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How are older graduates/doctorates viewed upon by the academia/employers?

  1. Nov 29, 2009 #1
    Basically I've gathered a lot of valuable information while asking questions and browsing these forums, though a few that I think are quite important were still left unanswered, so I thought I'd try to address these, as well.

    A big reason that still leaves me undecided whether to make a complete career change (from Law to Physics) at the age of 25, is how my options after graduating would compare to someone 6 - 7 years younger. If all went according to plan, I'd graduate at 29 and would then perhaps pursue a Master's or Ph.D. (if I wanna make a career change, I don't want to only be eligible for low-end jobs), meaning this could leave me being in the educational system until the age of around 35. I would also only have a year of working experience (working in a law firm), but nothing else. While I figured doing Law does also get you some skills that could be applied or combined with more physics-oriented jobs, I believe it would not do a whole lot of good and would only be a minor added value, especially having done Law in a country different to the one where I'd do Physics.

    Now to my question that is already evident from the topic title. With me being 6 - 7 years older than the usual graduates/doctorates, how would this impact my employment chances? I figure it would not enhance them in any way, and am therefore curious where and how it would impair them?

    Thanks in advance for any and all answers.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2009 #2


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    I doubt it would impair them at all.

    As a lawyer you should already be well aware that employers cannot discriminate based on age. And you're talking about a difference of less than a decade with those taking a more direct route, so it's very likely people won't really notice that much of an age difference when you're applying for a job.

    Not to mention, it's not like you would be the only graduate student who didn't follow a direct route. Unlike undergrad where mature students tend to stick out, it's not uncommon at all to find mature graduate students. Lots of people take time off from school after undergrad to work or travel for a few years, or discover a passion for a subject later in life, or tackle graduate studies part-time and end up taking a much longer time to do their graduate work.

    And as Vanadium is fond of saying: you're going to turn 35 anyway. Would you like to be 35 with a PhD or without one?
  4. Nov 29, 2009 #3
    As a lawyer, I do indeed know that, but I also know how to discern reality from "law in the books". So basically just because something is forbidden that doesn't mean it's not going to happen at all in real life, especially with something as intangible as age discrimination, where someone can indeed make a decision based upon your age, but there is no way you can discover, much less prove it was made on such a basis.

    Yeah, I agree and you make a valid point. However, I am bit a worried that compared to someone who works and later discovers his other passion I would not have as much working experience under my belt. On the other hand, I would have legal knowledge, of course, and perhaps working experience in another field wouldn't do that much good, anyway. And if I gather correctly, it's important even in physics to be able to write and express yourself concisely and accurately, as well as write comprehensive reports, and I believe if anything, this could be something I got at law and am getting daily with having to write suits, formal letters, contracts etc. So years of doing law would perhaps really not be lost completely in relation to a physics career.

    I guess what I'm worried is that, yes, one should probably not burden himself with negative thoughts prior to even undertaking something, but still, I'd rather get to know the harsh truth before I endeavour onto this path, as though lately I've been painting these romantic pictures of what being a physicist could be, I'm just unsure how they hold up in practice. And, yeah, life's taking chances, though it's still better to at least know what the prize can be.

    But don't get me wrong, I very much appreciate your feedback and am not trying to argue with you. If anything, I'd like you to explain more on how my chances would NOT be impaired even if at age 35 I'd be looking for an entry job, and would be ~6 years late when compared to other, "timely" students who had done everything just right from the get-go.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2009
  5. Nov 29, 2009 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm sure I stole that from someone else.

    I think you're focusing on the wrong problem. The problem is not that there might not be a career available to "old folks", the problem is that there might not be a career period.

    The number of career positions in physics research is quite a bit smaller than the number of PhD's granted. Most go on to industry, sometimes doing physics-y things, sometimes not. You need to be aware of this going in. The other thing is that there is a career path for less-than-excellent lawyers. If you can't argue before the Supreme Court, you can always draw up wills and close on houses. There is no career path for less-than-excellent physicists.
  6. Nov 29, 2009 #5
    Point well taken. Though I'm not limiting myself to only physics research in terms of post-docs and perhaps tenure at a university, but would very happily go into the industry, as well. But I've been looking at those AIP statistics and the PhD's working in the industry seem to all be on a huge payload, which made me wonder what exactly could be the things there where you don't do something with physics. Because why would someone pay you ~$100k for doing something you didn't actually study for?

