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Age discrimination in grad school and beyond?

  1. Oct 26, 2011 #1
    Hi everyone,
    I'm finishing up at a community college right now as a physics major. I've got a 4.0 GPA and absolutely love physics! Problem is I'll be 27 by the time I transfer to UC Berkeley as a junior. So I'll pretty much be 30 by the time I start grad school. I've asked myself why it took me so long to get going with school, and the truth is, I sincereley had no idea what I wanted to do from the ages of 18-24. I had always been interested in physics but wasn't sure if I was totally committed, and I didn't want to spend 20k going to school if I wasn't 100% sure. My time wasn't completely wasted..I did a lot of things that helped me grow as a person. I lived on a green tea farm in rural Japan for a year which was wonderful and also traveled around the United States. I have no regrets.

    I was just wondering if my age is going to be a debilitating factor in getting admitted to a top tier grad school. I'm going for experimental physics, not theory. Not sure what area of study yet..condensed matter seems really interesting, as well as astro.

    I've seen a few threads like this, but I guess everyone feels the need to tell their story and get an individual response. I know people say "your never too old to learn!" which is true of course, but what about being a really competitive, respected scientist? Are my grad school professors going to look at me as some sort of slacker for taking so long to get there? Are they even going to be aware of my age or care?

    What about after grad school? I'd absolutely like to stay in academia. I'm not at all interested in industry really. Will it be tough finding a good research position at a top tier school as a 35-36 year old who just finished his PhD? Most researchers have 7 years or more of experience under their belt by then..and I'll just be starting out.

    No matter what I'm doing this. Nothing can stop me now. I just want to know what I'm in for, and whether I still stand a chance of becoming a highly regarded scientist. I know it's about the collective effort and everyone's contributions count, but I guess everyone wants to shine a little in this life too. I just hope my time hasn't passed to do that.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 26, 2011 #2


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    your age will be the least of your problems getting into grad school, my father is fifty something when he got his phd.

    the hard part is finding a job afterwards. my father is more of an extreme case since most people at his age are thinking about retirement instead of starting a new career. he ended up landing a senior lecture position in a not so prestigeous university overseas and I can say he is enjoying it a single bit

    certainly, you are at least 20 years younger but employers probably prefer someone 5-10 years younger still with similar CV. I guess in that situation your referees will be one of the most important part when applying for jobs (which is probably the reason my father got a job at all, his supervisor's reference letter can make a salesman blush)
  4. Oct 26, 2011 #3
    I had this same discussion with my advisor recently (I'm almost 30 and effectively a Junior going for a Physics BS - goal set on a PhD). I was told that it's not a negative at all. Instead, some of the practical experience (programming and organizational skills) I've gained could help me and definately make my school-time more effective.

    Also, as an example: a friend from high school started a post-doc in a biology field last spring. He's the youngest of the new post docs by almost 10 years (one of them will turn 40 next year). He was joking that it will be me in 10 years.
  5. Oct 26, 2011 #4
    Thanks to both of you for the replies! Mege your words give me encouragement.

    If anyone else on the forum feels they've got some useful info to share, negative or positive, please do so.

    Thanks again
  6. Oct 26, 2011 #5


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    I got accepted into physics graduate school in my 50's, so from my standpoint you are still young.
  7. Oct 26, 2011 #6
    Your age is the very least of your problems. If you've got a good GPA and solid research, then you've got a good chance of getting accepting, whether you're 22 or 30). In fact, some people might look at your age as benificial, as you will be seen as more mature. But this depends on grad commitee to grad commitee...

    However, they will wonder what took you so long before finishing your undergrad. It would be wise to write such a things in your personal statement. You really can turn your age into a benifit: say that you've doubted a long time and tried other things, but that you're now 100% set on doing physics. People like to read that... :smile:
  8. Oct 27, 2011 #7
    Great to hear about grad school!

    Should I be concerned about competing for post-doc positions at 35 versus the normal 28 year olds? Or full positions at 41 versus the normal 35 year olds?

    Perhaps I'm getting a little obsessive about the whole age thing. I should just focus on my studies I guess.
  9. Oct 27, 2011 #8
    I would follow your own advice. I got into my top choice grad school after working 4 years in industry, so I am close to your age. I don't know much about the competition for postdocs yet but I think it's more in your head than reality.
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