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At what age does your age become a disadvantage for top programs?


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Top programs meaning Harvard, Stanford, UM-Ann Arbor, etc. At what age does your age become a disadvantage, especially if you're coming from a completely different field? For ex. you work in one field then decide to go back to school to get your undergrad and start applying for top PhD programs? 

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Top programs meaning Harvard, Stanford, UM-Ann Arbor, etc. At what age does your age become a disadvantage, especially if you're coming from a completely different field? For ex. you work in one field then decide to go back to school to get your undergrad and start applying for top PhD programs? 

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Top programs meaning Harvard, Stanford, UM-Ann Arbor, etc. At what age does your age become a disadvantage, especially if you're coming from a completely different field? For ex. you work in one field then decide to go back to school to get your undergrad and start applying for top PhD programs? 

 

First year PhD student here who had multiple offers from top programs-- at twice the age of the youngest first year PhD students in my program. 

 

If the fit, grades, scores, recs, and statement(s) meet the programs' expectations, your life experiences should enhance your application.

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First year PhD student here who had multiple offers from top programs-- at twice the age of the youngest first year PhD students in my program. 

 

If the fit, grades, scores, recs, and statement(s) meet the programs' expectations, your life experiences should enhance your application.

 

If you don't mind me asking how old were you when you started? 

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  • 2 weeks later...

What about when you finish? For ex. if a 40 year old starts a PhD at Harvard or Princeton and finishes at 45, or lets say they start at 45 and finish at 50, will he/she be at a disadvantage when it comes to being hired? 

Edited by Tsunami2000
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I would say, generally speaking, early 30s is on the older end of the spectrum, and after that your age would become a discussion point in committee meetings. This doesn't mean it would be a disadvantage, and I can see some ways in which it might be an advantage. But it would be noticed, whereas that's probably less the case with students in their 20s. 

 

And yes, I would say that it's probably safe to assume that the majority of top programs would rather hire a 30 year old than a 50 year old, because they potentially get 20 more years of scholarship and teaching out of them. Exceptions happen, but I've spent time at three top-10 departments, and I can't remember ever seeing a 50 year old assistant professor. 

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I would say, generally speaking, early 30s is on the older end of the spectrum, and after that your age would become a discussion point in committee meetings. This doesn't mean it would be a disadvantage, and I can see some ways in which it might be an advantage. But it would be noticed, whereas that's probably less the case with students in their 20s. 

 

And yes, I would say that it's probably safe to assume that the majority of top programs would rather hire a 30 year old than a 50 year old, because they potentially get 20 more years of scholarship and teaching out of them. Exceptions happen, but I've spent time at three top-10 departments, and I can't remember ever seeing a 50 year old assistant professor. 

 

What's the oldest age of an assistant professor you've seen hired?

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The overwhelming majority (90%+) of assistant profs that I've met at top-tier departments were late 20s or early 30s when they were hired. I've also met a number of other former military officers with PhDs who are brought on as senior research scholars, etc., at interdisciplinary research centers, and then go on to teach political science courses. However, these positions typically have a different type of tenure agreement (eg you go up for reappointment every 3-5 years), and they are usually not given anything beyond courtesy appointments in the relevant department.

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If I had to guess, I don't think age is much of a negative, and in some cases may be a positive as others have said (when I was an RA there was a PhD student in her 50s). The tendency definitely tends to be younger people being hired for new faculty positions, but I think that's more correlational than causational (people who are very clear in their interests and motivated enough to go directly from high school -> undergrad -> grad school tend to be good researchers, but that doesn't mean that people who clarify their interests later in life aren't also good researchers).

Edited by essequamvideri
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The overwhelming majority (90%+) of assistant profs that I've met at top-tier departments were late 20s or early 30s when they were hired. I've also met a number of other former military officers with PhDs who are brought on as senior research scholars, etc., at interdisciplinary research centers, and then go on to teach political science courses. However, these positions typically have a different type of tenure agreement (eg you go up for reappointment every 3-5 years), and they are usually not given anything beyond courtesy appointments in the relevant department.

Given that it takes at least four years to get a BA, and from anything between 5 to 8+ years to finish your PhD, I would be surprised if there were many assistant profs in their late 20s. Many PhD students (myself included) take a couple of years off between BA and PhD, or get an MA. 

 

If anything, age becomes an issue then people get tired of living a student life. Not many 30 or 40-somethings are thrilled by the idea of living on 20k a year.

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Who knows, who cares. Too little data to make valid inferences. If you want to study political science, apply for the PhD. A smart department won't care about age. Fwiw, in my cohort at Michigan in the fall of 1996, the median age was closer to 28. There were just 3 of us who had come straight from college. And at least two of us were well into our 30s.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Who knows, who cares. Too little data to make valid inferences. If you want to study political science, apply for the PhD. A smart department won't care about age. Fwiw, in my cohort at Michigan in the fall of 1996, the median age was closer to 28. There were just 3 of us who had come straight from college. And at least two of us were well into our 30s.

Well I don't want to end up in a situation where I finish my PhD and then cannot find a job because I'm too old to be hired as an assistant professor. I also don't want to be in a situation where I'm not admitted because the university believes I won't get a job when I graduate because of age. It's why I'm asking this question.

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Well I don't want to end up in a situation where I finish my PhD and then cannot find a job because I'm too old to be hired as an assistant professor. I also don't want to be in a situation where I'm not admitted because the university believes I won't get a job when I graduate because of age. It's why I'm asking this question.

 

My point was there are insufficient data points for that to be a basis for your decision. I've served on admissions committees and on more search committees than I care to count. Not once did the candidate's age come up. EVER. That's not to suggest that some committee members didn't factor it into their analysis, but no sensible committee would discuss potential age discrimination openly. 

 

And, (most) departments don't admit people based on place-ability, other than as indicated by the quality of ideas. 

 

I'm not trying to minimize your concerns. Lots of biased people out there. Fortunately they're countered by lots of pretty well-meaning intellectuals who are much more interested in the quality of one's ideas than anything else.

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^^ Perhaps, but it's pretty widely known that certain depts favor applicants just out of grad school, or just recently out. I've spoken to members of admissions committees at 2 of the top 3 programs who've confirmed this about their own application reviews.

 

I can't think of any that have favored 40 year olds. Doesn't mean it never happens, but I don't think that's their preference.

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  • 1 month later...

My point was there are insufficient data points for that to be a basis for your decision. I've served on admissions committees and on more search committees than I care to count. Not once did the candidate's age come up. EVER. That's not to suggest that some committee members didn't factor it into their analysis, but no sensible committee would discuss potential age discrimination openly. 

 

And, (most) departments don't admit people based on place-ability, other than as indicated by the quality of ideas. 

 

I'm not trying to minimize your concerns. Lots of biased people out there. Fortunately they're countered by lots of pretty well-meaning intellectuals who are much more interested in the quality of one's ideas than anything else.

 

Your advice is very encouraging. Thank you for it.

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