    As far as bachelors' outlooks, I am aware of a high chance of doing something not related to physics, if your educations stops there. I guess this is what you mean by there not being a career at all, the fact that you're "stuck" with jobs you possess the skills for but would not do if it was up to you? And of course you're right on there always being a career path for lawyers, but where I live, it's getting hard to get a job with a Law degree, as well. Though I guess what lawyers end up usually is at least remotely law-related. That's basically why I'm hesitating and exploring all of the possible outcomes of getting a Physics degree, since I guess even though I like physics as such, I don't want to spend my life as a programmer, an ordinary techician or a risk analyst, as these jobs don't really hold an appeal greater than that of an attorney or doing other law-related work.

    Doing research, or working in the industry, perhaps developing new products, on the other hand, DO hold an appeal greater to that of any position I could attain with a Law degree. And I've read in an interview with someone that usually all Physics PhD's end up with fantastic jobs, though I guess this is where you could jump in and tell me how much of this is true. And, again, are there really that many PhD's stuck with jobs that don't involve physics to the level one would want?
  7. Nov 29, 2009 #6
  8. Nov 30, 2009 #7
    It depends on how broadly you define "physics." There is a lot of demand for "numerical modelers" in industry. The basic equations for options pricing are the same as that for heat flow, which keeps a lot of physics Ph.D.'s quite heavily employed.

    There is one very big gotcha with finance related jobs for Ph.D. physicists which is that you have to move to a major financial center (i.e. NYC, London, or somewhere in Asia).

    The thing about physicists that get hired by financial firms is that its a *LOT* of programming. The problem here is that a lot of positions in theoretical physics involve huge amounts of numerical programming.

    [QUOTE[And I've read in an interview with someone that usually all Physics PhD's end up with fantastic jobs, though I guess this is where you could jump in and tell me how much of this is true.[/QUOTE]

    Yes and no. Personally I think my job is fantastic, but there are people that consider my work environment a vision of hell, and consider me totally insane for enjoying what I do. The fact that I like doing what I do is a major reason that I got hired. I'm basically a glorified Wall Street programmer, and I spend ten hours a day sitting in front of a computer, trying to get the @#$@#$# code to work, which is basically what I spent seven years of graduate school doing. (Why won't @#$@#$#@$ energy balance?)

    One problem is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I know of some physics Ph.D.'s that absolutely hate what they do even though what they do isn't much different from what I do.

    The thing about this is that I don't know whether you have an accurate idea of what research and developing new products is like, and how you'd react if you found out. There is an amazing amount of crap work that needs to get done before you get a usable result and get a product out the door.
  9. Nov 30, 2009 #8
    Having real work experience outside of academia enhances your hireablilty enormously. Also, have a legal background can be useful in finance. Something that would be an interesting topic that involves both physics and law is modeling the effect of counterparty default in master derivatives agreements.

    However, it's a seriously, seriously bad idea to get your Ph.D. mainly for career reasons. Getting a Ph.D. is a lot like joining the Marines or becoming a priest. Yes, it may help you with your career, but it's a seriously, seriously bad idea to do it solely or even mainly for career reasons. In getting your Ph.D. you are quite literally becoming part of the priesthood. and it's a bad idea if you aren't mentally prepared for it.
  10. Nov 30, 2009 #9

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    Because they have something that needs doing that nobody actually studied for. That's the difference between a BS and a PhD; a BS means you can solve problems that somebody else solved. A PhD means you have, at least once in your life, solved a problem for the first time.
  11. Dec 4, 2009 #10
    I find what your considering very inspirational :)
  12. Dec 5, 2009 #11


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    for what it's worth: in my experience, physical age is immaterial as far as getting a job. What IS important is academic age, that is: how many years have you had your Ph.D. For example, someone 15 years out of grad school still looking for a professorship is in a LOT of trouble! People start asking: "What's taking him/her so long to find a job?!"

    But I know plenty of people much older than you who have gone to grad school. Some in their 30s or even 40s. As to whether or not it is worth going through the hassle of 5-10 years of grad school plus whatever postgraduate work you do (all the time making not so much money!), well... that's a decision that only you can make.

    Good luck!
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