PhD at older age?

posted
04-Oct-16, 18:46
edited about 20 seconds later
by yirara
Avatar for yirara
posted about 4 years ago
I looked into doing a PhD before but I found it difficult to give up my work. As my employer has downsized recently I'm looking at this again - and a wonderful project presented itself at a top uni, supervisor with a big name, industry funding.

Now I need to decide. As an oil and gas geologist I'm certainly not in a unique, rather unemployed situation at the moment. I don't think any work will be available for at least another 12-18 months. But that should not be a reason to pursue a PhD of course. The reason I'd love to do it is because I love the topic and it allows me to gain experience, both technically and with regards to research that I'd not get otherwise. On the other hand I'm already 40 and I simply cannot decide whether this is a great opportunity, or a very stupid decision. Talking to former colleagues, the opinions are also greatly divided but mostly I get a 'wow' vibe. Nobody can guarantee any improved job opportunities afterwards though.

Help?
What is your opinion?
posted
04-Oct-16, 19:22
Avatar for TheEngineer
posted about 4 years ago
There are so many on this forum who are in their 40s and pursuing PhD. In my research group, we have a new PhD student in his 50s. You are not that old, after all, life begins at 40.
posted
04-Oct-16, 19:33
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
I am in my 40s and doing a PhD. At the time of starting it, I had a job but it was not a huge loss giving it up, as it did not have good terms/salary and besides, I had always wanted to do a PhD. As you say, nothing is guaranteed at the end of the PhD, but I think if it's something you want to do and you can handle not knowing what will happen at the end of it, don't let your age hold you back.
posted
04-Oct-16, 19:47
edited about 2 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 4 years ago
I'm 30 and in my 2nd year of a PhD. Would I do it at 40 if I hadn't already started? Definitely!

Of course it also depends on your commitments, finance etc. But if you want to do a PhD, and are in a position to do one... go for it!
posted
04-Oct-16, 23:00
Avatar for Mattfabb
posted about 4 years ago
To be completely honest, I found that some older PhD students struggle a bit with the whole supervision thing. Being a PhD means that, to put it bluntly, you are in a subordinate position to your super. Some scholars I know who already published books and stuff, find it difficult to go back being supervised. Also: a friend of mine in his 50s is so stubborn that he ended up fighting with his supers and even with his examiners at the viva. He doesent seem to be handling it well at all...
posted
04-Oct-16, 23:26
edited about 28 seconds later
by Yve
Avatar for Yve
posted about 4 years ago
I started my PhD at 44, finished at 48 (last year). It was both the hardest and the best thing I have done and I am so glad I did it. Mattfabb has said that older students can struggle because they don't like being in a subordinate position, and it is true that you do have to be able to take advice and criticism (perhaps from people younger than you) but being older brings it's own advantages. The younger students I was with were more likely to be scared of their supervisors, more likely to internalise criticism ('it's not my work - it's me they hate') and more likely to make catastrophes out of mistakes and set-backs.

I'm now an 'early career researcher' and it's great.
posted
04-Oct-16, 23:35
edited about 3 seconds later
by Yve
Avatar for Yve
posted about 4 years ago
Oh, I did forget to say that I was fully (salary, not stipend) funded because I got a doctoral fellowship, which made the whole thing possible, and I didn't have to think about other work during my PhD. Having been awarded one fellowship has also helped me be competitive afterwards (but industry funding may well give similar advantages in your field)
posted
05-Oct-16, 08:26
edited about 1 minute later
by Trilla
Avatar for Trilla
posted about 4 years ago
I am also doing a PhD in my 40s and, although there may be people of my age who do not take to criticism well, in my case it was not so as I was already an established academic writer and used to peer review... which can be SUPER FIERCE.... if one thinks supervision is hard, what are they going to do when they experience a harsh peer review? :D

There is a truth, however, that when you have reached a more mature age and a higher professional position it may be difficult to go back being a student simply because you are used to be influential in your decisions - for instance, I direct a high-prestige grant and I am used to be a senior manager, problem solve and be listened to whereas as a PhD student I need to follow departmental administration that hasn't really been well thought of. I must really 'sit on my hands' sometimes and resist the temptation to tell people how to do their job!

Another thing I find difficult is to move from shorter well-contained essays to am major project - but I tell myself that I undertook this PhD to learn writing book-length projects so now I cannot complain if it hurts a little.

In short, I'd say go for it - you won't regret the chance of producing meaningful work, I think.
posted
05-Oct-16, 08:28
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
To be honest, all my working life I've found myself subordinate to managers who had fewer qualifications for the job than I did, so it is a refreshing change to be supervised by experts, no matter their age! I guess it all depends on the individual and what previous experience they've had. I have also found, as Yve says, that I am much less nervous about broaching things with my supervisors than I would have been in my 20s.
posted
05-Oct-16, 09:09
edited a moment later
by yirara
Avatar for yirara
posted about 4 years ago
Thanks a lot all. Being subordinate to a supervisor at a higher age is not so much an issue I think. I've always considered myself a techie, and in the companies I've worked so far there was always a dividing line between technical and managerial positions, resulting in me having younger managers. I never got to a position where I was considered The Specialist in a field anyway as generally a PhD is required. I don't have a problem though to talk tech with managers, top management and those specialists. I guess that's an advantage over younger people.

Another advantage might be that I'm fairly well organized and am good at project management. Makes me wonder whether it would be possible to finish a PhD project in time or even a bit earlier. But then again some technical equipment is bound to break down or there's a long queue for using some specific lab equipment, or too many interesting ideas to follow up on.
posted
05-Oct-16, 09:15
by yirara
Avatar for yirara
posted about 4 years ago
Yve, there are fully salaried PhDs around in the UK? I know it's pretty common in many other countries (but do get one of those opportunities!) but I never heard about it in the UK. I certainly need to get my head around only having about 14-18k (not quite sure yet) per year. It would be sufficient, even without sharing a flat and with keeping my car but it will be tight. On the other hand, this specific PhD would allow me to do my work without having to get a certain number of credit or participate in research council specific training each year, meaning there's more time for research and earning a bit of money on the side.
posted
05-Oct-16, 09:57
by yirara
Avatar for yirara
posted about 4 years ago
Btw, feels good to read all your so extremely positive reactions :) Thanks a lot.
posted
05-Oct-16, 10:42
by AOE26
Avatar for AOE26
posted about 4 years ago
I don't see the age being an issue. I have a friend doing his PhD at 67. The only advice I would give is not to expect the PhD to guarantee you job opportunities at the end. Do it because you want to. I have/had this idea that getting published would raise my profile within my industry but barely any one outside of academia reads this journals. Far better to dumb down your work and publish it on LinkedIn/White papers etc to get recognition. Even better is to study something that brings value to an employer ie solve a very specific issue.
posted
05-Oct-16, 10:56
edited about 10 seconds later
by Trilla
Avatar for Trilla
posted about 4 years ago
Chickpea- I SO hear ya! In my early years in the field I suffered so much in the hands of incompetent managers that I decided that my own way to 'leadership' was going to be 100% collaborative. One of my assistants in past years already had a PhD and I like to think that I was respectful and helpful and we learned a lot from each other. She still asks me for references - and usually gets the job - so I (we) may have done something right there! am also doing this PhD as it is more and more necessary in my line of work and realised that I could not apply for higher level jobs because, even if I have more than the experience/publications required I could not because I had no doctorate.

On funding, I am fully funded on a really low stipend (15k) BUT I am allowed to work 6 hours that, on consultancy basis, allows me triplicate that amount. I have kids and I could not feed them otherwise.
posted
05-Oct-16, 12:29
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
Hi Trilla, glad it's not just me! I always thought management was 'not for me' and that I could somehow work my way into a position in which I was seen as a 'professional'; however, that has never happened and now I am thinking that the only way is to go for the senior positions to prevent that feeling you have when you're being micro-managed or subjected to poor decisions. I too want to work in a collaborative way. It is refreshing to hear of someone who has gone into management and found a better way of doing it :-)

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