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Too Old for History Phd?

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Wanted to get an opinion from the group here.  I'm contemplating which would be the best route as I finish my history master's.  I am 55 years old now, recently took the GRE and scored very high (165) on the verbal section and decent on the quant, yet I am undecided about applying for Phd programs due to my age.  Will my application be considered? If I am admitted, will there be any possibility of obtaining a decent lecturer or instructor position after completing the Phd?  I realize tenure-track is likely beyond the realm of possibilities but I love to research, write, and want to teach.

Debating Phd application or just applying for community college or high school positions (I do hold a teaching certificate).  

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Thanks!  

Edited by rick1547

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I mean, what is it that you want to do with your graduate history degree? Teach only, or do research as well?

When I received my M.A. in History, I was able to find a job at a community college as an adjunct. The pay wasn't great, but if that is something you want to do, you can do it without going in for your PhD. As for your question if you are too old: I was probably one of the younger people in the department meetings we had. I didn't ask for ages, but about the third of the faculty had grey hair :P Thus being an instructor in a community college setting is perfectly doable for you if you decide to go that route.

If you can do it - and ideally not pay for it - go for it! Just be mindful what's in store career-wise once you do graduate. 

Good luck!

Edited by _etruscan

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Depends on the program. None will, of course, claim to look at your application any differently, but many will prioritize students who are of an age where they can begin a career, since that's the purpose of doctoral training. 

But the three questions you should answer are: why, why now, and what do you want to do with it.

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^ Yup. They would never admit your age as a factor for admission. I suspect many will interpret your age negatively. In fact, I have heard faculty members comment on older students being at a disadvantage because of their limited time to 'produce' (and thus to make their program look good). For what it's worth, I've heard this from profs at my R1 program. Your mileage will certainly vary, though!

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Ageism is real but there are definitely PhD programs willing to have "non-traditional" students as part of the program like mine.  Honestly, it all depends on the person you'd really like to work with.  If you want to save $, I'd speak with faculty whom you're interested in working with before applying.  If they show any signs of uncertainty when they figure out your life trajectory, I'd move on to someone else.  You want a faculty member who doesn't care about your age but only to give you an opportunity to pursue a PhD.

Make sure you really are willing to leave behind the kind of security that you have now as you enter the next decade of your life (and later on).

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Can't speak for OP, but as someone who's getting close to 55, it is a chance to revive an interest that's always been there and a talent that hasn't been completely exploited elsewhere.  Other business/financial affairs are not needing a ton of supervision at the moment, and so pursuing a degree might actually provide a decent financial return by preventing silly investments made out of boredom.  In addition to postponing dementia, of course.  

None of these concerns will likely seem relevant to anyone under 30.

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You've just said your pursuit of the PhD would be a hobby, while for everyone else who would be in the room, it's a job. That's a heck of a difference. Yeah, it doesn't make your interest seem really relevant. Were I you, I would keep such thoughts very far from my SoP.

And, alas for your attempt at a preemptive defense, I'm not under 30.

Edited by telkanuru

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On 7/27/2016 at 1:38 PM, Kiskadee said:

Can't speak for OP, but as someone who's getting close to 55, it is a chance to revive an interest that's always been there and a talent that hasn't been completely exploited elsewhere.  Other business/financial affairs are not needing a ton of supervision at the moment, and so pursuing a degree might actually provide a decent financial return by preventing silly investments made out of boredom.  In addition to postponing dementia, of course.  

None of these concerns will likely seem relevant to anyone under 30.

PhD programs are not cheap and I doubt that you would spend as much on a hobby in your free time. Additionally, if you are offered a funded position, at some point you have to understand that there are limited slots the department can support and you're taking a chair of someone who might otherwise use the opportunity to advance the field and their career for 25+ years to come. 

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against older students, I've met a lot in my undergrad and grad careers. I just feel similar to what others above have already said. Grad school is meant for those wishing to enrich their careers. If you really feel that you can "give back" to the community by obtaining your PhD, then go for it. But if it's just a hobby so you have something to do in retirement, it may not be the best responsible choice. 

I also agree with @mvlchicago The job market is very competitive

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I also want to say that like, I totally get wanting to revive interests and try different things. But also recognize that this isn't a light hobby for everyone involved in the process: many of us are trying to get a first career off the ground for amounts of money so low that they would be illegal if we were considered "employees." Upon receiving a first tenure track job, many people feel pressure to sit down and shut up until they attain tenure, and even after that, until they've landed jobs in cities or regions they'd actually like to live. And then, maybe after all that, enjoy the small amount of recognition they've been able to hobble together. 

Having worked with some older students and networked with some people in the finance sector, I find that when I say I do history, they have an imagined sense of a glorious life I live, full of cushy armchairs, old documents, and untold amounts of truth. While I feel very lucky to have the position I do currently (and good about my prospects down the road), I'm trying to tell you guys that this isn't a hobby. It's a job. And with a job comes job stress and frustration and anger.

Best of luck in the process~

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I am finding it hard to get accepted as an older person for a PhD. There are older people (I heard of one of 75 years last year who just achieved a PhD and wrote a valuable piece of scholarship.) If bias of older students were a provable, it would be illegal, but anything can be thought up not to accept you. Most of us older people were brought up to regard university as a place for knowledge, learning and research first and if you were younger perhaps a career. Not having chosen a career in academia, if you have the mind (and the money- you are not even taking from someone else) to study, there should be no barrier. I am 66 and last year got an MA from a prominent university. Am I now to be told- "go home and watch 'Loose Women' on the TV, granny?" I think bias against the older person is insulting. 60 is the new 40, people are living longer (and having to work and pay taxes longer to pay for others.) For heaven's sake, if we have a useful piece of work to do, why are we discriminated against?We do not regard it as a hobby. Sitting in the British Library or LLW or British Museum looking at documents, I have no use for my designated elderly activities.bingo, walks in the country, WI.

Good research IS the job, ( as is conscienciously doing ones job throughout a lifetime and paying for the education of so many). It is a sorry thing to read from so many about this prejudice, because we have a passion for our subjects too.

I am so sorry for your anger and frustration, but this has not been caused by older students. tOur useful research, is possibly enriched by the insights of many jobs we have done during our lives.

Edited by Eve Nicholson

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These are all real concerns and frustrations. Recently, (in the last several years) I was accepted to what can be argued as the premier PhD program in its field, ultimately I decided against it as there was a heavy pressure and rhetoric that the program should almost exclusively train professors at the most tippy-top universities-I was in my early 50s at the time. My own inclination was to perhaps work at a non-research tribal college. So, it’s not just age, but as well, institutional preference and placement.

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8 hours ago, Eve Nicholson said:

I am finding it hard to get accepted as an older person for a PhD. There are older people (I heard of one of 75 years last year who just achieved a PhD and wrote a valuable piece of scholarship.) If bias of older students were a provable, it would be illegal, but anything can be thought up not to accept you. Most of us older people were brought up to regard university as a place for knowledge, learning and research first and if you were younger perhaps a career. Not having chosen a career in academia, if you have the mind (and the money- you are not even taking from someone else) to study, there should be no barrier. I am 66 and last year got an MA from a prominent university. Am I now to be told- "go home and watch 'Loose Women' on the TV, granny?" I think bias against the older person is insulting. 60 is the new 40, people are living longer (and having to work and pay taxes longer to pay for others.) For heaven's sake, if we have a useful piece of work to do, why are we discriminated against?We do not regard it as a hobby. Sitting in the British Library or LLW or British Museum looking at documents, I have no use for my designated elderly activities.bingo, walks in the country, WI.

Good research IS the job, ( as is conscienciously doing ones job throughout a lifetime and paying for the education of so many). It is a sorry thing to read from so many about this prejudice, because we have a passion for our subjects too.

I am so sorry for your anger and frustration, but this has not been caused by older students. tOur useful research, is possibly enriched by the insights of many jobs we have done during our lives.

I think what some of the others are rather poorly trying to say is that you can't approach the PhD program (at least the better ones) simply as a hobby. In your statement of proposal, you will need to identify a historical problem, how you plan to address, and why it is important that you address it. If you can do that, and not just say in your statement of purpose that you are doing this for self-fulfillment purposes, then I don't see why you don't stand just as much a shot at admittance. 

Honestly, a lot of programs (knowingly) let in young people that probably don't have much of a shot at tenure-track at jobs afterwards. Those TA positions need to be filled, after all. I don't see why this would be any different. 

Edited by fartsmeller

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12 hours ago, Eve Nicholson said:

Good research IS the job, ( as is conscienciously doing ones job throughout a lifetime and paying for the education of so many). It is a sorry thing to read from so many about this prejudice, because we have a passion for our subjects too.

4

Good research is part of the job. Other, arguably, more important parts include using the findings of one's research to develop arguments that advance historiographical debates.

MOO/IME the constellation of motivation factors that drive one towards the study of history as a graduate student shift over time. If viewing the craft as a hobby works for one person, then it works. (How one talks about history is a different issue.)

FWIW, one of the most acclaimed naval historians is a self-trained independent scholar. Had the Cold War not ended when it did, his first book might have impacted everyday life in America and changed the trajectory of America's relations with the Soviet Union.

FWIW pt 2, I was sandbagged by an elderly woman who had recently been hired as a professor at a major department. Why would anyone want to study naval history, she sneered more than once. I later found out that her husband was a nautical engineer for General Dynamics Electric Boat. Much much later, I figured out what articles in William and Mary Quarterly she could have pointed me towards, but chose not to. Not bitter, though.

