Teaching class but look very young!


Hi all

I'm just finishing the first year of my Ph.D, and i'm thinking it'd be good to get some teaching experience. There are positions going for next year and im thinking of sending my CV - however i'm feeling kind of inhibited by the fact i look really young.

I'm 24, and im constantly being told how young i look, ppl being surprised im doing a phd etc - and when i say young im talking being mistaken for anywhere between 18-21.

So, i'm not sure how i'm going to take a class where most of the students in it will be looking older than me!

Usually it doesn't bother me, but, in a teaching situation, surely one must have to look older than the students in order to be the 'authority figure'?!



I wouldn't worry about it - as long as you come across as being confident about your subject, I don't think it will be an issue. The students will probably enjoy the fact that they're being taught by someone only a few years older than them, rather than having to put up with another doting old professor! I've thought about this before when tutoring mature students, who are much closer to my parents' age than to mine. However, they've always been quite happy (and I guess used to) someone who could pass for their daughter or even grandaughter teaching them. As long as you know what you're talking about, I'm sure you'll be fine!!


I share your problem. I'm older than you and I still get mistaken for a teenager. If people think I'm an undergrad I feel like it's an improvement!

I would feel worried about teaching in schools (because the kids might not respect me) or if I were speaking at a conference ("Who does she think she is?!") but the scenario you describe causes me less anxiety. So long as you know your material and present it well I doubt your audience will react to how old they perceive you to be. You only need to be an authority figure in terms of knowledge, rather than behaviour management, and this should be evident in your presentation (and the fact that they are there to learn from you!)

The only advice I can give is to veer towards whatever clothes etc make you look older/more authoritative. The only time I did a lecture I wore a smart/casual skirt and shirt, even though I could have got away with t shirt and jeans, because the former made me look slightly closer to my real age and gave me the confidence to present myself as being in charge, if you see what I mean.

Good luck!


God, I wish I had your problem... I'm about to start a PhD, conscious of being 10 years older than many of my peers, and just to rub it in my hair seems to have chosen this exact moment to start thinning and turning grey... I don't think looking old is going to be an issue! And if it makes you feel any better, I don't expect a gleaming pate and general sense of impending decrepitude to boost my confidence significantly when I come to take my first seminar.


Thanks for all the replies - i've decided to take the plunge and see what happens!

I never felt this concious of it before - my fellow PhD students have actually made 'jokes' - that i found a little offensive/made me uncomfortable , especially a couple of people whom have actually referred to it in a negative way.

BUT, i guess people just like to pick flaws!


I used to get that, not so much any more :-( How I handled it is to dress in a professional manner so that you set yourself apart from the hoodie-wearing students!!!


I'm actually getting sick of people saying things like 'Oh, but you'll be so glad of it when you're 40'. Maybe I will, but for the moment I'm quite fed up with the mistaken perception that I'm significantly younger than I am. It's just embarrassing when you're trying to conduct yourself in an adult environment and people use unhelpful yardsticks by which to measure age.

That said, when I was doing my PhD my first white hairs started appearing. I blame the stress!


Oh, don't get sick of me Hazyjane!:-(

I know it's a pain being mistaken for a teenager (I've known people in that position). I'm just saying, looking older isn't necessarily going to make you feel any more confident in a teaching situation. I think we've probably all got things we're self-conscious about (looking young, looking old, being overweight, talking too quietly etc. etc.) - at the end of the day confidence is going to come from knowing that you're up to the job, and from just 'settling in' to the role.

Apologies if my 'ee, you toung 'uns should count your blessings' venting has caused offence... you'll have to excuse me, I think I'm having an early midlife crisis!


As someone who is now in her 40s, but was mistaken for a teen-ager until I was 25, I am now glad that I started the ageing process later and you will be too! You might also like to point out to people who make disparaging remarks about how young you are/look, that this is a form of ageism and they might like to consider their discriminatory attitudes.


I really think this is only a problem in schools. I did some secondary teaching in my early 20s and I was mistaken for a 13 year-old school girl :p The kids totally wiped the floor with me - it was a nightmare. I have taught teenagers and young adults since then.

As for looking younger - make the most of it because I suddenly seemd to age fast at around 40 and don't look as young for my age as I expected to :-(


Oh magictime, I'm really sorry - that comment wasn't aimed at you at all. I was just having a general non-directional rant!

Comments like that are usually made to me after someone has made a blunder and they are trying to dig themselves out of a hole. It doesn't really help though.

I took a friend's younger sister to a science festival the other week. She's a sixth former, and quite tall and was dressed smartish. I am shorter than her and was on the scruffier end. The various exhibitors we chatted to didn't know how to place us and I think a lot of them took a punt and decided we were both first year undergrads!


I don't think this needs to be an issue, and it's probably more of problem in your own mind, than your students. If you dress well and act authoritative (ie. wear a smart clothes) you should have no problem setting yourself apart from the student body. There are young looking solicitors, accountants, barristers, medical doctors, investment bankers, police officers etc. etc. who have to do very responsible jobs and work with all ages, and none seem to claim ageism (not that I'm aware of anyway). The key is to exude confidence and authority, and even if you have to come across as a little aloof and arrogant, it might be necessary to set yourself apart from the students.

Little things can make someone look older eg. a good haircut, wearing good shoes, a good quality shirt, a good workbag.

When I was an undergrad, I taught by a very young lecturer, but he asserted his authority by being quite unfriendly and turning up to lecturers in attire suitable for a corporate office. Unfortunately, he let himself down by always carrying a glass of milk into the lecture room.