17

I am interested in a Ph.D. in Robotics (possibly in the UK). But I have been working as a run-of-the-mill software engineer in the industry for the last 5 years. Browsing this forum, I am seeing people express widely varying opinions on how industry experience is viewed in academia.

As a part of my job, I wasn't required to read or implement any research papers. But I did gain substantial software engineering experience. I have been literally writing c++ code for the last 5 years more or less. Right now I am actually in a firmware development role. Robotics is all C++ development if I am not wrong.

But I haven't taken any classes in the 5 years nor did I have to take any exams. I am 30 years old exactly. Did I age out for a Ph.D. program?

Also on the flipside, will I be viewed more favorably than a similar applicant as myself but without the industry experience?

2
  • 4
    There are several answers here now; before writing your answer in a comment, consider reading those and upvoting the ones that are useful. If you don't find your answer written yet, write it there instead of here!
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 23, 2021 at 15:46
  • Perhaps avoid describing yourself as "run-of-the-mill" to a prospective PhD supervisor ;-)
    – Stef
    Dec 25, 2021 at 14:25

6 Answers 6

29

It is a mistake to try to second-guess things which you do not know about and over which you have no control ("How will they regard me? Will they think that? Will they think this? Am I too old? Am I too young? Will I be competing against a dozen other people who may not even exist?"). None of this speculation will help you to a decision.

If you want to do a PhD, try for it and present your experience as an asset. The best way to find out is to just go for it. If you have specific questions (for example, funding, support programmes, mentoring arrangements, supervision details, assessment criteria, and so forth) then raise them as opportunity arises during the application process.

0
20

If you are motivated and passionate about the topic of your PhD you should go for it! You are never too old for a PhD. I finished my MSc in 2007, worked in industry for 14 years and decided to go back to school to do a PhD. I am now about to graduate and I am 39 yo. I found that my experience in industry made a big difference on how I approached my research during my PhD.

Similar to you, I had not taken classes/exams in a long time, and I was a bit rusty. So it certainly took a bit of time and effort to get back to it. But since the topic was something I was passionate about, it didn't seem too painful. And I certainly learned a lot!

If you have already a supervisor in mind for your PhD, I would recommend to meet with her/him before you apply. She/he will very likely provide precious advice and gauge how your background fits in the PhD program. I've met with 3 potential supervisors (in 3 different departments) before I applied for my PhD. It helped me find out which department was the best fit for me.

11

Go for it! Industry experience greatly helped me during my biology/physics PhD (which I started at age 27). My peers were spending time during their PhD learning how to code, and I already had lots of experience. This allowed me to focus more on the science story I was trying to research, rather than on overcoming hurtles necessary for starting to tell that science story.

9

A couple of examples regarding age:

Pierre Bézier (of Bézier curves fame) got his Ph.D. when he was in his sixties.

I myself am 71, and I'm thinking of getting a Ph.D. People often assume that I have one, and I'm tired of explaining that I don't. Plus, it might be fun. My memory and learning ability have declined with age, but 40 years of industrial experience have given me a lot of breadth and perspective. If I find that some institutions don't value my industrial experience, or think I'm too old, I'll just go elsewhere. I'm confident that I can succeed, and you should be even more confident.

Lots of other stories about old folks getting doctorates here.

At many US universities, age discrimination would be illegal (though it might be pretty hard to prove).

4

You're right that there's widely diverging opinions on this. I take the view that ex-industry people are valuable in academia, and I see the industry experience as a big positive, depending on what you compare it to. Your industry experience will probably give you some ideas for research directions and it also means that you have some strong existing skills. Obviously if you want to go into academia you are going to have to upskill on research skills like literature review, writing papers, etc., but that is not an insurmountable obstacle. Your age is not especially advanced to start a PhD program, so that is not an issue.

3

You will likely be viewed as more mature by admissions committees. This is a plus. You understand why you want the degree.

I'm not sure it would be viewed this way if you had, say, 20 years of industry experience.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .