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Is it impossible to do a PhD in my 50s?

(17 Posts)
WorkingItOutAsIGo Sun 25-Oct-15 17:09:47

I have worked for 25 years, and for various reasons have been a SAHM for the last 3 and am now thinking about what to do next. I have long thought of my ideal alternative career, if I hadn't gone into business, as being an academic. I have been wondering this weekend whether it's just a pipe dream or whether I could actually make it happen. Does anyone have any advice or experience? I looked at an application form for PhD students and reckoned I would fall at the first hurdle as it asked for two academic references...I was last in formal education 26 years ago!! My teachers won't still be around or remember me!

Ancienchateau Sun 25-Oct-15 17:16:41

My Dad did one in his 50s. It was very relevant to the work he was doing / went on to do so that probably helped. I am sure mature students are considered differently. I am sure he was. If you have a first degree, isn't that a point of academic reference?

weaselwords Sun 25-Oct-15 17:25:15

God I hope it's not impossible. I'm about to start on this path at 48 and will probably do a MSc first and then have a breather so will be well into my 50s by the time I start. I'm going to do it in something related to my job too and it does seem to help.

MrsUltracrepidarian Sun 25-Oct-15 17:26:17

My aunt did. She was a nurse, and the PHD related to diabetes which was an area she was interested in - got part funding from her employers (NHS)

MidnightRed Sun 25-Oct-15 17:33:03

I used to be an academic. At the university I taught at for most of my career, we had a lot of mature PhD students. I'd estimate at least a third were over 40. Most had come in via the Access - BA - then MA/PhD after that but we did have one or two who jumped straight into doctoral study after a long gap from study. You would need to have a chat with the Admissions Tutor in the first instance to see if they think you could be a candidate for that route.

Your area of study will be important here. Direct to a PHD after a gap is more likely if your field is History English lit than if you fancy Maths or Biology.

WorkingItOutAsIGo Sun 25-Oct-15 20:19:52

Oh goodness thank you all! I assumed the answers would all be nah, no institution would see the value of someone so old doing a PhD.

I have a first degree and a masters, and the area I would passionately like to study in is a microsm of my masters and relates to what I have spent the last 25 years doing, but going forward if I became an academic it would be quite a career change, if that makes sense.

Thanks you have given me an incentive to start looking into it. Given children etc there are only a limited number of institutions I can target so I can contact them and see how they feel about mature students!

BlackbirdsInaPie Mon 26-Oct-15 15:52:15

I think there's nothing stopping you doing a PhD, but I'm not sure about the possibilities of it leading to an academic career in the standard way. You'll be almost retirement age by the time you finish a PhD.

How long ago was your Masters?

And you should be aware that doing a PhD is nothing like doing a Masters. It is hard hard long work.

I have experience of supervising a couple of people in their late 40s/50s, out of formal education for 20 years, and then with a part-time OU Masters, and they've found it very difficult. And I'm a diligent organised supervisor who pushes my candidates hard. It can be the hardest thing you'll ever do.

And if that doesn't put you off, then you probably should do it!

Clobbered Mon 26-Oct-15 15:54:44

Friend of mine is doing it in her 50s and loving it. She has had very good marks all along (2 Masters and then a PhD after a very long break from study).
If you feel passionately about doing this, then go for it. Age is no bar.

NeverEverAnythingEver Mon 26-Oct-15 17:05:53

We have mature full-time and part-time and retired and in-work PhD students. smile

HarrietVane99 Mon 26-Oct-15 17:29:38

I say go for it. Yes it is hard work but it is also hugely rewarding. It's a great sense of achievement when you can call yourself 'Dr Workingitout'.

If you're in the Humanities, your extra life experience is probably an advantage rather than otherwise.

I recommend looking at the websites of any universities you might be able to study at and seeing if any of them have an academic who is interested in your area of interest. You're more likely to be taken on if there's someone who actively wants to supervise you. If you find someone, it might be worth contacting him or her direct with a brief outline of your proposed research, and asking for advice.

As you've been working in the area, I suppose you're up to date with the latest reading and research, but if you're not, that's something to address before contacting a university.

Don't rule out universities further away. Unless you need access to labs, you probably won't need to go there all that often.

MedSchoolRat Tue 27-Oct-15 21:01:40

May I ask what area you'd be researching in?

One of my coauthors recently had her viva, she's 60 if she's a day.

My great aunt finished her PhD (in education) at age 69 & then lectured for 10 yrs. That was back in the late 1970s.

Still need to think about where you want to go. In 4 yrs time you'll be 4 yrs older anyway, so why not have something to show for it? On other hand, don't expect to get to Professor b4 you retire, either. smile

hefzi Sat 07-Nov-15 19:26:49

I graduated from undergrad with someone getting his PhD who was 92 :-) And one of my current PhD students is 59 - if you feel passion and enthusiasm for your subject, why not? I think education is always valuable, though, so I admit I might be biased!

JasperDamerel Sat 07-Nov-15 19:45:06

My stepmother did her PhD in her 50s. She is now in her sixties and is a teaching and research fellow at the university where she did her PhD.

Lightbulbon Sat 07-Nov-15 19:55:02

I get the impression you are confusing the 2 issues of doing an PhD and having an academic career.

These are different questions!

Sure you can do a PhD at any age, and if you are talking about self financing unis will fall over themselves to take you on as self funders are valuable cash cows.

If you are looking to get a fully funded PhD then that is a whole other ball game and a career post PhD sounds like a nightmare these days from what I read on lots on mn threads.

MildVirago Sat 07-Nov-15 20:14:50

You may get more nuanced replies on here if you give a rough idea of your field, but I agree with Lightbulb that you are confusing two things - the degree and the academic career. You can certainly do a doctorate, but in my field, you would be competing for your first junior lecturer jobs in a cut-throat job market with high-flyers who have already held a couple of post-docs, had some temporary contracts, published significant amounts and who are prepared to move almost anywhere at the drop of a hat. One of my former doctoral students, a formidably well-connected, much-published, multilingual woman who had a brilliant CV, hung on doing bits of part-time teaching in my department for two years after her viva, before eventually getting a post-doc in another country, and having to do an international commute home to her husband and toddler.

You mention children, and a limited number of institutions you could do the PhD at - would you be prepared to move a long distance or commute for a maternity cover contract?

Also, have a look at the 'life passing me by as an academic' thread for some sobering insights into the life of academics.

jclm Mon 30-Nov-15 09:50:42

I would steer clear of an academic career if you have a family life that you hold dear. I am just leaving academia after having my family - I am no longer prepared to put in all hours and move around the country working on fixed term contracts (very very few permanent jobs).

A PhD doesn't really lead to anything else, but may be helpful in another career eg in commercial science etc.

If you do want to study for a PhD, for the enjoyment, I would make sure it is fully funded, or else it could be very costly.

MultishirkingAgain Mon 30-Nov-15 10:30:04

I get the impression you are confusing the 2 issues of doing an PhD and having an academic career.

These are different questions!

Indeed. I'm currently trying to support a PhD student about to go on the job market in her early 50s. It's a struggle, even though I warned her when she first applied for funding (and got it) that her CV wasn't really one that would lead to an academic job - her fields of study weren't quite right for teaching in the field. But her PhD will be good for related but non-lecturing job applications. Problem is, the whole arts & humanities sector is closing down with this utter bastard government & the effing bankers.

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