1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Schools MS/PhD at 57

  1. Mar 23, 2017 #1
    Any advice on any MS/PhD physics programs that a) would accept a 57 year old guy, b) would accept that I work full time so would be dong this part time, and c) are more interested in actually teaching than in me just being a grad slave for them? Or am I crazy to think such is even possible?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2017 #2
    When I was in graduate school, one of my fellow graduate students was a retired faculty member (a department head if I recall correctly) from another school. He was trying to finish a PhD in his mid-70s. He was finding it pretty rough going, as I recall. I think it can be done, but it certainly will not be easy.

    Trying to mix full time work with graduate school is difficult at any age, but in this case, I doubt that it will work at all. Is it possible for you to drop out of your regular employment and get by on an assistantship?

    Finally, much of what you learn in graduate school will have to be self-taught in the final analysis. Your expectations to be taught may be unrealistic.
  4. Mar 23, 2017 #3
    I've been in graduate school before, dropped out because of the 'grad slave' mentality. In those 15 credits, taken between when I was 40 and 41, yes, full time work did cut into my productivity as a student, but there was definite teaching going on. Thank you for your insights.
  5. Mar 23, 2017 #4
    Nice to know age discrimination is alive and well.
  6. Mar 23, 2017 #5
    For what reason would a physics professor fund someone part-time to do a physics PhD? Why bring someone onto the team that takes twice as long to do the same amount of work and likely cannot attend some impromptu meetings due to schedule conflicts, etc.?
  7. Mar 23, 2017 #6
    I wouldn't blame any trouble you might have on your age. You want to get funded for a PhD while working somewhere else and you see what you would be doing as slave work... That is probably a bigger problem to an institution than your age would ever be. You have to do some type of project at most places to get a higher education. If you don't want to do a TAship (if that is what you call slave work), then you could probably just pay the $75,000+(cost at my school for 5 years) dollars yourself, there are probably places that won't have a problem with that.
  8. Mar 23, 2017 #7
    Who said I wanted to be funded?

    I never said that.

    Thanks for playing.
  9. Mar 23, 2017 #8


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    The discussion happening do not suggest nor support that, at all. The member of 57 year age is a full-time employee wanting to get into a graduate degree program, and hopes for entering a part-time program because of wanting to stay employed.

    WHERE to find such part-time program? There was one university in southern California which allowed for Physics students to part time study for graduate (Master's) degree. Not sure if the school still allows that program.
  10. Mar 23, 2017 #9

    I was doing that, teaching full time as a visiting lecturer, TAing full time then required to ALSO sit in the Chinese grad students TA classes to handle the Questions they couldn't handle in English. The lecturer position made enough money to pay the fees that weren't covered by my TA work. The covering for the Chinese grad students, that was done because the profs required it, no pay.

    While being a full time grad student.

    When I told the grad director that I didn't have time to cover for the Chinese grad students (whose English skills were almost non-existent) he told me that if I didn't cover for them, my grades would suffer.

    That is 'grad slave' work. Being told that the unpaid work you're doing to cover for others who couldn't do their job, will affect your grades.

    But feel free to just assume I'm lazy because anyone who works full time and also wants to pay to attend college full time must be lazy.
  11. Mar 23, 2017 #10
    Thanks for the input, I'll look into schools in southern CA.

    BTW, the first answer was from a Dr who said that a man he knew was 70 and had a tough time. I presume that he used the mans age as a means to suggest it was what caused him to have the tough time .
  12. Mar 23, 2017 #11


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    You may have taken conclusions that were not said. Very possibly, the 70-year old had a tough time because of , maybe just be old? Or maybe readjusting to being a student again? Hard to know. If any "age discrimination" was happening, more likely it came from less mature, YOUNG students. Just my guess.
  13. Mar 23, 2017 #12
    Where did I say you were lazy? At most I was insinuating that you have the wrong idea about what gets you a higher education degree.
  14. Mar 23, 2017 #13
    You won't get funding but you say you don't need it. You will, however, encounter resistance from admissions committees because of your age. You probably won't be admitted to a PhD program but you should be able to gain admission as an MS student. Apply and see where it goes. If you are good and you find a faculty member that you get along with you may find yourself doing a PhD or you may decide that it's not really what you want to do. I decided to get a 3rd grad degree at about the same age. I didn't have a problem getting in because they didn't fund students applying to the MS program anyway. I was awarded the grad student of the year award and graduated with a 4.0 average. Some faculty were very uncomfortable, others were very supportive. I also know someone who received a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan when he was about 50 and another guy who received a PhD in physics after going part time for about 15-20 years on his own dime because he had a family and a job (his work was theoretical though). Just do what you want, do your best, and see what happens. Apply. And ignore anyone that suggests that somehow you will have a harder time than a younger student. That's complete BS and, in fact, you might find you actually know a whole lot more than they do and have a lot more sense than they do.
  15. Mar 24, 2017 #14
    First of all, your attitude might be a major factor against admitting you anywhere.