Not bitter.

No, right. The point is that isms exist in the Ivory Tower but don't let your preconceived notions or even your bad experiences keep you from going after what you want. If you can contribute to the craft, someone will make room for you at the table. (Getting a job remains a different topic.)

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12 hours ago, Eve Nicholson said:

Not having chosen a career in academia, if you have the mind (and the money- you are not even taking from someone else) to study, there should be no barrier.

I understand the frustration, but the barriers exist (in some, not all programs) because most reputable PhD programs (especially in the US) are designed to train people for careers as professors, even despite the realities of the job market and even despite nice words about alternative pathways. They pick people who they think will be best placed to become professors after the PhD, which tends to mean people under 40. What is it, specifically, that's drawing you to the PhD? Do you need it in order to carry out the research you want to carry out, and/or to write the publications you want to write? What's your research on, by the way? And where have you been applying? There's a lot of PhD knowledge on this site, and a lot of people (of various ages and backgrounds) who are frustrated by their current inability to get into a program. Maybe someone can offer some specific advice about good programs or pathways for your specific interests. 

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On 2/6/2019 at 7:05 AM, Eve Nicholson said:

We do not regard it as a hobby.

There is direct evidence to the contrary within this very thread, if you read up. That's not to say you do, but it's a question you're going to have to answer on an application, and I don't think it's unfair. 

FWIW Brown has been perfectly happy to take many PhD students over 40 into its cohorts.

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I've seen many of the users represented here lament the overproduction of history PhDs and the state of the history job market, not to mention shepherd hopefuls towards reconsidering their PhD ambitions, so I'm curious at the viciousness with which you receive someone who has admitted that the PhD would be a hobby. Isn't it good that they've already decided not to compete for increasingly rare TT positions with the rest of y'all? Isn't it good that they'd be taking up the chair of a young person who will spend 10 years on this "career" only to be cheated out of it by the job market?

Why decry the myopic attitude of history departments to alt-ac opportunities and the recruitment of fruitless strivers on one hand, and engage in this self-defeatist gatekeeping on the other? Statistically,the majority of history PhDs are doing the PhD as a very long and stressful hobby until they are forced to leave academia and get a job that only uses their PhD training in a very perverted sense of "use". How are the majority of the posters on this forum different from this hobbyist? In that you don't admit to yourselves that your chance of getting TT is miniscule and that you're going to treat the PhD as a consumption good from the outset? 

Why not admit people who see the PhD as a retirement project? Nothing says they can't produce compelling research, and they might actually be useful to the department in the form of cheap TA labor that then don't grow bitter when they can't get any practical benefits out of it. That's probably the only kind of PhD admit that in this climate could be called ethical. Sure, it's not prestigious or whatever for the department - but what's your incentive to protect bullshit exploitative academic practices? 

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I absolutely agree with this. If I, as a (relatively?) young grad student in my mid-20s is doing a PhD purely for passion, then someone who is as equally passionate as I am who is in his or her “later years” (whatever that is) should also be given that opportunity. While grad school is like a job, it doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun endeavor. I wouldn’t take that away from someone who truly wants to do it either as a hobby or just post-retirement education.

Edited by Procopius

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3 hours ago, ExponentialDecay said:

Isn't it good that they've already decided not to compete for increasingly rare TT positions with the rest of y'all?

That's not the only resource there is to compete over. I don't know about you, but my school has plenty of competitive internal funding opportunities, for example.

But I would also simply ask you how you would feel to work with someone with Kiskadee's attitude in your cohort. I would find it incredibly grating. If you want to postpone dementia, do some suduko.

 

1 hour ago, Procopius said:

f I, as a (relatively?) young grad student in my mid-20s is doing a PhD purely for passion, then someone who is as equally passionate as I am who is in his or her “later years” (whatever that is) should also be given that opportunity.

I don't think it's a good idea for either hypothetical person to do a PhD. 

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That's not the only resource there is to compete over. I don't know about you, but my school has plenty of competitive internal funding opportunities, for example.

You're not arguing that a hobbyist shouldn't be admitted at all. You're arguing that a hobbyist shouldn't be admitted over a candidate who would see the PhD as a job. Do you think that a candidate who sees the PhD as a job is going to be easier competition for your internal funding or whatever else than a hobbyist?

But I would also simply ask you how you would feel to work with someone with Kiskadee's attitude in your cohort.

I.. wouldn't care? As long as the person knows what they're doing and is easy to work with, I don't care what their motivation is. That's their private business. And like I said, I see no reason why the quality of scholarship should be impacted by lack of desire to turn scholarship into a paid job. There's certainly more than enough examples of terrible scholars who want a job in academia.

