Jump to content
Lily9

Being (possibly) younger than peers

Recommended Posts

Hi! So I'm debating whether to apply for grad school now or take a gap year and apply next summer. There's a lot of factors (choosing a topic, simply wanting a break to recharge since I've been doing college since I was 16, etc) going into this decision other than the question I'm asking. I'll be deciding when I get home from studying abroad in a couple weeks.  I'm graduating a year earlier (not because I'm particularly brilliant or anything, just because WA state pays for high schoolers to take community college classes). Does anyone else have experience being one of the younger members of a cohort?

Thanks!

Edited by Lily9

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Speaking not from personal experiences. 

As a non-modernist, my only interest in the modern era is on the history of historians. I have looked at the biographical history of hundred professors and I would say that if you could get tenured by 40 and full professorship by 50, you would be one of the most successful/youngest historians in the department. That leads to 33/34 for entering a TT job and minus a few years of post doc and visiting professorship, 31 would be a fairly young age for PhD conferrel and 25/26 for starting your PhD. Since you are only 19(?), you will be way ahead of your peers even if you take a few gap years. 

I have a feeling that youngness is not particularly welcomed in PhD admission as well as in academia. And many male professors intentionally keep their beards to appear older and perhaps more "trustable." LOL  

Unlike sciencists and mathematicians (and perhaps social scientists) who can be born genius, humanities scholars need a lot of time to mature and ferment. Yes, life experiences matter.

That being said, however, the renowned 20th century medievalist Charles Homer Haskins got his PhD at 19 years old. East European historian Timothy Snyder got his at 26 and published the first book at 28. And Jewish historian Michael Brenner became a full professor at 33. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm about to start my third year, and I'm 22. when I applied to programs, I was 19; when I actually started, I was 20. it's a very personal thing. honestly, what's more important than age is maturity, and the two don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. if you think you can handle the workload and the stress, you have questions to ask and a project in mind, and you want to do it, don't let your age stop you— it's a number, you know? 

that said you can read a lot into age, far more than you need to. I know people who are young and they get very precious about being the quote-unquote "cohort baby," but it's honestly pretty pointless. older students have an edge on you at first because they've read more and can talk the lingo, but you'll pick that up pretty quickly, and at the end of the day, it's your work that matters. a poorly written paper is a poorly written paper regardless if you're 22 or 32. the thing is that you go to class and get to work and do your best. don't put your name on something you're not proud of, don't turn in crappy work and justify it as "good for a 22 year old," don't assume everyone older than you is automatically smarter than you, and don't let your whole grad school identity coalesce around how old you are, because really it doesn't matter unless you make it matter. 

I'd ask yourself a couple things: am I, personally, mature enough to cope with all the demands of a PhD program? do I know how to study? (so many grad students, of all ages, actually have no idea how to study.) do I know how to handle stressful workloads and juggle deadlines? am I confident enough in my writing to be able to produce a lot of it, on a deadline? how far away am I willing to go for grad school, and do I have a good support network? etc. these things are all far more important than your age.

Edited by gsc

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, gsc said:

what's more important than age is maturity, and the two don't necessarily go hand-in-hand

Yes, this is the key.

But really, there's no reason to rush. Take some time - figure out if you want to do something else.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, gsc said:

what's more important than age is maturity, and the two don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.

I'm so glad someone young said this. This is it. Intellectual and emotional maturity are the key, not age. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, Averroes MD said:

I'm on the other end of the spectrum. Who cares? Just do good work and silence any critics that way.

If you treat academia as a meritocracy, you will end up hurt and disappointed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

If you treat academia as a meritocracy, you will end up hurt and disappointed.

I understand what you are saying, and it's a good point. But you can only control certain factors. Age is a difficult one. Maybe easier on the younger end to titrate, but harder on the other side. It seems a little much to me to use this solitary reason to decide when to apply. If the OP wants to do something else in a gap year, then that's different. 

EDIT: Shrug, maybe I'm wrong. I don't have strong feelings on this. 

Edited by Averroes MD

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of my very good friends had a fair bit of anxiety of being the "cohort"/"department baby".  She came into the PhD program barely 21 but she was exceptionally mature, hard-working, and engaging.  However, this presence did slight some of our peers who started between 23-26 and did not share these qualities.  I empathized.

She left the program after 2 1/2 years and a MA.  She took a deeper look within herself and realized that she was unhappy.  She had trouble forming strong support network (see above) and being treated seriously as a peer despite working for the university-wide graduate student organization.  She also got tired of "bringing work home" and not having a clear 9-5 schedule.  At the end, she realized that she wanted to get more out of her system and enjoy more of her twenties and did not have the grit to stay in academia/history PhD program.  She also had goals bigger than the PhD itself.

Know that hard work and grit look similar on the surface but are two different things.  Age should not matter but be prepared to be judged and find supportive network immediately.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks all! This has given me some good food for thought :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Lily, 

Everyone has given you good responses. I stumbled across your post and would really like to add on my own experience of being younger than my peers. Most PhD students in my country start in their late 20s or early 30s, but I started when I was 23. My country allows students with a bachelor hon degree with class 2.1 or above to go straight into a PhD program, as long as their English levels meet the standard. I got a first class hon and was admitted to a PhD program. I am 26 and close to finishing now. I was thinking the same as you that whether I would be disadvantaged because of my young age. It seems like the PhD students older than me are learning new experiment skills way quicker than me and they handle stress way better than me. It turned out that although I appear to be a slow learner, I actually produced very good experimental data that might be published in Nature/Cell-like journals. According to my supervisors, many of their students produced good work too but were not chosen for an oral presentation in conferences, but I was chosen for one even if I did not ask for (I don't mean to show off here). That conference required presenters to put in date of birth and obviously age was not a matter when they selected oral presentations. I am yet to find out whether other older PhD students handle stress better than me (see my other posts). From what I know, one of the PhD students who is 10 years older than me appeared to be as stressful as me when she wrote her thesis. I don't feel that I am being treated differently because of my age. Of course, I feel a bit missed out because they are all talking about partners, family and kids when I am still single. 

Nevertheless, speaking from my own experience, I would highly recommend that you go ahead with a PhD if that is what you want. Doing a PhD requires a lot of time and effort. You are more likely to be distracted by family commitments (esp. kids) later on in your life, so it is actually good that you get out of it earlier in your life!

I hope this helps you. 

Edited by Hope.for.the.best

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.