I guess this is a question to group leaders and those who have some influence on what PhD students join their group. Essentially - I want to know your thoughts if someone like me applied to your PhD project.

At 20 I graduated with a 2:1 BSc in Human Biology from a top 50 Uni, then achieved a Merit MRes in Functional Genomics from a top 10 Uni. I pretty much went straight into industry working on lentiviral vectors for gene therapy treatments; however, after three months I was running low on money, having a pretty hard time at home and this all affected my work so left the company after 3 months.

In the economic downturn I had more trouble getting jobs and money so went did waitering and sports coaching to get by. For the last 3 years I've been in international IT sales and have picked up lots of skills - sales, communicating, negotiating, presenting, strategy, training, motivating and leading teams. I've also earned a fair amount of money and I'm in a pretty safe position financially to the point where I could not earn anything for 1-2 years before I hit zero.

At this stage in my life (27) I'm looking back at research and really want to give it a go, but have no idea whether I'd get accepted onto a PhD course. At my old University there is a project based on baculovirus vectors that's right up my street.

I'm definitely applying for it but wanted to understand how an application from a 27 year old with this history might be received. Essentially - what positives and negatives can you see from a mature application?

I feel like I have a good chance. I've got (old) experience in a related field; I'm more mature than a freshly graduated student; I have a lot of skill useful for promoting the groups work and teaching classes; and I'm used to working long hours in a results driven environment, dealing with rejection but making things happen - especially racking through large amounts of work based on personal plans and goals. This is all in a legitimate way rather than a lip-service way.

I'm hoping I can address any negatives people come up with and enhance the positives!


  • Most people are not even finished with their PhD at 27. You will be a bit older, but I think that would hardly make a difference.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 0:32
  • 3
    Calling yourself "Oldtimer" and speaking of "mature PhD students" at age 27 seems quite silly to me. I vaguely recall that, at the time, being in your early 20's feels very different from being in your late 20's. I can assure you that all the 30-somethings and older who are directing PhD programs will not even notice the difference. This is a non-issue. In fact, in every discipline that I know, a non-negligible percentage of entering PhD students are more than five years out of their undergraduate degree. In some disciplines, most PhD students are in the late 20s when they start... Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 5:18
  • I guess my biggest worry is that I've been out of the lab for 6 years rather than the actual age itself. I'm not sure how big a deal this is for a bioscience research PhD!
    – Oldtimer
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 9:47

1 Answer 1


I can't speak for any PhD program other than my own, but can I just say that I have a really hard time thinking of 27 as 'mature'? FWIW, I didn't even get a BS until my mid-30s, and spent enough years in industry to become financially independent before pursuing a PhD. Had no problems whatsoever* getting into the program.

(*But I should probably note that this is at the state university branch near where I live: getting into e.g. Stanford or CalTech might be a different story.)

While I'm not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination, I think it likely that (in the US, anyway) it would actually be illegal to ask a candidate's age. WRT to the particular project, I'd suggest getting to know people on the project. Convincing the project director that you have something to contribute certainly can't hurt your chances of admission. And if you're asked why the gap period, just state that you went into industry in order to make some money, rather than racking up more student loan debt.

  • 1
    It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age; that doesn't mean the information itself is illegal. For example, our graduate applications (at my private US university) include the birthdate of the applicant, from which the age is reasonably easy to compute.
    – Tom Church
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 3:04

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