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Is a PhD obtained at 40 years old useless for research?

  1. Jan 29, 2014 #1
    Assuming the person is of capable intelligence, what research prospects are there for someone who obtained their PhD at 40 years old? I'd specifically like to hear opinions about PhDs of theoretical physics, experimental physics, pure mathematics, and theoretical computer science.
     
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  3. Jan 29, 2014 #2

    ZapperZ

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    Er... is that ALL of physics? You could have just said "PhDs in physics" and it would have meant the same thing. Reminds of when Celine Dion dedicated a song during one of her shows to "... all the children, and parents in the audience.." Isn't that like everyone?

    The type of research you do often has no relevance to your age. It is all the other encumbrance that comes with someone at that age that makes it appear as if age matters. Do you have a family to support? Do you have a family that you simply cannot uproot just to go where you have to go to work?

    Those have more relevance in what you chose to do than your age.

    Zz.
     
  4. Jan 29, 2014 #3
    I separated them because I thought there may be problems for someone of that age getting a lab. How difficult is it to convince someone to fund an experimental research project and does the researcher's age affect the decision given that he became a PhD at 40?

    I'm not 40 years old yet. I was making a dependency tree of all the various factors in my life, trying to plan a path of least resistance from where I am to where I want to be. The outcome is I'll be approximately 40 by the time I do get my PhD. I have no plans on making a family. My family encumbrances occur among ancestors and not descendants.
     
  5. Jan 29, 2014 #4

    jtbell

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    It looks like he wants to compare the prospects for the areas that he named. There's definitely a difference in the prospects for post-Ph.D. work in experimental physics (better) versus theoretical physics (worse). Especially if by "theoretical physics" he means particle theory and cosmology, which is what a lot of people seem to mean by it.

    I agree that family considerations need to be taken into account. It's one thing to live on a minimal graduate-student stipend and on a smallish post-doc salary when you're single; it's another matter if you're married or in a serious relationship; and still another matter if kids are involved. And as you note, there's the matter of having to relocate for probably at least a couple of postdoc positions after grad school, before finally getting a "permanent" position (if indeed you get one at all).

    And then there's the financial aspect. If you get your Ph.D. at 40, you'll probably be at least 42-45 before you're in a stable financial situation with a "permanent" position. At that point you have to take saving for retirement really seriously. You may very well end up with only a 20-25 year period to do it. Or even less.

    (added: sorry, I took a break while writing this and your preceding post slipped in ahead of it. Nevertheless, some of it may still be relevant.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2014
  6. Jan 29, 2014 #5
    Although I am not really an expert in this subject, the main issues would simply be getting it earlier and younger gives you more time to gain research experience and post doc whatnot, plus younger people tend to have more energy than older ones. Of course older ones would have more discipline to not be as distracted from the studying/dissertation work etc.

    I don't think there is any discriminant against age though in terms of getting a PhD.
     
  7. Jan 30, 2014 #6

    Meir Achuz

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    I see no reason other than other people's prejudices why you couldn't start research in any of those areas at 40. Employers in the US are not allowed to take age over 40 into consideration in hiring.
    How you do will be up to you.
     
  8. Jan 30, 2014 #7

    ZapperZ

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    When I write my funding proposals to DOE, NSF, etc., they NEVER ask me how old I am, and I am 52! They also never asked me at what age I got my PhD.

    Does that answer your question?

    Zz.
     
  9. Jan 30, 2014 #8

    clem

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    That's because they already know it.
     
  10. Jan 30, 2014 #9

    ZapperZ

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    But that's besides the point, isn't it? Whether they know it or not, it isn't a factor, which was what I was responding to. I still get funding, at such an age.

    Zz.
     
  11. Jan 30, 2014 #10
    It happens despite being allowed. There isnt much enforcement in this area. However in the case of physics researchers less so since most PIs are not young.
     
  12. Jan 30, 2014 #11

    analogdesign

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    In all honesty ZapperZ we work in a field (federally funded research) where age discrimination is much less of a factor than it is in industry. The software business eats its young and spits them out. It's heartbreaking.

