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Hi everyone,

I’m new to grad cafe but have read a few posts by people asking about their chances of getting into certain PhD programs. In my case the problem is that’s I’m a bit older than most candidates (38 in October 2018) and was wondering whether I should even try applying.

Undergrad GPA: 3.3ish (still waiting for my credential evaluation from Spanish undergrad, a bit low but was working full-time)

Grad GPA: 3.92 (APUS, Honors, while working full-time)

Taking GRE next month.

Personal background: currently editorial consultant at multilateral institution in Southeast Asia, former news correspondent, 13 years in journalism/comms mainly in Asia

Applying to:

  • University of Virginia
  • Rutgers
  • Penn State
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • SUNY Binghamton
  • Umass

My research interest is how China’s rise will affect the geopolitics of Asia, so kinda straddling IR & comparative. What do you think?

Thanks!


P.S. I hope to get my green card in November so I’ll be applying as a US permanent resident.

Edited by csantamir
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To build on the above comment:

I asked one of my professors about entering a program after taking time off school (it'll be 2.5 years for me, so not as extreme as your case (but the work I'm doing is not at all relevant to political science or anything like that)) and she said they don't care at all. As a caveat, she did mention that attrition rates aren't high for older grad students because they tend to have more responsibilities (kids, wife, etc) and can't make the appropriate time commitment even if the student has the skills. She said they have admitted several 40+ year olds (top 20 program). So if you think you'll be able to manage the time commitment you should be fine.

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10 hours ago, avflinsch said:

For admission to the program, age should not matter. In fact, you could swing it to your advantage by mentioning how your professional experience relates to the program that your applying to.

Thank you for your comment. I do think my professional experience applies to my future research. I learned a lot about the geopolitics of Asia (Southeast Asia in particular) from my former job as a news correspondent in the region. I’ll try to play that up in the POS.

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9 hours ago, not@prof_yet said:

As a caveat, she did mention that attrition rates aren't high for older grad students because they tend to have more responsibilities (kids, wife, etc) and can't make the appropriate time commitment even if the student has the skills. She said they have admitted several 40+ year olds (top 20 program). So if you think you'll be able to manage the time commitment you should be fine.

Thank you for your comment. In my case my wife is pretty independent and she travels a lot for work so that should be fine. We don’t have kids. Should I mention that in my POS? I can demonstrate commitment by showing that I was able to finish my online MA and graduated with honors in less than 18 months while working full-time. Cheers

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The issue with older applicants isn't gaining admission - which is very possible if you are competitive against other applicants - but the backend, the job market. You will be somewhere around your mid 40s by the time you hit the academic market, which is risky for universities. Universities that put out TT lines are looking for an investment of  at the very least 20-30 years (especially R2 type places, which by the looks of the programs you are applying to, is the market you would be focusing on). It's harder to justify that in your mid 40s when the market is as competitive as it is and they can just take someone just as qualified/more qualified but younger.

There is a significant chance you could spend 5-6-7 years getting your doctorate and not have anything to show for it by the end of it. Whether you want to take that risk is up to you. But I would think long and hard about it.

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14 hours ago, csantamir said:

Thank you for your comment. In my case my wife is pretty independent and she travels a lot for work so that should be fine. We don’t have kids. Should I mention that in my POS? I can demonstrate commitment by showing that I was able to finish my online MA and graduated with honors in less than 18 months while working full-time. Cheers

Don't go into too much detail on your personal life in your POS, unless it directly relates to your area of research. The admission's committee is going to assume that you're willing to put the time and work in if you're a 38 year-old professional applying to grad school; don't give them any reason to second-guess that assumption. Focus your POS on the kind of work you plan to do as a member of the department. ;)

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On ‎6‎/‎19‎/‎2017 at 0:48 AM, csantamir said:

I’m new to grad cafe but have read a few posts by people asking about their chances of getting into certain PhD programs. In my case the problem is that’s I’m a bit older than most candidates (38 in October 2018) and was wondering whether I should even try applying.

I'm older also and have been accepted into a Ph.D. program beginning in the fall. I applied to 9 programs: accepted at 2; waitlisted at 2; rejected at 5. I used my age and work experience as a plus of showing how commitment in the workplace can translate into a student who is focused and knows what she wants to accomplish. Understanding the difficulties of what the job market holds for the academic is a risk factor you must calculate. Only 1:7 get a tenure offer job. There are jobs out there though in smaller state universities that many won't even consider. I saw lateral moves by professors, certainly over the age of 40, at my master's institute and know they are available. Good luck!

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One thing to think about, which probably won't hurt you in the least.  

Departments do like to know that their graduates will get jobs, and there are some fields where anything but tenure-track academia is still considered a poor second choice. While age discrimination is generally illegal, admissions committees in those areas might  therefore feel a little warmer toward youngsters who will bite the ass off a bear now and be an attractive candidate for 40 years of academic service afterward.  

That problem is almost certainly less relevant to you, since there are plausible applications for your work in government, NGOs, lobbying, consulting of all kinds, journalism, etc.  In those occupations, you will be even more attractive with your experience in addition to your state-of-the-art academic work.

Edited by Concordia
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2 hours ago, Concordia said:

That problem is almost certainly less relevant to you, since there are plausible applications for your work in government, NGOs, lobbying, consulting of all kinds, journalism, etc.  In those occupations, you will be even more attractive with your experience in addition to your state-of-the-art academic work

This is something to absolutely consider - different fields will have different opportunities. There is a very big difference between what can be done after a PhD in the hard/soft sciences and the pure humanities.  In the case of the original poster, finishing in your early 40's would put you on the borderline for a purely academic position (like it or not age discrimination is a very real thing).

In my case, starting a PhD at 55, I know that there is almost no possibility of a tenure track position when I complete it. This is something that I specifically pointed out in my personal statement and interviews, and balanced it by stating how my years of professional experience would be beneficial to the overall program.

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On 6/19/2017 at 1:48 AM, csantamir said:

Rutgers

I just noticed this -

My daughter is in one of the Political Science Master's programs at RU, I finished my undergrad there, did my master's there and am starting the PhD in the fall (all occurred after age 50). There is a pretty good sized population of us older folks here at all levels.

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22 hours ago, Comparativist said:

There is a significant chance you could spend 5-6-7 years getting your doctorate and not have anything to show for it by the end of it. Whether you want to take that risk is up to you. But I would think long and hard about it.

Thank you for the feedback. It would be great to get TT but that’s not what I’m aiming for. I’m fine with any job that’s related to the discipline, whether it’s in academe, think tank or whatever is out there. I’ve been struggling for several years in a relatively lucrative job I don’t give two shits about, and willing to quit it if I get into any program. Bottom line, I’m quite flexible of what I’m willing to do after I graduate as long as it’s in the general field of PolSci/IR.

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18 hours ago, avflinsch said:

This is something to absolutely consider - different fields will have different opportunities. There is a very big difference between what can be done after a PhD in the hard/soft sciences and the pure humanities.  In the case of the original poster, finishing in your early 40's would put you on the borderline for a purely academic position (like it or not age discrimination is a very real thing).

In my case, starting a PhD at 55, I know that there is almost no possibility of a tenure track position when I complete it. This is something that I specifically pointed out in my personal statement and interviews, and balanced it by stating how my years of professional experience would be beneficial to the overall program.

Thank you for the feedback. I’m fully aware of age discrimination for TT, but don’t mind being contractual for a few years and see where it goes. How did you express that you didn’t care about TT in your POS? The message that I want to convey is that as a former journalist, I can hopefully straddle both fields and through my writing make my research more accessible outside of the purely academic world.

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18 hours ago, avflinsch said:

I just noticed this -

My daughter is in one of the Political Science Master's programs at RU, I finished my undergrad there, did my master's there and am starting the PhD in the fall (all occurred after age 50). There is a pretty good sized population of us older folks here at all levels.

Nice! So did you both have a good experience? Rutgers is my top pick along with UVA. I would like to get Simon Reich as my advisor to research China’s geopolitical grand strategy.

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56 minutes ago, csantamir said:

Thank you for the feedback. I’m fully aware of age discrimination for TT, but don’t mind being contractual for a few years and see where it goes. How did you express that you didn’t care about TT in your POS? The message that I want to convey is that as a former journalist, I can hopefully straddle both fields and through my writing make my research more accessible outside of the purely academic world.

For the personal statement, I basically said that since I would have 21 years at Rutgers as an employee when I finish the PhD and would like to remain as an employee for a few more years after that (in order to get the retirement benefits), but would be looking at something afterwards - possibly a contract at another school for something to do after retirement.

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59 minutes ago, csantamir said:

Nice! So did you both have a good experience? Rutgers is my top pick along with UVA. I would like to get Simon Reich as my advisor to research China’s geopolitical grand strategy.

We both had good experiences there. For me it was both as an employee (good place to work, but the pay sucks compared to what I was getting in private industry), and as a student. I am not all that familiar with the Political Science department, I do know that my daughter has Eric Davis as an advisor, in the United Nations concentration.

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  • 1 month later...

Your age shouldn't matter to an admissions committee. Your interesting work experience and background will probably be looked favorably! When you're writing your personal statement, you'll hopefully have a "cool factor" that will set you apart from other candidates.

Good luck!

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12 hours ago, polsgoals said:

Your age shouldn't matter to an admissions committee. Your interesting work experience and background will probably be looked favorably! When you're writing your personal statement, you'll hopefully have a "cool factor" that will set you apart from other candidates.

Good luck!

Thanks a lot, this is very encouraging. What do you think my “cool factor” could be? I was hoping to mention what I learned about how diplomacy really works from the whole political process of the Philippines taking China to court over the South China Sea in an off-the-record briefing with diplomats when I was covering that beat as a journalist.