    Second of all, sure maybe you have hundreds of thousands of dollars saved up for graduate school. Do you also have hundreds of thousands of dollars saved up to do research?

    Thirdly, my point remains. There are plenty of students a professor wouldn't have to fund (for instance, I'm on fellowship, my professor doesn't have to pay me either). Why would they choose someone who can only work part-time as opposed to someone whose main priority is graduate school?
  16. Mar 24, 2017 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    So what exactly is the "end game" for you wanting to pursue this at your age? You do know that it will take between 4-6 years on average to complete a PhD here in the US, don't you? So by the time you are done, you will be in your early 60's. Do you expect to make a career out of this degree starting at your age? What type of career are you hoping for?

    Note that I haven't even listed all the rigor that is required as part of a PhD program yet.

  17. Mar 24, 2017 #16


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    This would beg the question about whether there is a cut-off age in which the return on investment in pursuing a PhD in physics may be less than continuing to be in the workforce.

    I ask this question because when I was pursuing my masters degree in statistics, one of my fellow grad students was a 1st year PhD student in his early-40s who came back to graduate school after working in finance for ~15-17 years after completing his masters in mathematics (he told me once how long he was in finance, but I don't remember exactly). I know that he ultimately finished his PhD in statistics and that he would be in his mid to late 50s now (I'm aging myself -- I was in grad school about 16 years ago).

    I'm wondering if physics is somehow different from statistics in this regard.
  18. Mar 24, 2017 #17
    PhD programs (and many MS programs) are different from BS programs in that the department needs to have a reasonable expectation of every student contributing productively to existing research programs in significant ways. There are also only a fixed number of openings from which a specific amount of departmental teaching needs also need to be met. Applicants who appear unlikely to make significant contributions to the teaching and research of the department are less likely to be admitted.

    I'm not sure one can attribute to age discrimination what may simply be an assessment that a given applicant is unlikely to make significant contributions to the teaching and research needs of the department.
  19. Mar 24, 2017 #18


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Let's just say that there will be schools that will admit you if you're willing to pay full fare for it.

    But physics is such a difficult program to go through, why would anyone want to go through this process just for the heck of it? So there must be a "career" motive here. And just graduating when you're in your early 60's is a major issue.

    You will not be considered for a tenure track, because by the time you get tenure, you're ready to retire! And most schools tend to hire younger faculty members for such a track because they are planning on those members to build up and sustain the program for many years. This is not age discrimination, because there is a rational reason why they want someone young. A person about to retire will not be able to fulfill the long-term plans of a particular school or department.

    So if not in academia, where will one go with such a degree at that age? Industry? Again, unless they are looking for just warm bodies, I don't see this happening.

    This was why I asked that question, because it isn't clear to me the intention of the OP in pursuing this at his age. If it is simply to learn physics, there are way of doing this without formally enrolling in such a program.

  20. Mar 24, 2017 #19

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    First, I agree with the comments on attitude. You're going to need help from your fellow students and others. Thus far, you've bitten off the heads of everyone who has tried to help you. If you keep this up in grad school, you're going to have a tough time. Probably an insurmountably tough time.

    Second, the average student takes 6.5 years to finish. If part time means half-time, that means you can expect 13 years. You'll be 70 when you finish. Assuming you work full-time from then on, you'll be 76 when you finish your second postdoc, and if you get a faculty position, 81 when you're up for tenure. If part-time means even less, you will be correspondingly older.

    Third, it's hard enough picking a thesis topic that is still interesting and relevant (and unsolved!) six years down the road. Thirteen is much worse.

    Fourth, look carefully at the university's residency requirements. Where I was a student, classes had to have been taken within twelve years of graduation to count. This alone makes part-time stude difficult.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted