Older grad students/ phd's?

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  • #26
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I passed up a postdoc and left academia when the professor I'd be working with told me point blank that he'd prefer I not have a child in the two/three year period I'd be working with him.
One odd thing is that Wall Street tends to be surprisingly family friendly when it comes to this sort of thing. One reason for this is that you have no small number of "super-mom alpha females" in senior management, so they have surprisingly good allowances for families.
 
  • #27
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In what universe will you find two identical candidates except for their age? If the 38 year old is 0.000001 percent better, then he gets the job. There are just too many other factors to consider before it comes down to an age "tiebreaker."
And most of those factors work out in practice against the older candidate.

Granted, there were no 50 year olds being interviewed, but for the spread of ages we did have, I saw no evidence that it played any role at all.
Part of the issue here is that I'm 41, so the difference between a 30 and 35 year old candidate really doesn't matter to me anymore. What I'm concerned about is getting a junior tenure track position at 45 or 50 or 60, and if the system is set up so that no one that getting on the short list is under 45, then I'm already screwed.

Something that should be obvious from this discussion is that for the most part, it's not explicit age discrimination that you will run into, but more complicated things. I don't expect anyone to take my CV and say "he is 41, toss it in the trash". What I do expect is that you'll see people say "he hasn't published anything in the last decade so he isn't on the short list." The fact that you need a job to get a job isn't something that the search committee considers.

One other thing, you can argue that the search committees aren't being nasty or evil in using the criterion that they do, but that's another question. Part of the reason I think a search committee would toss my application for lack of publications is because I'd make the same decision.

But if you don't get a job, it doesn't really matter whether the people that didn't give you one did it for nice or nasty reasons.
 
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  • #28
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Can you point me to that site? I think it's wrong. It is possible to move from industry to academia and there are some PF'ers that have done that, but it's uncommon.
Sure, I was reading:
http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos052.htm

In the "Training" section:
"Many physics and astronomy Ph.D. holders ultimately teach at the college or university level."

I'm probably just looking into that wrong. That statement does not really insist on an older age I suppose.
 
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  • #29
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"Many physics and astronomy Ph.D. holders ultimately teach at the college or university level."
I worked as an adjunct working at the University of Phoenix for about six months making $1000/month teaching Algebra I. I suppose that counts, but it's not what most people think of when they get into the field.

Something that would be useful is to put that text on a wiki, and have people mark it up.
 
  • #30
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Einstein was in his mid-fifties when his work on the EPR paradox was published - he was on the wrong side, but this was a seminal paper.
 
  • #31
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Einstein was in his mid-fifties when his work on the EPR paradox was published - he was on the wrong side, but this was a seminal paper.
But of course, Einstein held his first academic position before he was 30. Many (perhaps even most) scientists will continue to produce well into their 50s- if given the chance.
 
  • #32
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My research advisor is on the hiring committee, and we were talking about the process. It seems like the absolute biggest factor in who they offer the job to is their performance on their two talks.
This is clearly wrong- before jobs were offered a short list was made. The biggest factors whittled a list down from dozens of candidates to 4 or 5 for the short list. The job talk was more-or-less the tie breaker for the short list.

Granted, there were no 50 year olds being interviewed, but for the spread of ages we did have, I saw no evidence that it played any role at all.
Were there 40 years olds? 45 year olds?

In fact, the first one who was offered a job got his B.S. in 1997, which would put him at around what, 35 years old? He blew the 30 year old candidate out of the water.
35 is around the average age of (lucky) people's first faculty offer. If you get your B.S. around 22, phd between 28-30 and then do several years of postdocs, you'll be 35 or so when you make the faculty rounds. 35 is not old in this context, 30 is young. Also, having been blown out of the water, the 30 year old candidate is probably looking at another 3 year postdoc, thus pushing him toward the 6 years or so of postdoc.
 
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  • #33
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This is clearly wrong- before jobs were offered a short list was made. The biggest factors whittled a list down from dozens of candidates to 4 or 5 for the short list. The job talk was more-or-less the tie breaker for the short list.
I concede this point, however:

35 is around the average age of (lucky) people's first faculty offer. If you get your B.S. around 22, phd between 28-30 and then do several years of postdocs, you'll be 35 or so when you make the faculty rounds. 35 is not old in this context, 30 is young. Also, having been blown out of the water, the 30 year old candidate is probably looking at another 3 year postdoc, thus pushing him toward the 6 years or so of postdoc.
You're making a HUGE assumption about this guy's CV which is false. The 35 year old got his Ph.D. in 2009 after taking 4 years off to teach community college. He did NOT do several years of postdocs. I'm looking at his CV right now.

Again, what you're saying might be perfectly true to get a position at a big research university, or even a medium one... but for a liberal arts school with a small physics department (at least the one I go to), the requirements you're talking about just don't exist. As long as you have other positive qualities above and beyond the other candidates, age won't really come into play.
 
  • #34
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You're making a HUGE assumption about this guy's CV which is false. The 35 year old got his Ph.D. in 2009 after taking 4 years off to teach community college. He did NOT do several years of postdocs. I'm looking at his CV right now.
Then he did his 'postdoc' period before he actually finished his degree, which happens. Postdoc is a general term for additional training beyond the phd, and for people who want to teach at liberal arts colleges, it is not uncommon for that additional training to be as lecturers on short term contracts at universities or community colleges. At some research institutions, the 'postdoc' period manifests itself as a student delaying graduation for 2 or 3 years to boost their number of publications. The point is that to be competitive you need several years experience after the phd. And you need to be young enough that people aren't worried about your productivity beginning to decline.

A 35 year old getting a faculty offer is close to the norm. What would be surprising would be several applicants in their mid 40s making the short list, and several candidates in their late 20s.
 
  • #35
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If you aren't planning on teaching is the outlook as bleak? Seems so far if you are over 30, don't get a PhD. You'll be almost worse off than no degree at all. :tongue2:
 
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  • #36
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If you aren't planning on teaching is the outlook as bleak? Seems so far if you are over 30, don't get a PhD. You'll be almost worse off than no degree at all.
Lol.. is that sarcasm?
 
  • #37
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I hope that's sarcasm.
 
  • #38
I think Weierstrass came up with his best ideas in his mid 40's? I could be wrong though.
 
  • #39
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I appreciate all of the info here; that's why I've lurked here for years. Hopefully, soon I'll actually be able to contribute.
I see myself more in a national lab setting than anything. Would that make things easier or is it pretty much the same story?
Even though physics is my dream, I wonder if my decade of electrical construction would be considered relevant to the engineering field; thus nullifying the age situation a bit.
 
  • #40
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Lol.. is that sarcasm?
I hope that's sarcasm.
Yeah, sorry. I edited my post.

I know academia is probably the worst career route to plan your life around. Thankfully I have zero plans to go that route so a PhD won't be wasted. (old man with PhD that is)
 
  • #41
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Then he did his 'postdoc' period before he actually finished his degree, which happens. Postdoc is a general term for additional training beyond the phd, and for people who want to teach at liberal arts colleges, it is not uncommon for that additional training to be as lecturers on short term contracts at universities or community colleges. At some research institutions, the 'postdoc' period manifests itself as a student delaying graduation for 2 or 3 years to boost their number of publications. The point is that to be competitive you need several years experience after the phd. And you need to be young enough that people aren't worried about your productivity beginning to decline.

A 35 year old getting a faculty offer is close to the norm. What would be surprising would be several applicants in their mid 40s making the short list, and several candidates in their late 20s.
I guess I'll let you know how my personal story goes in about 8 years then. I still have 2 semesters of undergrad left, and I'm 28 years old. I hope to have a Ph.D by age 35, and for now, my "Plan A" is to get a tenure-track professor position by age 40. I know it will be difficult, so I do have plans B, C and D as backups, but I hope to be one of the surprising ones who makes it despite a late start.
 
  • #42
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I guess I'll let you know how my personal story goes in about 8 years then. I still have 2 semesters of undergrad left, and I'm 28 years old. I hope to have a Ph.D by age 35, and for now, my "Plan A" is to get a tenure-track professor position by age 40. I know it will be difficult, so I do have plans B, C and D as backups, but I hope to be one of the surprising ones who makes it despite a late start.
We sir are in exactly the same boat, age and all.
 
  • #43
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I guess I'll let you know how my personal story goes in about 8 years then. I still have 2 semesters of undergrad left, and I'm 28 years old. I hope to have a Ph.D by age 35, and for now, my "Plan A" is to get a tenure-track professor position by age 40. I know it will be difficult, so I do have plans B, C and D as backups, but I hope to be one of the surprising ones who makes it despite a late start.
We sir are in exactly the same boat, age and all.
Let's make a club then. We can call it "In with the old, out with the young" :biggrin:
 
  • #44
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I guess I'll let you know how my personal story goes in about 8 years then. I still have 2 semesters of undergrad left, and I'm 28 years old. I hope to have a Ph.D by age 35, and for now, my "Plan A" is to get a tenure-track professor position by age 40. I know it will be difficult, so I do have plans B, C and D as backups, but I hope to be one of the surprising ones who makes it despite a late start.
Best of luck. The strongest advice I can give is go to a top 5 school for the phd. Overall, phds from top 5 schools have a 1/4 chance of snagging a tenure track faculty position somewhere. As you move lower in ranking, the odds drop off rather quickly.

Edit: Also, don't do a theory phd.
 
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  • #45
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Overall, phds from top 5 schools have a 1/4 chance of snagging a tenure track faculty position somewhere. As you move lower in ranking, the odds drop off rather quickly.
I don't believe that.

I looked at the last 25 HEP theory faculty hires. Yes, Harvard led the pack, with 4 (3 of whom had the same advisor, who is no longer at Harvard). MIT? Zero. Berkeley? Zero. Caltech? Zero. Chicago? Zero.

Princeton got 1. Stanford got 2, but they graduated a decade apart.

Some schools that got at least 1: Minnesota. Florida State. Michigan State.

It's really not about the pedigree any more. There are really excellent faculty at state schools.
 
  • #46
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Let's make a club then. We can call it "In with the old, out with the young" :biggrin:
Lol. Count me in too.
 
  • #47
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State schools have had good faculty for decades- after all most of them came out of top schools. The last 25 hires isn't that big a sample- its probably 2 or three years of hiring? A lot of good schools won't graduate many people in the required window, which will bias your sample.

I suggest looking at the data from the rumor Mill that Erich Poppitz put together. It runs '94 to present, and I think supports my claim pretty well.
 
  • #48
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Suppose you can't get tenure anywhere, I would like to hope that you can still lead a productive life teaching at a college or in the private sector?

I basically just want to teach physics, but tenure is always a plus (and yes I am aware of the emphasis put on research etc).
 
  • #49
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I know it will be difficult, so I do have plans B, C and D as backups, but I hope to be one of the surprising ones who makes it despite a late start.
I'm already on plan Q or R. Either I make a ton of money and then in five years or so, I work as an unpaid research assistant at some random school that's willing to take me, or else I snag an adjunct professorship in mathematical finance in which I can do astrophysics on the side.
 
  • #50
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If you don't get tenure, you're fired. (Technically, your contract is not renewed).

There are non-tenure track teaching positions. They pay poorly, there is no job security, and you might not get hired until the week before the term starts.
 

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