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There is a certain rule that if your PhD degree is more than 6–7 years old, you cannot apply for a postdoc position.

Suppose a physically and mentally 100% fit 70-year-old person obtained his PhD degree in 1996 from Southeast Asia. He then worked as a teacher in two tertiary public institutions for 21 years, and he is now retired from public service.

Now he wants to get involved in academic research again in the EU.

How can he do that? Can he get paid for the research?

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    I presume that a significant part of the question is meant to be "how can they get paid for such work?"? Visas? Can you clarify? Aug 27, 2023 at 16:30
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    It would help to specify / link to that "rule". I have not heard anything like this in Austria, Sweden, or Switzerland. That said, being beyond the legal retirement age at the time of application may raise completely different employment-related issues.
    – xLeitix
    Aug 28, 2023 at 10:57
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    If you want to get paid, you need to find the payer first. Thus, this becomes a shopping question.
    – Nobody
    Aug 28, 2023 at 11:02
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    The help center urges to ask only practical questions based on actual problems you face. I somewhat doubt that is the case here.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:44
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    In the USA, one could not discriminate based on age in the hiring process. That said, a 21-year time period without research output will count against them, whether they were 50 or 70 years old - they would likely be at a disadvantage relative to other applicants to a job posting.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 28, 2023 at 19:37

4 Answers 4

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There are places where post-docs are reserved for recent graduates and aren't open to older, more experienced, people. There are exceptions, I suspect, but it would be a hard case to make.

If you can't get a regular position at some university, there is the possibility that you could teach as an adjunct (low pay, few benefits) but use the contact to get yourself involved with the full-time faculty and connect to their research.

I've known people to do this in the US, but, for them, money wasn't an object, since they had regular positions. But they used the adjunct relationship just as I suggest and were considered part of the community. Not a lot of people like this, but a few.

But, being retired, you may be secure enough financially to make something like this work.

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    In the German system the closest thing to an adjunct would be a Lehrauftrag. However, I don't know if that would be the best way if you are interested in research. Aug 28, 2023 at 12:48
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I think the 'getting paid' part is close to impossible. At age 70 in the EU the general assumption is that you are retired. Getting any regular paid work contract will be very difficult and come with legal hurdles.

If you care more about getting involved with research this sounds a lot more feasible. As a start lectures and advanced seminars are usually open to the public (sometime you can get a kind of 'no-degree student id' that lets you attend these). This allows you to learn about the current research and get to know the professors. From there you can try to get involved in some joint research projects if you can convince the professors you have something useful to contribute.

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I've not seen the 6-7 years after PhD to say you can never get funded. That time limit usually applies for certain fellowships or certain grants/funding sources, and even then there is usually simply a different level of funding to apply for rather than prohibiting getting any funding. But still, post-docs that's are funded by the University/professor's grants usually wouldn't have this limit. There may also be a limit that you can't be on a temporary contract (i.e. already being a post-doc) for more than X years at the same place/country.

I would double-check the wording of the limit, at the very least it's not a common limit so there are likely other places you could do a post-doc that would not have that limit. However, you may need to move further away to do so.

Your best chance is simply to reach out to people who are interested in working with you. Maybe they can give you a "different" job title to avoid the limits or they would know of other schemes you could apply for.

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  • "Post-doc means a researcher who was awarded their Ph.D. or its foreign counterpart no more than 7 years before the date of starting the mobility. The period may be extended by the period of maternity and parental leave, long-term illness (more than 90 days), care for a family member (more than 90 days), pre-attestation preparation and military service. If the selected person has not obtained a Ph.D." Just one of the hundred formulations of the same concept present in 99% of european PostDoc announcmenets in the past 5 years euraxess.ec.europa.eu/jobs/53311
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 29, 2023 at 7:43
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    @EarlGrey That must be a field specific thing. I've never seen such a statement in any post-doc announcement in my field.
    – TimRias
    Aug 29, 2023 at 7:58
  • @TimRias We are talking about Europe, right? Since the guidelines for MSCA postdoc ask for something similar: "MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships are open to postdoctoral researchers from all over the world, with a maximum of 8 years of research experience after their PhD." the field specific thing is in your field and most,likely the same requirement will appear in the next few years. MSCA rules: euraxess.ec.europa.eu/worldwide/australia-nz/news/…
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 29, 2023 at 8:15
  • Page 8 of the official European definition of Psotdoc requirements for MSCA felowhisps: rea.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2023-06/…
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 29, 2023 at 8:18
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    I worked as a PhD in a UK university who had an "early retired" (i.e. from teaching) professor who stilll came in daily to do and supervise research in his field. He was ~ 63. One of his old friends around his age or possibly older was working with him for over a year on one project. He had worked in industry labs in the same field for many years. I don't know his job title but even if he didn't get a fellowship I'm pretty sure he was a paid Senior Research Assistant at least. So unless the "Fellow" title is important to you, this is a route back into work in academia.
    – Trunk
    Aug 29, 2023 at 8:42
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Yes he can, but not the direct way.

Such an experienced person can be a great advisor or consultant.

Such a person may be lucky enough to get a guest position in some university (unpaid, but with access to library and all the infrastructure).

I think that this person need to invest a remarkable amount of time in marketing themselves as a possible supporter of PhD/Master student (even as a private tutor), and then they will get possibly some network of contacts (1 to 10% of PhDs will be at least assistant professors in the 5 years after graduation ... ). By the age of 80 this person may have some of his previous contact in a soild, stable academic position: then he/she can discuss about contributing to a research project.

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