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A person I know has been teaching undergraduate students for about ~8 years. She has a master in science and she is ~41 years old. For personal reasons, she quit her job five years ago. She would like to return to academia by enrolling in a Ph.D. program.

In my opinion, the chances of getting a funded Ph.D. position is really low because she got her master ~13 years ago and she could not find such a position after applying several times. My question is that if she has a reasonable chance of a funded Ph.D. position in Europe or north America if she spends some volunteer time in a lab and publishes one paper? How realistic it is even to get a volunteer research work in a lab?

I should add that I have read several questions with regards to age and starting a Ph.D.. It seems the age is not important, however, in her case she already applied and failed to get even interview. Those people who have started a Ph.D. at a similar age might have paid for their study which is not possible for her.

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    I can't speak to this situation specifically, but beware that PhD applications are difficult in general. It is common to apply many places and be rejected from most. Depending on the field the number of available positions versus the number of applicants can be extremely lopsided. – David Jul 17 '17 at 20:50
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I'm positive on her situation to get a funded Ph.D. if she tries hard enough. There are tons of PhD programs in the world, and based on her background you described, she could be a valuable, encouraging and branding story that a department may prefer.

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Maybe there is something wrong or not up-to-scratch with the application that she should re-look at. I am sure she will eventually be able to get one, as you said, age does not usually matter. I certainly know a married family man in his 40s at our university (in UK) that is studying for a PhD.

If she would like more research experience, perhaps she can consider a PGRA (post graduate research assistant) position.

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