication for us has been the added cost of childcare.


Why not go for it? I'm 41 with 3 kids <10yrs, a shiny new MA, and I've just applied for an AHRC-funded PhD programme. Never too old.


If you have the qualifications and some industry experience, why not? As long as your family are allright with it and I'm sure if you explained to your spouse that you want to do a PhD, they would support your decision? It's not something I have looked at seeing as I don't have children but don't some Universities offer childcare facilities to their students? Would that be worth looking into?


======= Date Modified 08 Apr 2009 22:16:29 =======
Starting at PhD at 30 (or early 30s) is hardly doing it 'later in life' - the average UK completion age is late 20s for a PhD, and if you end up working in North America your completion age will be below their average completion age. However, you should consider the possibility that you'll be away from the job market for 3 to 5 years (if you do a complicated PhD or need to 'catch-up' on knowledge because of your new direction, don't expect it completed in 3 years).

That said, I'd say you'd be mad at the moment to give up a good job in favour of a PhD when the economy is bombing. A part-time PhD does sound the way to go.


======= Date Modified 09 Apr 2009 09:51:49 =======

Quote From missspacey:

======= Date Modified 08 Apr 2009 22:16:29 =======
That said, I'd say you'd be mad at the moment to give up a good job in favour of a PhD when the economy is bombing. A part-time PhD does sound the way to go.

Isn't now a good time to go for a PhD? As the economy is bombing, there's every chance you could lose your job. Having three years of PhD funding is better than being unemployed for a couple of years. With any luck the economy will be healthier when your PhD is finished.


I think MissSpacey's comment is two-fold: 1, given that Zachary1 is married with a child, giving up a salary to live on a PhD studentship is a delicate step. What would happen if his wife lost her job - I doubt they'd be able to survive on PhD money.
2, we all hope the economy will improve in the next few years, but if not then giving up a job for the unbelievable uncertainty of post-PhD life is a tough call.

Saying that 30 is absolutely not 'late' to start a PhD, and you'll probably have more self-confidence and direction that some of your younger colleagues. Pragmatically Zachary1 I'd say if you are fairly confident that your partner's job is secure, and or you have savings/family that can help out if absolutely necessary, ignore that aspect. Your decision should be made on how much you want to do a PhD (not how much you want a phd, but how much you want to do the research it involves).


The main problem at the moment is we really don't know when the economy will recover - it might be next year, it might not be for five years, but the UK will/is being very badly hit more than most other countries, even the US will recover before us (look at the IMF data).

But, I do definitely agree a PhD is the way to go now, but I do think it is crazy for someone in a successful job to give it up at present, unless they are in financially stable position for at least the next 3-5 years and accept the fact they may not get back on the ladder at the same place they got off.

A further point to consider is that if you job is under threat, it's best to hang tough and wait for the redundancy package (in pharma and biotech they can be very generous).


hi there

i'm 42 and i start my phd in oct. I did give up a good job to do (another) 1st degree which has led me on to my phd. I dont regret a thing! As long as you can get enough money to cover the basics, you can be happy.




I don't think age is a problem. There's a problem of economic nature. Chances are high that after 3-4-5 years in grad school you will be lucky to find a job that pays as much as you are making now.... You can read about the economics of PhD on my blog: Economics of PhD


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============= Edited by a Moderator =============
Removed - advertising.


Speaking as someone who has also decided to return to acadmia I would go for it sooner rather than later if you've made your mind up.

Getting back into the academic way of writing, researching etc gets harder the longer you leave it IMHO. besides, as you've said, you already have work experience and contacts behind you if it all goes pear shape so in a better position than most.

Go for it or spend for ever wondering (up)


Quote From AlexB:

Here it is: http://phdtips.blogspot.com

I'm not impressed by this blog. It seems monotone, out of date (in its thinking) and above all materialist. I'm quitting a £50k a year job to do a PhD because it's more interesting, stimulating, a nicer environment, great people and above all I love learning. The pay cut is almost irrelevant next to that.

When discussing money, the concept of 'enough' is FAR more important than the concept of a million dollars. There's a lot of literature illustrating the diminishing returns of increased wealth over the 'enough' threshold. Happy or rich? That question doesn't even need asking and these days we certainly know rich does not equal happiness. That's what I mean by out of date thinking, this blog seems to be stuck in the 1980s.


The blog thing below is just meant to be ignored, we get many of this kind on here... amusing actually!