 

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2 hours ago, csantamir said:

Thanks a lot, this is very encouraging. What do you think my “cool factor” could be? I was hoping to mention what I learned about how diplomacy really works from the whole political process of the Philippines taking China to court over the South China Sea in an off-the-record briefing with diplomats when I was covering that beat as a journalist.

 

See if you can publish some of your work in the Monkey Cage. It could be a good barometer to see if political scientists are interested in your work as well. They straddle political science and policy.

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11 hours ago, csantamir said:

Thanks a lot, this is very encouraging. What do you think my “cool factor” could be? I was hoping to mention what I learned about how diplomacy really works from the whole political process of the Philippines taking China to court over the South China Sea in an off-the-record briefing with diplomats when I was covering that beat as a journalist

This definitely seems like a good place to start.

Let me first be totally forthright by saying, I am not an IR/comparative/China person, so my technical knowledge is limited. But, with that being said, consider talking about what you learned (first hand) as a journalist/from the off-the-record briefing with diplomats and how it informed your opinion/position on:

  • How your experience highlights/confirms China's intention to stop hiding its capabilities/biding its time? 
  • How your experience informs your perception of the the effects of economic incentives and sanctions with small but incrementally meaningful military pressures and if the formation of the coalition of neighboring states has proved ineffective? Why is this important?
  • Do you perceive China's tactics as being successful? Or does your experience indicate China's structural/resource/other weaknesses will serve as a barrier to regional control? 

Basically, my suggestion would be to paint a vivid picture of your experience and use that to pose your research goals/question

Best of luck!

 

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On 6/21/2017 at 10:11 PM, cowgirlsdontcry said:

I'm older also and have been accepted into a Ph.D. program beginning in the fall. I applied to 9 programs: accepted at 2; waitlisted at 2; rejected at 5. I used my age and work experience as a plus of showing how commitment in the workplace can translate into a student who is focused and knows what she wants to accomplish. Understanding the difficulties of what the job market holds for the academic is a risk factor you must calculate. Only 1:7 get a tenure offer job. There are jobs out there though in smaller state universities that many won't even consider. I saw lateral moves by professors, certainly over the age of 40, at my master's institute and know they are available. Good luck!

Thank you for your comment. If I may ask, where were you accepted? Did you address your age in your SOP? I’m fine with a job at a smaller state university, as long as I’m interested in the subject matter. Right now I work at a big multilateral institution but I hate my job.

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15 hours ago, bubbles1 said:

See if you can publish some of your work in the Monkey Cage. It could be a good barometer to see if political scientists are interested in your work as well. They straddle political science and policy.

I'm trying to get my thesis published in a Wiley journal but will check out Monkey Cage. Thanks!

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5 hours ago, polsgoals said:

This definitely seems like a good place to start.

Let me first be totally forthright by saying, I am not an IR/comparative/China person, so my technical knowledge is limited. But, with that being said, consider talking about what you learned (first hand) as a journalist/from the off-the-record briefing with diplomats and how it informed your opinion/position on:

  • How your experience highlights/confirms China's intention to stop hiding its capabilities/biding its time? 
  • How your experience informs your perception of the the effects of economic incentives and sanctions with small but incrementally meaningful military pressures and if the formation of the coalition of neighboring states has proved ineffective? Why is this important?
  • Do you perceive China's tactics as being successful? Or does your experience indicate China's structural/resource/other weaknesses will serve as a barrier to regional control? 

Basically, my suggestion would be to paint a vivid picture of your experience and use that to pose your research goals/question

Best of luck!

 

Great feedback, thanks a lot! I can also mention how I disagreed with the diplomat who was justifying the decision to file the case because the only country that can enforce a ruling (US) has not yet ratified UNCLOS. I’ll look into all the angles you have suggested to frame that part of my SOP.

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4 hours ago, csantamir said:

Thank you for your comment. If I may ask, where were you accepted? Did you address your age in your SOP? I’m fine with a job at a smaller state university, as long as I’m interested in the subject matter. Right now I work at a big multilateral institution but I hate my job.

I did address the fact that I'm a non-traditional student by talking about having a previous career and how "life and professional experiences have given me an ability to completely focus indicating a continued commitment to a superior academic journey and the skills necessary to excel and be an asset" to the particular university. This works only if a program is interested in the diversity that an older student can bring. If they want a young student, nothing you say will change their minds. We never know what a committee wants exactly, and in that regard, it is better to be honest and pursue our own interests within the parameters of a university's program. What may be one committee's cup of tea, could be thrown out by the next program. My daughter lives in Houston and I did apply to Rice. However, their program is directed toward early American lit, and while I do research in those periods, I am not an early Americanist and they could see it in my paper. It was no surprise then, when my application was rejected, except it would have been nice to be close to my daughter. I am going to the University of Alabama and believe it is a good fit for me and for them. They have a general American program that covers the full spectrum of American periods and genres, with some Southern lit also. I am now in Tuscaloosa and begin a teaching orientation next week. UA is Alabama's flagship university and a huge university with 37,000 students. 

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