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Career change in my late 30s

  1. Sep 29, 2017 #1
    Hey guys,

    A quick question on a career change...

    Is it worth pursuing a career in scientific research later in life?

    The reason I ask this is that even though it's illegal I still believe ageism is a factor for us the older lot to not be favoured over the younger crowd. I have had direct experience with this.

    I am a 33-year-old man and currently a first-year undergraduate student studying Electrical & Electronic Engineering, and I work full-time in the Oil and Gas industry as an NDT technician (Non-destructive testing).

    I’d be around 40 years old by the time I’d potentially finish my PhD, which will be in a field related to sensors, signals and processing or communications.

    I am driven and fiercely passionate about science to the point where I would do it as a career for free, but honestly, who would pay my ruddy bills?!

    Would this passion be enough, I mean truthfully, would it? It's all well and good saying that it’s never too late, or age doesn’t matter and go for your dreams etc, etc. But I think age might actually be a factor. From what I’ve heard, ageism is alive and well in most of the today’s industries…

    Thanks guys,
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 29, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 30, 2017 #2


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    I went back to school and did a career change from engineering to physics in my mid-50s, so it is possible. Your age will probably shut you out of some opportunities, but many opportunities will still be open to you if you are competent.
  4. Sep 30, 2017 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    Have you investigated the career opportunities for PhDs in that field, in terms of actual numbers and the odds of finding a position, even without making age a factor? In most fields, the number of new PhDs exceeds the number of available long-term research positions in academia. We constantly tell students here who are on a "normal" track towards a PhD to have a "plan B" to cover the strong likelihood that they won't become university professors.

    There might be more demand for PhDs in industry for your field than for some others.
  5. Sep 30, 2017 #4


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    Of course ageism is out there. But I think it's less of a factor than people make it out to be. It's certainly not a sufficient reason not to pursue a path that you really want to take otherwise. Really the biggest concerns are more the decisions that you yourself face. For most people, their thirties are a time of growing stability - settling into a long-term partnership, having kids, getting a mortgage, paying into a retirement savings plan, etc. A lot of that can be difficult to do as you pursue an advanced education.

    There are things that you can do to insulate yourself from ageism in general.
    1. Probably the most important thing is competence (which goes for the younger crowd too). A lot of ageism stems from a concern that older people just don't "get" newer technology. Grab the new technology in your field be the horns and master it the best you can. It might not eliminate prejudices, but it will help to avoid any confirmation bias.
    2. Market your maturity as a positive thing. Having a little more life experience can help you in the corporate world. Having the experience and soft skill set to deal with politics in the workplace is something that you can't really train into people.
    3. Bringing in experience from other fields helps to foster creative thinking and avoid intellectual in-breeding. Sometimes it's the guys who come in with a different perspective that ask the right questions.
    4. You don't have to state your age on your resume. Keep experience recent and relevant.
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2017
  6. Oct 3, 2017 #5
    I believe ageism is still there, no matter what measures they take to erase that in the corporate world. You already have mentioned good points, and the only thing that's barring you from taking a step further is the burden of sustainability. It would be hard to juggle both since your current job is different from your endeavor, and the former is what pays your bills. Think of it like this, currently, you are plying two different fields, which divides your attention. If you can make both harmonize with each other, no matter how different the two fields are, you can make both meet at one end.

    Here's a clearer analogy: You are an established/good writer in a particular industry and currently making ends meet; on the other hand, you thought that it is amazing to be a race car driver and want to be one for the rest of your life. To be closer to your aspirations, you decided to work as a writer for a company that features race car driving — here, instead of pursuit and job being in conflict with each other, you made them complement each other.

    It's never too late; you have to go for it; or else, you'll end up wondering what could happen to you if you have just done that. Age is really a factor, and if you show that you are competent in your field, which can be achieved because it's your passion, you can show the employers that you deserve a place at their company.
  7. Oct 4, 2017 #6
    What is it you're so passionate about?

    Are you sure what you'll actually end up doing will be anything like what you think you're passionate about?

    I think that's an even bigger risk than ageism.
  8. Oct 5, 2017 #7
    Hi, Locrian,
    I am passionate about physics and maths...
  9. Oct 5, 2017 #8
    The replies have been brilliant and I appreciate all of them.

    Thanks, Ladies & Gents.

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