Too old to do a PhD?



I am applying for PhD's after a 9 year period of been away from education.

I accidentally got myself into a career that I hate and after giving it my best shot for 9 years am wanting to go back to uni to get a PhD in what I am really interested in and hopefully change my career direction so that I might be happier.

I have applied for 2 PhD's so far and haven't got an interview yet.

I am not sure if I even stand a chance because I have been away from education for so long working in a completely different field?!?

Has anyone done anything similar that may have some advice for me?



I am not in the same situation as you but I am sure someone else will be along in a bit.

In the meantime, did you contact your potential supervisors before you applied, to introduce yourself informally?

Ejc x


Hi, there is a woman in my department who did her undergraduate degree in the late eighties, took 15 years off before doing her MSc and now PhD. As far as I know she didn't have any problems getting in. If any thing, surely a bit of work experience is a good thing. In fact, I have a friend who took a four year break and was told by her supervisor that the best students (in her opinion) are often the ones who have studied and worked. I've never had a break from studying so I can't be of any more help unfortunately, but good luck, and you're never too old to do a PhD! M,x


No I did not contact the supervisor before I submitted my application.

Is this something which is worth doing?


Hi Jill, just to reassure you, there at the uni I am at there is no typical age for PhD reseachers, there are people of all ages from twenties to much higher than this. It's brill that people like you are willing to go back to apply what you have learnt in industry to research. My uni see's you situation as a postive, industrial/work experience is a good thing. In my case after completing my masters, I went into industry for 4 years and now back doing a phd, I must admit, you do forget a lot of things, so some times I feel I have to work a little extra to recap all the things I need to know (but you know how it is, its never enough we can always learn more).

I would say you have definetly stand a chance, and it also depends on the research project, it might require some good links/experience with industry, in that case you are suited!

I am also doing research in something I have not directly done before in academia or industry and it's nice to have a fresh challenege and learn new things.

I hope this helps, all praise is to our creator.

Take care


Hi Jill,

I've had a 15 year break since finishing my MSc, though I have done some other studying in the meantime (diploma in higher ed and OU courses) - both my first degree and MSc were in a totally different discipline. So it's definitely feasibible! At my uni there is wide range of age in PhD students. Some are similar to me and some have come in straight from an undergrad or masters degree. I like this mix of ages, though it made me feel rather old when I realised that some of my fellow PhD students were young toddlers when I started my undergraduate degree! :-)

I would say that if you have relevant experience there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do a PhD. What really helped me were some relevant courses I had done with the Open University, as this (together with relevant work experience) showed that I had a good grounding in the field I'm now studying in.

Good luck! :)


Thanks for the replies. I feel a bit better now about my chances!!!

I am still a bit worried becasue my experience in industry is within IT and I am wanting to go back to Environmental Science which is what my undergraduate degree and masters are in.

Am hoping that experience with IT is a positive just becasue computers are used everywhere for everything now!!!! :-)


Hi Jill - Yes I would say that is definitely something worth doing. Send an email to the potential supervisor before you submit your application, to introduce yourself and ask how they might view your application. You could mention your concerns but as other people have said, PhD students start their studies at all ages and from many backgrounds. You will undoubtedly find your IT skills come in handy!
Good luck!
Ejc x


You're definately not too old, and I don't think that your industry experience will damage your chances in the slightest! I am 40 now and in my 2nd year, I'm about an average age at our uni for PhDs. We have some in their 20s, but certainly in my dept most are in their 30s and above, one of the men I did an MA course with has just started his PhD and he's well into his 70s!


Hello Jill

I started my MA last year aged 44 and although I was accepted onto the course, and I'm very much enjoying it, one difficulty I had was finding referees who could comment on my academic ability. I got one reference from my undergraduate degree 20 years ago, who, miraculously, remembered who I was immediately; the other one was from a well-meaning theatre director I know who went out of his way to help me but who did confide that he was struggling to comment in the way the form wanted, since all he knew was that I go to lots of experimental theatre and am always sticking my oar in at teh post-show talks :)

Re contacting prospective supervisors first: that's crucial I'd say. That's what I'm doing now with a view to starting a PhD in October, and it's been very helpful finding out early on what are the weaknesses (and strenghts of course) of one's proposal. And you need to suss people out professionally and socially as well: it's quite an intense relationship and you need to click - as far as you can tell. Good luck


I don't think age is a problem JillW, and it's great that you're back pursuing something you really want!

Experience through work is always a bonus, and supervisors much prefer mature, well-rounded candidates. However, if all your work experience has been in a totally different field then that might be an issue. Do you already have a masters in the subject? If so then could you look into any sort of work experience? I'd second the suggestion of contacing supervisors before, it's always good to make yourself known and to sound out their interests before applying. Don't be afraid of contacting people who aren't currently advertising either, it's always worth showing initiative if your keen on a particular academic's work.


Hi JillW,

You are certainly not too old!!

I'm a 53 and doing a first undergraduate degree, and at no time apart from first day nerves have I ever felt too old! Although most of my peers are 20ish, they have been very welcoming, so I'm sure that PhD students will be even more so.

I have posted on this forum as one of my module leaders suggested that a question I put to him should be turned into my dissertation with a view to doing a PhD later. One of the students that this guy is currently supervising is 77! So my experience so far re age has been very positive. Just got to get myself a first!!

I am a regular 'lurker' on here in order to find out what PhD life might be like and despite my course buddies being very accepting of me, I think I probably have more in common in terms of mindset and determination with those on here-which is why I keep coming back!

Go ahead and enjoy!!


Thanks for the great advice everyone!!!

I have a better idea of what I need to do now re contacting the supervisor beforehand to introduce myself.

Also becasue my industry experience is in a different field and I already have a masters I will have a think at how I can get some experience or a refresher course (or something) that will make my application more relevant.


Best of luck JillW!

You might find that potential supervisors have some ideas RE refresher-type courses. For example, mine advised attending some undergraduate or masters level lectures during the early months of my PhD. As other posters have said, PhD candidates come at all ages and life stages so don't let that put you off.

ejc x


I am in a similar situation - I'm 29 and applying for PhDs this year. I'm a bit concerned that my lack of research experience is going to be an issue, I don't have a Masters and my industry experience has been in a different area (not completely unrelated, but still quite different) from the field I want to do my PhD in. If not succesful this year, I'm going to have to consider doing a MSc, which is not ideal because it means 'wasting' another year or two. not that I consider education a waste, but particularly because of my age and the fact that I'm sure of what I want to do, I want to get started as soon as possible. Also I'd probably have to do the MSc part time while continuing to work, unless I'm lucky enough to get funding for it, so it would take 2 years. I already feel like I'd be considered too old!

I know it's not unusual for people to do PhDs in their 30s and 40s and older, but I get the impression that is usually in the humanities/arts, whereas mine would be in science. There seems to be so much emphasis in the program descriptions and so on about 'training promising young scientists for the future' and so on, which suggests that they might unconsciously discriminate on age :-(

I actually see it as being an advantage, being a little older - greater self-knowledge and emotional maturity, more self-confidence in dealing with others, industry experience which even if not directly relevant means you have time management and project management skills, so will be better able to plan and organise your work etc. I just worry in my case that potential supervisors won't see it that way and would rather have a bright young graduate straight out of university.