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Ageism in academia - need opinions

(12 Posts)
earlycomputers Sun 16-Mar-14 16:29:42

I am planning to take a masters/Phd in ancient history with a view to working in academia after this. Having come from an industry full of hot shot (and successful) males in their early 20's (I am 40), it got me thinking about whether there are any professions which older workers tend to do better than their younger colleagues. I was under the impression that if you are over 50 or 60 in academia (especially in history) this would be a bonus as you have had more time to accumulate knowledge etc.
i don't really care if there exists a bias in favour of younger people at universities (-I still want to pursue my studies), but I would still be interested in others' experience of this.

googlenut Mon 17-Mar-14 07:12:15

I don't think there is a bias towards older people but I do think older people are valued because as you say they have more knowledge. It is one of the things I love about academia. There is also no thought given to what you look like or what you wear. Wonderful!

BettyFriedansLoveChild Mon 17-Mar-14 10:42:10

I would suggest the opposite - that there is possible a bias against universities employing older people. I have several friends who completed PhDs in their 50s but haven't managed to find full-time work - they have publications, teaching experience etc, but are all starting to suspect that universities are (unofficially) more interested in hiring younger permanent staff. The other thing to bear in mind is that it is immensely competitive and tends to involve a certain amount of unpaid labour in the form of publishing articles, organising conferences etc, which can be hard to accommodate if you have financial commitments like children or a mortgage. It is very rewarding if you make it, but you do need to be prepared for the reality of an over-supply of PhDs compared to jobs.

earlycomputers Tue 18-Mar-14 16:16:28

Do you think that this age bias in universities though is no worse (or even less) than the age bias you might get in other industries?
Are all academic subjects just as competitive at universities? What if your subject/field is really unusual? Thanks again

googlenut Tue 18-Mar-14 20:52:18

I haven't found age to be a barrier but am in a results driven clinical field and have found a niche.
It is definitely competitive and you have to do lots of extra work to keep up with it all - but that is balanced by the work being around a subject you love. If a paper comes up in my area I want to read it right away.

googlenut Tue 18-Mar-14 20:53:24

I think young or old you have to be very strategic with your choice of PhD subject and its ability to get future funding

Milkymickey Wed 19-Mar-14 11:04:32

I am not sure about age but you have to be very realistic about getting a post after. I work in this field and very few of the exceptionally well qualified get posts, and most have to do two to five years of postdoc posts to get a lectureship.
I don't want to put you off too much if it is a dream and if you would be able to do it and move on into something else if it doesnt work out, but you do need to take along hard look at the realities.
Pm me if you want to talk further, and i can tell you stuff i wouldnt put online!

corazoncoraza Wed 19-Mar-14 14:47:54

I have a PhD in anthropology and I am in my early 40s. I have been looking for a job for at least four years. I have done voluntary work, presented papers, applied to at least 60 jobs and nothing. However, the PhD gave me so much pleasure that I would definitely do it again.

Frozennortherner Wed 09-Apr-14 04:12:08

I have a PhD, three books, took a break to raise kids. Can't get back in. Am in my 50s. I think there is ageism (cross-cut with institutional sexism actually). Younger people are able to network in the pub, trot off to conferences, stay for evening research seminars, etc. They don't have child-care responsibilities so are seen as more available. I don't think that the nature of writing and publishing gets appreciated in this mix, ie. that it has to be done in the evening, holidays, weekends (taking time away from the children if you have them). My colleagues who are female and who are in senior positions do not have kids. Go figure.

HolidayCriminal Tue 15-Apr-14 09:38:30

Compared to every other work environment I have tried I would say Academia is the least ageist, the least prejudiced about what you look like or where you came from. Even my great-aunt got her phD (in education) completed at age 69 & went on to teach at the University (nowhere you heard of) for 10 yrs (and that was back in the 1970s-80s).

It's funny how everyone assumes OP must want to become a lecturer like that's the only valid career path (mind, my mother assumed that, too). I know a lot of us are happy as research assistants; I also know people who only became lecturers at about age 45. I'm in my mid-late40s & my boss has encouraged me to look at lectureship (again) but I really would hate it.

I would say best to get PhD & go straight to work for at least a spell, PhD followed by a big break must make it harder to get back in because less track record.

MsMuppet Thu 17-Apr-14 02:09:56

Ageism doesn't enter into it -- there are barely any jobs in academia anymore for anyone. Even if you are smart, dedicated, hardworking and have all the time/money in the world to devote to your work, you are still highly unlikely to get a job at the end of it.

Please please take a good long look through the website called "the professor is in" before you make any decisions to start a PhD.

Unless you are doing it purely for the love of it (and have the financial resources to support yourself through the actual length of the program, rather than the advertised length of the program) you should not contemplate starting something that will take many years, won't result in a job but will leave you in debt.

MsMuppet Thu 17-Apr-14 02:23:59

and in answer to your other question -- yes, all fields of study are highly competitive at the professional level (i.e., once you are at the level where a PhD is an entry requirement), no matter how obscure your particular subject. This is because funding and jobs are allocated according to the broader fields of study they are attached to, rather than according to particular topics of research. The more obscure your area of research, the less resources will be available, and the more you'll have to "sell yourself" to prospect funders/employers as a generalist. So either way, you'll be competing for money and jobs with everyone who has a PhD in Classics, not just the people who work in your particular field.

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