I am a Japanese, currently living in the US. After graduating from university, I worked as an economic researcher in Japan for 11 years, and then I decided to study gender in the UK. I chose the UK since it was a one-year programme, and also because I grew up there. I had my son right after completing my MA, then I just threw myself into raising my child, which was not easy but rather an interesting experience for my academic background.

Fast forward 18 years and our son will be off to the UK himself to start university, and I feel like I've finished one big project. I've done a lot of volunteering work at school and did some translation/interpretation works, but have been out of any "official" workforce or academia. Will it be too difficult to go back to academia at this stage? It has been my passion to explore gender issues, so I've been trying to figure it out... I appreciate any kind of advice!

  • 8
    It will be difficult, like all things that are worth doing. But probably less difficult than your successfully completed 18 year project.
    – Dan Romik
    May 22 at 22:08
  • You don't talk much about your financial situation. PhD programs can be expensive and funding for gender studies is pretty abysmal. It seems that you're semi-retired, but this is something worth considering. If your living expenses suddenly go up and you need to get a job, juggling both will be a challenge. May 25 at 20:33

3 Answers 3


I don't see a problem with doing a PhD in an older age. I would say that you would have the advantage of being more mature and have probably project management skills due to your experience in industry.

You may need some time to "recall" the relevant theoretical part of your field that more recent graduates will remember from their lectures but I wouldn't think that is an issue.

The only challenge you may face is not being able to connect with other PhD students due to the age difference, but this may also depend on your personality and the lab environment.


One can do a Ph.D. at any age. Lots of people come from the industry and are definitely older than their early 20s. There is a very eclectic mix overall, in the US, UK, Asia, etc. You just need to reach out to a potential supervisor and they'll point you in the right direction.


You will face some hurdles. Your child-rearing will not damage your chances to get into a Ph.D. program, though getting funding will be more difficult. If you can self-finance, this is not a problem. Also, this is very discipline dependent since in most of the humanities, funding is not a given, in contrast to Computer Science.

You will also have to deal with the psychological costs of a Ph.D. Most people going through it will go through periods of self-doubt and have to struggle with ideas of just giving up. This is easier to overcome if you are young and have no accomplishments other than your studies. You need to make sure that you have a clear career goal instead of a vague feeling that you might have missed out on an academic career or that you are now in a different phase of your life.

You will also have to give yourself some time to retool. Even after a decade, discussion in a field has usually moved on and what was once hot and trendy is no more. Also, there is often real progress and methodology has become refined.

Be assured that you are not the first one to embark on a doctorate at a slightly advanced age. Just make sure you have the right motivation, deal with financing, have a career goal that makes sense, and know that feelings of inadequacy and frustration are common even among the youngsters.

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