Pursuing a PhD – A doctor of Philosophy – is a terminal degree, which means it is the highest level of education one can attain in a field.
According to researchers, the demographic shift from younger to older college graduates has been underway since the early 90s. This shift has also affected the age at which people graduate from master’s and doctorate degree programs (Brazziel, 1992). In other words, starting a Ph.D. education at a mature age may become the norm instead of an exception.
Several studies have looked at how mature-age students start and complete their doctoral studies (Templeton, 2021). Others have also chronicled women of color who started their doctorate degrees after 50 (Wilson et al., 2020). It’s noteworthy that mature-age students are classified as 35 and above (Templeton, 2021). Indeed, it looks like seeking a Ph.D. after 40 years old is not uncommon.
Including your own personal motivations for pursuing a PhD, here are a few more reasons starting a Ph.D. in your 40s and 50s may be a better time to do it.
Reasons for Pursuing a PhD:
In your 40s and above, you have acquired some experiences in both life and work. Your years of lived experience give you a certain perspective of who you are and aren’t. You’ve probably been there and done a lot of that. Your work experience also gives you a particular perspective on work ethics, relationships, and hard work.
All of these come in handy when working on your Ph.D. How? You’re generally better able to read people, which helps when building relationships or choosing a Ph.D. supervisor. Your work experience also helps in managing time and projects. You are more able to read and synthesize information. You are also more able to see connections between your field of study and applications of the phenomenon in real life. Your experience might also help you articulate your ideas and write more clearly.
#2: Meaningfulness of life:
At a more mature age, one may be looking for more meaning in life. In this case, gaining more knowledge in an aspect of life, work, and business through Pursuing a PhD could help you make more sense of the phenomena in life, work, and business.
Indeed researchers argue that mature-age students seek a Ph.D. not necessarily for career advancement but for reflection(cite). In your 20s and early 30s, seeking meaningfulness may not be at the forefront of one’s mind. However, as you mature, you may begin to field questions about how you want to spend the rest of your life or retire.
These questions shift to the foreground. Gaining a Ph.D. allows one to reflect and answer some of those questions. It also paves the way for teaching, a sure way of giving to others. Teaching also lets others benefit from your knowledge and research. This is perhaps one of the reasons research and teaching are intricately intertwined.
#3: Career Decline is Unavoidable:
There is no place where career decline is more evident than in professional sports. We see this in athletes who retire as they near 35 years. It’s not as evident in other careers, probably because there are fewer requirements for physical prowess.
However, career decline can be found in many other careers. When it happens, an excellent way to channel our experience and expertise is to help others, write, and teach others what we know. Hence, pursuing a PhD is one avenue for you to hone your skills. According to Authur Brooks, career decline comes sooner than we think. So, instead of fighting it, one should move from being an innovator or a creative to teaching others what we’ve learned and how to do it.
In conclusion, your being in your 40s or 50s should not stop you from pursuing a PhD goal. On the contrary, based on some of the above reasons, a mature age seems to be a great time to start your Ph.D.
What’s your story?
- Brazziel, W. F. (1992). Older students and doctorate production. The Review of Higher Education, 15(4), 449-462.
- Templeton, R. (2021). Factors likely to sustain a mature-age student to completion of their doctorate. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 61(1), 45-62.
- Wilson, D. B., Darrell, L., & Rhodes, D. J. (2020). Autumn Divas: Women of Color Who Achieved Doctorate Degrees After Age 50. Urban Social Work.