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Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

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Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby MJH » Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:53 pm

I'm 33 and have always wanted to study Biology.

Back in 2004, I was enrolled in a Biology degree program back in the UK (Where I'm from originally), but had to drop out due to some family issues.

Life, up until now, has prevented me from getting back into the sciences. I have a wonderful wife and daughter that have given me their blessings to pursue this.

So far I've got the following sorted:

- I need to complete my GED (now living in the US) because I didn't technically complete high school.
- Have sent emails to the program heads of the courses I'm interested in (Biology BS courses)
- Been reading a whole load of journals and magazines to make sure I'm up to speed with current happenings in the science world - new Scientist, Nature, and Science to name a few...

Do I have a realistic chance of securing employment in the field upon graduation? Does the science world have any kind of ageism to overcome at all? Not that I mind a bit of hard work.

Also looking for some website references to look into scientific careers and to potentially make so good contacts?

Appreciate any thoughts, suggestions, or ideas to push me along in the right direction. Happy to provide more information on myself should that be necessary.

-MJH
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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby H.R » Sat Jul 27, 2013 2:24 pm

MJH,

You are not too old to enter science. Yes, ageism is alive and well in biopharma. Exactly what age this discrimination kicks in varies from situation to situation but is certainly not prominent if you are <40 years old.

"Do I have a realistic chance of securing employment in the field upon graduation?"

Hard question to answer without more info. If you are a PhD specializing in the molecular genetics of Drosophila and are limiting your search to the Topeka metro area, then yes, you will have a hard time finding employment. alternatively, with a B.S in biotechnology, you would have an easier time finding work in the SF metro area.

Life is too short to not pursue our dreams. Competition for employment is really tough these days in most fields, science is no exception. But with the right background you could definitely make a go at it in a thriving geographic hub. Good luck!
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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby P.C. » Sun Jul 28, 2013 9:52 am

A) To clarify what branch of biology are you contemplating???
In order to survive economically you need to state what branch of biology you claim to have a passion for. Without a clear statement of the specific branch of biology, no one at this web site can help you.

B) What level of education are you contemplating? What geographic area and job market? What is your employment history.....

C) the point is that advice to an individual on this site is almost useless without a lot more information....

D) In General; avoid Biology as a degree and a career path. Pursue it as a hobby. Biology is for suckers (unless you of course provide information on A, B, C. It is really easy to get admitted to Biology, Horticulture, Plant Sciences, Forestry, Natural Resources, Recreation, Botany, Entomology, and a plethora of other degrees that have very mediocre to poor outcomes for those they award their so-called degrees to. You might as well print your own degree and get the same leverage as most Biology B.S. degrees. Chemistry used to be good but has gone south due to real downsizing of industry. Research health care, statistics, math related degrees.

E) You do not even have a GED and we don't know your skills or potential. Get a GED and see if you can hack some community college courses for starters.

1) See if you can hack it as an undergraduate again. There are other science related paths that might have more bang for your buck in a short time like medical lab tech. (2 yr community college). And a hint on education to be more marketable: health care or chemistry or biochemistry, not biology. In short there biology programs are full of fluff courses, that do not give you marketable skills.
2) Be aware that even the best and brightest and most productive biologists generally are competing also with the best and brightest and most productive.
3) For the forseeable future the prospects of biologists will continue from bleak to abysmal. Try googling PhD glut life sciences or similar
There just is a large large cohort of students and bright people stuck in the "pipeline" of training. Length of time for graduation for the phd has gotten as long as 6 yrs with an obscenely long period of further post-doctoral "training" which absorbs a large portion of the PhD glut. Government, academia and industry are not growing substantially relative to the people in the training pool. And in the USA, if the new immigration bills open up vastly more visas for students and post-docs from other countries, then expect the competition for regular positions way down the road to be even greater, and for wages to flatten or shrink.
Last edited by P.C. on Mon Jul 29, 2013 11:02 am, edited 6 times in total.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Jul 28, 2013 2:30 pm

H.R wrote:MJH,

You are not too old to enter science. Yes, ageism is alive and well in biopharma. Exactly what age this discrimination kicks in varies from situation to situation but is certainly not prominent if you are <40 years old.

"Do I have a realistic chance of securing employment in the field upon graduation?"

Hard question to answer without more info. If you are a PhD specializing in the molecular genetics of Drosophila and are limiting your search to the Topeka metro area, then yes, you will have a hard time finding employment. alternatively, with a B.S in biotechnology, you would have an easier time finding work in the SF metro area.

Life is too short to not pursue our dreams. Competition for employment is really tough these days in most fields, science is no exception. But with the right background you could definitely make a go at it in a thriving geographic hub. Good luck!



This is the perfect answer to this question. Just the right balance of caution and optimism. Good Job H/R -- please hang in there and become a more frequent poster!

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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby Kathy F » Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:19 am

PC is absolutely right when she/he says that you should avoid a straight biology course. The skills you will need for employment are the practical ones. As HR says, do it, but go in with your eyes open.