I think this is sour grapes. Like, if you're not fully committed to battling against impossible odds in obtaining TT, you can't sit with us. Your attitude is functionally no different to the attitude of some quasi-emeritus who looks down on people for having an alt-ac plan B. And your attitude is your private business, except I don't understand why you align yourself with a view that is expressly counter to stated beliefs and even interests. If you are a "serious scholar", more people getting your degree for fun is better for you in every possible way. These people represent a more (or should I say, de facto) sustainable source of demand for the training that you want to be paid for to provide, yet they at the same time are not part of your competition for those professional positions. The age of people getting generic humanities degrees to be more employable is over - so I think catering to people who get your degree for personal growth purposes only is in your field's future. And moreover, perhaps they'll be able to inject perspectives into the profession that people who are desperate for history jobs are disinclined to express even if they hold them. It may be uncomfortable to view your field as something people enter for fun, but why the hell not?

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14 minutes ago, ExponentialDecay said:

You're arguing that a hobbyist shouldn't be admitted over a candidate who would see the PhD as a job.

Actually, you'll find I'm saying that they won't, and that such an attitude will have a negative impact on their application.

16 minutes ago, ExponentialDecay said:

As long as the person knows what they're doing and is easy to work with, I don't care what their motivation is.

Begging the question. 

15 minutes ago, ExponentialDecay said:

There's certainly more than enough examples of terrible scholars who want a job in academia.

Don't think it's good advice to tell them to get PhDs either.

17 minutes ago, ExponentialDecay said:

Like, if you're not fully committed to battling against impossible odds in obtaining TT, you can't sit with us. 

And reduction to the absurd. 

19 minutes ago, ExponentialDecay said:

If you are a "serious scholar", more people getting your degree for fun is better for you in every possible way.

Because reasons?

19 minutes ago, ExponentialDecay said:

These people represent a more (or should I say, de facto) sustainable source of demand for the training that you want to be paid for to provide

Is that what I want to be paid for? I don't think it is.

20 minutes ago, ExponentialDecay said:

so I think catering to people who get your degree for personal growth purposes only is in your field's future.

And I thought I was a pessimist.

 

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23 hours ago, telkanuru said:

I don't think it's a good idea for either hypothetical person to do a PhD. 

Damn it telkanuru I can’t disagree nor agree with you at the same time.

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Hmmn, the PhD program I ways accepted to was highly selective and one of a very few in the entire US, and I was in my early 50s when I was accepted. They certainly knew I was not going to pursue a traditionally accepted teaching/academic path when they accepted me....

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On 2/7/2019 at 12:49 AM, OHSP said:

I understand the frustration, but the barriers exist (in some, not all programs) because most reputable PhD programs (especially in the US) are designed to train people for careers as professors, even despite the realities of the job market and even despite nice words about alternative pathways. They pick people who they think will be best placed to become professors after the PhD, which tends to mean people under 40. What is it, specifically, that's drawing you to the PhD? Do you need it in order to carry out the research you want to carry out, and/or to write the publications you want to write? What's your research on, by the way? And where have you been applying? There's a lot of PhD knowledge on this site, and a lot of people (of various ages and backgrounds) who are frustrated by their current inability to get into a program. Maybe someone can offer some specific advice about good programs or pathways for your specific interests. 

Thank you for taking the trouble to write some advice. Very kind.

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On 2/7/2019 at 12:27 AM, Sigaba said:

Good research is part of the job. Other, arguably, more important parts include using the findings of one's research to develop arguments that advance historiographical debates.

MOO/IME the constellation of motivation factors that drive one towards the study of history as a graduate student shift over time. If viewing the craft as a hobby works for one person, then it works. (How one talks about history is a different issue.)

FWIW, one of the most acclaimed naval historians is a self-trained independent scholar. Had the Cold War not ended when it did, his first book might have impacted everyday life in America and changed the trajectory of America's relations with the Soviet Union.

FWIW pt 2, I was sandbagged by an elderly woman who had recently been hired as a professor at a major department. Why would anyone want to study naval history, she sneered more than once. I later found out that her husband was a nautical engineer for General Dynamics Electric Boat. Much much later, I figured out what articles in William and Mary Quarterly she could have pointed me towards, but chose not to. Not bitter, though.

Not bitter.

No, right. The point is that isms exist in the Ivory Tower but don't let your preconceived notions or even your bad experiences keep you from going after what you want. If you can contribute to the craft, someone will make room for you at the table. (Getting a job remains a different topic.)

I have just put together a proposal for a specialised topic, an interdisciplinary between philosophy /theology/history. on the Impact on the devout pilgrim of  medieval pilgrimage- with reference to Aristotle Aquinas and others.I am looking at tranformational emotions and conversion of soul. Perhaps it bores people, but I would welcome guidance in some areas. But Sigaba, thank you for your advice and encouragement. Very kind of you to reply. 

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