I read on Twitter that non-traditional students (who obtain a PhD in their early forties or later) have less academic job prospects. Is that true? Asking for myself.

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    Besides what @Bryan Krause said, note that "non-traditional students who obtain a PhD in their early forties or later" can also be read in a restrictive clause sense (the age condition modifies "non-traditional students") rather than the intended nonrestrictive clause sense (the age condition defines "non-traditional students"). In fact, commas are typically used for the nonrestrictive clause sense. Apr 17, 2022 at 20:12
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    If you enter “age discrimination” in the academia.se search box you’ll find many questions that are more or less identical to yours, for example this one.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 17, 2022 at 21:23
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    There are too many variables to make such blanket statements regarding age and employability/career success. However, one underlying factor in such statements may be the unwillingness of a 40+ year old PhD to accept the (comparatively) low wages offered for early career positions in academia, not the employability of such individuals. Younger candidates are often more willing and able to accept those low salaries.
    – psithurism
    Apr 18, 2022 at 1:20

1 Answer 1


You give a very wide definition of "non-traditional". That complicates any answer, since every specific group will have its own issues. But for many such groups the problem will be obtaining the degree and having a career supporting advisor to help get them started, not the situation they are in.

At the moment jobs in academia (especially) are difficult to obtain in many places and some fields. That can change. An older person with a new PhD might have an advantage in some places and a disadvantage in others as the needs of different institutions are not the same. Being more mature can be an advantage, for example and life experience, itself, also.

While most folks start an academic career at around 30 or so, quite a lot later isn't necessarily limiting. Getting into a program can be difficult if you have lost contact with people who can predict your research (etc.) success.

But, in some ways it is immaterial. If you are already a 40 year old woman with two kids who wants to be an academic mathematician, changing your history isn't an option. You will need some support from various people to get in to a program and to maintain focus in the program, but if you can graduate with good research and a good and supportive advisor then you have a chance for success. (Basing the above on a real case).

In some places discrimination might be illegal, and in academia many people would disapprove of such things, though it can exist.

But, if you have a goal, then do what you need to do to achieve it. There is little worse than wasting your only life doing things that are sub-optimal by your own standards. And, there is more to life than a job in any case.

And, twitter probably isn't the best source of reliable information.

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