Too old to start?


Are there any other mid-late 30s people doing PhDs? Are you planning to enter academia, or do something else? Is it even possible to break into a decent 'first' academic job when pushing 40?

I currently have a public sector job that's reasonably well-paid, but it's ridiculous hours and I don't enjoy it. I'm coming to the end of a Masters in Psychology of Education (one of these 'Psychology 101' conversion courses), which has gone very well. Just the dissertation to go. I have a first class degree and some concrete ideas for a PhD topic.

Any thoughts and experiences from other oldies much appreciated!


I fit that category. It was a good mid-career break for me. And now I've finished it's back to industry and a much better job.

At my uni, I would say the age distribution is Normal with a mean of 30 and a standard deviation of 3.

I found I fitted in very well offering worldly advice to the younger students and becoming good colleagues with the staff.

If you're under 40 when you start, don't let that be a reason for hesitation.


Thanks UFO. Maybe I need to come up with a more applied topic so that I have a wider range of career options at the end...


If you are not enjoying your current work situation, then I'd say you've got more to gain by leaving it to do something you enjoy. I am not in my mid-late 30s but I'm not far from it. I am in the process of making big changes to my career path too.

As for breaking into academia later in life, there are a lot of factors that come into play. The 30s isn't a bad time to begin a career in academia, I have a good friend and colleague who completed his PhD in his mid 30s and although we are in agreement that it gives you a little less time to start on the pathway towards a professor tenureship, it can still happen. Within a couple of years of his postdoc he is now in a surprisingly good position at a well respected university. I know he sometimes kicks himself to remind himself that it all was a combination of hard work and luck that got him to his current position.


As for me I am seriously considering leaving academia (I am in my 30s as well) or at least taking a long hiatus from it not because I hate it, but I guess I am feeling a little restless and I know there are a couple of things I would like to do in the 'outside world' before I come back to academia later.


Thanks. It's good to hear that people are doing it, have done it, and are not starving in a garrett. Good luck with your own career change.


Well, I am dinosaur
My birth certificate tells me I had my 40th in 2005 but my favourite saying is 'Your'e only as old as you think you are'.
I am starting my PhD now after a big long family-making break. So, I wouldn't let age be a factor, it is all about attitude, drive and ability
My husband interviewed some people recently for a position. He chose the older person (50 ish) as he had more experience and maturity than some of the other candidates.


i'm not in my late, but in my early 30ies. i was just wondering after reading all these replies: did some of you go to "mature students" meetings/counsellings? do you feel you encounter specific situations due to being older?
i am asking because sometimes i struggle with how much i am being treated as a 'student', mostly within, but also outside of university. sometimes it feels like just because i am in the position of a student, people think i must be 'like a student' in other areas of life, too (so they discount the possibility for example, that i might have significant experience in jobs, or that my PhD research might be more than 'just' a practice piece, etc.).



yes it was a shock at first being a few years older, but i enjoyed acting 25 again.

i did find it difficult being older than my supervisor though, and had to train them how to supervise me.

and it was a pain not having my work experience recognised at first, but in the world of research it's all about publications and i was a research baby.


Age depends on what country you are in. If you are in some European countries, you are dead when you turn 30. If you are in the US, you can still be hot and fresh at 50, provided you don't mind poverty.

UK ? It looked so open and light, but in fact one can do nothing in the UK without British citizenship, a large purse, or a citizenship that offers decent funding.

You should make the decision on what feels right for your life. I made my decision at about your age or slightly later. It was a major shock financially/living standard-wise. What I did not anticipate was the total lack of any form of sophistication in my chosen field. It took me aback by three years. I am heading off to another masters and subsequent phd in a totally different field this year.

So choose wisely.


Lola, that's very interesting. When you say lack of sophistication, do you mean of the field itself, or your own lack of experience in the field?

Yes, living standards-wise it would be... interesting...


PinkNeuron - isn't that 'you're as old as the man you feel'???

You are never too old to do a PhD! If you have a good work ethic (i.e. treat the PhD like a 'job'), and are determined to get that bit of paper, then do it. And yes ... I've known lots of people who have landed their first jobs in academia in their late-thirties!


The man I feel is unfortunately even older

Thanks for the encouragement, Goods. This is the inevitable mercenary follow-up to your post... did the people you know who got academic jobs in their late 30s eventually catch up, at least to some extent, pay-wise? - did their previous life experience, academic or not, help with this?


The people I know did start off on the higher end of 'lecturer' salary (approx £30K), but they've also been very focused/motivated which means publications (which are what counts!), so they've managed to progress at a good rate.

Doing a PhD isn't easy or fun - put simply - it's bloomin' hard work! However, if this is DEFINITELY the direction you want to move in then go for it (but make sure you get a fully funded bursary, or else - and unless you have loads of money to support yourself for 3/4 years - consider doing it part-time).

Also, make sure you have a good supervisor ... this makes all the difference, and as your relationship progresses, they will do all they can to help you (both with the PhD and trying to secure your first job in academia).


Found an interesting blog post by a Harvard economics professor regarding age and academia. The responses to his post provide further insight: