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How old is too old to go for PhD?

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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby nadia » Wed Oct 26, 2005 1:24 am

I was 32 and married with 1 child when I started my PhD. Half way into my first year I became pregnant with my second child, my advisor kicked me out and gave my a minimal pass for term. I found a new advisor who was supportive of my pregnancy, he even advice not to take leave of absence during my maternity leave but instead continued my spipend. One month after coming back from maternity leave (2month) I started preparing for Qualifying exams which I took after 3 months (wrote a proposal and defended it). I FAILED (I husband of the first advisor was on my examination committee.) On the day of the exam they say I can re-take in 6 months. One week later they met and decided to dismiss me (my first advisor was on this committee. While I was preparing for QExam my advisor $16M grant was denied and the project I was interested was no longer viable, my advisor did not attend my exam and was not going to support me if i was given a chance to re-take.
Instead he told me I was too old to do this. I was devastated for all these people gave me many compliments during journal clubs and seminars on how I thought like a scientist already because I participated well and always asked very insightful questions etc. science is my passion. am i really too old to pursue this? what is the age of the oldest personin grad school?

nadia
 

How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby P.C. » Wed Oct 26, 2005 4:08 am

It is politically incorrect to comment about peoples age and their career potential. If you could verify that your boss told you directly that you were too old you might have the makings of a grivience complaint with the institution. But I would not want to make it the basis of continuing study at that place, only as a means of payback.
Something about your story suggests something may not be fair, there should be clear written rules about how to handle retaking the qualifying exam.
You need to review what you have in writing about the the nature of your appointment, and what the written rules are in your department comcerning the support of students and the examination process.
The decision to pass or fail on the basis of a proposal has always seemed to me very subjective, and potentially fraught with abuse, as implied in your post (Personally they passed me based on a proposal, and the grading seemed mysterious).
In the institution I got a PhD , I was told repeatedly that whether you passed or failed all depended on the decision of your advisor... not necessarily fair but that is how it works out in these byzantine institutions.
You may or may not be being discriminated against on the basis of your age, but be advised that age descrimination does happen in academia and industry and that it is said that that is a negative factor in predicting your competativeness and that science is very very competative, depending on your field of study, which you did not specify.

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Oct 26, 2005 9:03 am

From your description it looks like you have two possible areas of complaint if you wanted to pursue them - age discrimination and gender discrimination based on your pregnancy. The problem is that either could lead to a Pyhric (sp?) victory if you choose to pursue them.

Does your university have an ombudsman office? You might want to talk to someone there to see what avenues you have available to you. Also, be sure to save and document everything.

As for the question in the subject line, as far as I'm concerned one is never too old. I was ~38 when I finished my doctorate, and there were at least two people in the program older than I was.

Unfortunately you'll probably have to go elsewhere to get a fair shake.
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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby Kelly » Wed Oct 26, 2005 9:24 am

One is never too old for anything except maybe Olympic-level ice skating and gymnastics.

There is however a lot of muddy water under this bridge. You could fight it but why? You have relatively little time invested here. I would suggest a new program. Is this fair? Nope but isn't it better to find a place where you are valued and treated well so that you can get on with your education? Why beat your head against this wall?

Reasons to go:

1. Exams in graduate school are very subjective (which is contradictory to the ability to look at data objectively which these folks are supposed to be teaching us). Nonetheless, they say you failed. You can spend a lot of time hand waving and speculating but I doubt you will be successful in refutting the fail and if there are hard feelings you likely won;t pass the next time either (a lot of graduate school reminds me of running for homecoming queen/king).

2. The grant didn't get funded (things are really bad out there and are going to get worse before they get better; for those on the job market; get a start-up package that will carry you through 3 revisions of NIH grants). The project is gone. I think your advisor maybe be doing a little face saving (e.g., you're gone because the grant didn't get funded not because of #1).

Any how, this is not worth your time and emotional energy. Find another program, pronto.
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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby nadia » Wed Oct 26, 2005 10:08 am

Thanks all for your advice. I totally agree with all of you.

I withdrew from the program for many of the same reasons you guys suggested. Now it is time of me to decide whether I want to pursue this elsewhere and how should I proceed.

I want to pursue this! when I try to imagine a life without science it feel like imprisonment...no kidding! This is my only passion. I am a terribly shy person in real life but in science (immunology) I am very outgoing and confident.

How do I proceed? The pass will come up. Do I tell the dirty story? What about letter of reference, I would need one from the director and mentor from previous program right? I have to mend bridges in order to proceed. Please advice on how to proceed.
nadia
 

How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby Kelly » Wed Oct 26, 2005 11:51 am

There is no sense airing the dirty linen as a trainee. You look like a whiner and other people (faculty) have more credibility anyway.

I would indicate:

1. you had a baby
2. your advisor didn't his grant.
3. emphasize what you did and what you would do differently next time around.
If they want to investigate, let them. Then you respond. Don't look for trouble or raise red flags for yourself. There are enough people who might do that anyway. But let them start it; don't you.

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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby John » Wed Oct 26, 2005 2:04 pm

Nadia,

While your situation is a difficult one, you can and should recover from it. However, before you can succeed in your next role, you need to stop blaming others for YOUR shortcomings. In your post you passed blame on everyone except yourself. You need to ask yourself some important questions in the upcoming days, weeks, months: Why did I fail? Why did I get kicked out of my first lab? Why did my second advisor let me go? Trust me: the answers to these questions are not going to always be: "It is somebody else's fault that this happened to me". Take some time. Reflect on how you can be a better student and make the appropriate changes. Hopefully next time your experience will be better for you and everyone around you.

John
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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby Emil Chuck » Wed Oct 26, 2005 6:56 pm

I don't know about an ombudsman at your university... but you should at least be sure to tell your graduate dean about what happened. Otherwise, with regards to your life, it's not too old to go get your degree as long as you know what you want to do with it.
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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby Bill L. & Naledi S. » Wed Oct 26, 2005 7:39 pm

Hi Nadia,

The short answer is no - your ability to complete a PhD is not influenced by being in your 30s. In terms of the degree - the relevant factors are ability, support and desire. To imply that you are too old, at least in the U.S., is age discrimination.

While you do seem to have the desire and capacity, you do not have the support. Without it, you will fail. As such, I agree with everyone who has posted here who suggested that you search out resources on campus and in the scientific community to guide and support you as you pursue your degree and take the next step in your career. Perhaps that's the ombudsperson, employee assistance counselor, your chair, a faculty person on your campus (or another), a professional in your area of study, other non-traditional age students, female students with families, a career counselor, etc. Perhaps it should be several people, who can give you a perspective and advice with more knowledge about you and your situation (than we on the forum have).

While we can tell you that you aren't too old to finish your degree, it almost sounds like you're asking the wrong question. Because regardless of the answer (yes, or no), it won't get you out of the predicament you are in. Perhaps it would help to ask those questions: How did I get into this predicament? What do I need (to do, to have in terms of support, information, focus, etc.) to get out of the predicament I'm in?

Good luck,

Bill L. & Naledi S.










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How old is too old to go for PhD?

Postby nadia » Thu Oct 27, 2005 3:05 pm

Thank you all very much for your advice.
nadia
 


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