    If the OP wants a Ph.D. to do research in academia or a national (or industrial) lab I don't think the age thing will be an issue. If he wants to design chips or write code in industry I would think twice.
     
  13. Jan 30, 2014 #12

    ZapperZ

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    Do you think the latter is what the OP is asking? Not from what I've read in this thread.

    I will also say that while age may not matter in most cases in terms of seeking funding, seeking employment is an entirely different matter, even in academia.

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=730757#post4618664

    I am really trying VERY hard to focus on the narrow aspect of what the OP is asking. The tendency of many threads of PF is to deviate into areas well beyond what is being asked. The OP was quite specific in what he/she is asking, and I only try to answer that. This, despite so many people trying to pull this into different directions.

    The issue of employment, and even the possibility of going to grad school, getting a PhD etc. at a more mature age have been asked in a number of threads already. They have been addressed!

    Zz.
     
  14. Jan 30, 2014 #13
    I think that is actually a positive of the forum since it opens the mind and prevent someone like the OP getting sideswiped if he for some reason doesnt end up getting a tenure track position which seems like a very real concern and possibility.
     
  15. Jan 30, 2014 #14

    Evo

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    Got to agree with you Zz!
     
  16. Jan 31, 2014 #15

    analogdesign

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    Fair enough. You make a very good point. Thanks for the comment.
     
  17. Jan 31, 2014 #16
    When I ask questions on "Career Guidance" or "Academic Guidance", I look forward to the deviations and count on those occurring. I find the deviations to be helpful and sometimes more helpful than the focused posts. Reading the less narrow focused posts on the threads I think helps those who are not well adapted to the practicalities of academia and research.
     
  18. Jan 31, 2014 #17
    When you write your proposals and submit them, I assume you have a body of work behind you that helps your proposal get accepted. That's something that someone who obtains their PhD at 40 doesn't have (I think). When they read your proposal, is that not something they consider when making their decision?
     
  19. Feb 1, 2014 #18

    ZapperZ

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    Unless you think that you write these things on your own without collaboration, then no, it doesn't matter. In fact, in NSF funding proposal, there is specifically a notation to indicate if this is your first NSF request. I believe this gives your proposal even a stronger consideration, because that is the mission of NSF in the first place.

    By the time you get your PhD AND already did your Postdoc, you should have a trail of publications and accomplishments. If not, how in the world did you get employed in the first place to be able to seek such funding? And I will say in the overwhelming majority of funding proposal, you do this in collaboration with others, preferably more established researchers, with you being a first time PI for that proposal.

    But what I'm describing is valid whether you are 40 years old, or 25 years old! There's nothing unusual here.

    Zz.
     
  20. Jun 21, 2015 #19
    I'd like to know the same thing too. I'm looking at, even if I can GET into a PhD program with my Master's being almost 20 years ago and not in the same field (so, probably, having to re-take the Master's courses all over again, at least according to the websites of what few Universities I can even find that might even TAKE me...then I'll have to worry about Student Visas to get into those countries without lottery-winning-level bankrolls to show the immigration agents there so they'll LET ME IN)...I'll be well over 50 if and when I can finish.

    My life is half over and my Master's and Law degrees have gotten me nowhere; if nothing, more doors slammed in my face "from Sea to Shining Sea". I'm finding that in all my years of trying to teach high school Math, I'll need at least one PhD in mathematical Physics to thwart people asking me when they see me "can you even DO Math?" just because I'm a woman and a minority. Either that or some country where that doesn't happen to female minorities but I have a feeling that a PhD in mathematical physics will be EASIER.

    So yeah, I'd like to know that too!
     
  21. Jun 21, 2015 #20

    ZapperZ

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    Please note that you are asking a DIFFERENT question than the OP. He/she was asking about RESEARCH opportunities. You are asking about getting an ADMISSION. Two entirely different things!

    There are already several threads addressing more mature students going back to school. You may want to browse or search for those. It will help if you give a clearer picture of (i) where you are (ii) where you intend to continue going to school (iii) your exact academic background and (iv) what exactly you intend to pursue. It is hard to decipher all this from what you have written h ere.

    Zz.
     
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