You can change careers in your 30s, but you don't have the luxury of fiddling around for ages to get where you want to be (I know, I've done it.) You have to be focused and have a plan. Biology is endlessly fascinating and I loved the parts of my education that focused on it, but it's the critical thinking/biochem/chem/numeracy that got me a decent job.

As well as PC's (excellent) suggestions for medical/biochem routes, I would also say that biochem + maths is a sought after combination. If you have a mathematical bent, have a look at biostatistics. We are always crying out for decent bio-statisticians! What do we need them for? For building our clinical trial databases, data management, analyzing the results etc. There are so many more paths that scientists can take.

Have a think about which career you want (academic, CRO, pharma industry, sales, business development, education etc), then research the skills you need for it, and then pick your course based on that. Good luck!
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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby U.K » Mon Jul 29, 2013 9:51 am

You already got excellent advice and to re-emphasize Kathy, quantitative skills combined with computing skills are important to do well in a technical job. Biology, as we know, is changing in terms of how experiments are done and the quant + computing skills will give you flsxibility. Here is an article written by Dave Jensen, in case you have not already read it.
http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/ca ... t.a1300128

Here is an excerpt from it, which I think is very relevant.

"In the late 1980s, there was a catchphrase used by just about everyone who talked about careers. I used it liberally myself because I fully believed in its power. The catchphrase was, "Do what you love and the money will follow." The idea was around even before a book came out with that title. In career counseling circles, this was the golden advice you could offer any young person who asked for direction.

As I talked to this fellow about his son, I realized how long it has been since I actually believed—and taught—this traditional piece of career advice. It's a real antique.

Don't get me wrong: I still believe that you have to love your work, and that it is this passion for your science that will bring you job offers when you are in the position to solicit them. But to just follow—blindly—a path that you love without any serious analysis of the job market and research about your options can be a shortcut to disaster."
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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby Jim Austin » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:23 pm

Are you special or ordinary?

Often people who come to things late in life--but not too late--bring a special focus. They know what they want and they go get it. None of the games that younger, more confused folks play.

If you are exceedingly focused and really smart--which doesn't mean perfect grades first time around (although it probably should mean that now)--you can still get in. Find a rich area and target it hard. Live, breathe, sweat science.

You may not succeed all at once--there's a learning curve--but if you go in and you start to feel that it's too hard--that a comfortable (if intense) level of effort does not put you at or near the head of the class reasonably quickly, it's probably not worth your time--or your professors'. Just understand that doing OK in grad school won't get you that career in biology you always wanted. You need to be very good.

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Definitely; Hack Your Degree

Postby P.C. » Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:30 pm

You are too old to screw around.
Do some internet searching on hacking your education.
Decide what your goal is, then pick and choose the courses and work experiences you need to get there.
Do not be a passive traveler, as I or you may get extremely bad results. I thought matriculation and being part of a BS, MS. and PhD program would magically lead me to a job. The system is totally screwed up so you must take proactive acts and planning to survive.
See the current Career Magazine article on this web site... on what to expect from an advisor. My advice is that you can only expect a BS, MS or PhD Mentor or advisor to look out for themselves because the funding situation, by state or federal has gotten very bad.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby CAP » Wed Aug 21, 2013 12:51 pm

I'm a fellow late bloomer. If this is really your dream, then of course you should do it. But do not limit yourself to Ph.D. only, explore other ways of getting into science. Getting a Ph.D. is not for the faint of heart, it will cost you a lot of money and it will seem like it takes forever - but if this is truly your dream, none of this will matter.

One thing I do think you should seriously consider as an older graduate student is the financial hit you will be taking. You will lose at least 4 years of income, plus all the increase in earning potential had you worked those 4 years. Your starting salary as a post-doc will also be low and will increase very gradually. Just to illustrate my point, I was making $55k US when I quit my job and went to grad school. When I graduated 4.5 years later, I made $32k, and with NIH standards, it goes up very gradually from there.

So I would say, if money is no option, do it. I love my job and consider myself lucky every day that someone pays me to do this - and if this is right for you, you will too. But you will be making sacrifices, and you need to consider all of them and do what is best for you and your family. Best of luck!!
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Re: Am I too old to follow my dream and become a scientist?

Postby M. Chen » Wed Oct 05, 2016 2:24 pm

Hi everyone,

I'm new to this board. First, here's a little about me: I'm 31 and have a background in the social sciences (political science, human rights and most recently linguistics). I worked as a translator for several years and dabbled in journalism.

I am thinking of continuing my studies, and I have always had an interest in science, but do not an educational or professional background in science. I am very interested in ecology, biology, environmental sciences and physical anthropology. I know what I'm saying now is very broad and vague, but I am trying to figure out what is feasible for me at this point, since I am eager to switch careers.

Can anyone offer some advice? Would it be worth it at my age to start studying science in the hopes of one day having a career in this area?
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