As a retired school teacher, and to become a professor at a university. Is it okay to get into a PhD program at the age of 65 and complete it to become a professor? Or is it too late and I can’t get employed at a university?

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    Anecdotal evidence: we have two above 60 PhD students here. Yes, possible. I doubt that they are planning to become professors though.
    – Gimelist
    Dec 3, 2017 at 5:48
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    I wonder why you want to become a professor after 65? If you give your reasons, some may be able to provide more relevant answers. For example, if you have a big idea that you want to investigate and give to the world, then, big-ideas have not just come from professors. Gödel's outstanding contribution was (partly) before his PhD, for example. Dec 3, 2017 at 15:01
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    Agreed with @ThomasKing - your goals here are very important. Do you want the PhD in order to work on original research, do you want it so that you can teach in higher education, or all of the above plus a hope that you yourself will also be able to supervise new PhD students? Would the field be in a field related to your existing expertise (subjects you teach already and know well) or would it be a break into a new field?
    – J...
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:12
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    I think we need to know which country you are living in. I am aware of more than one country where Ph.D. students are employed by the government, hence subject to mandatory retirement restrictions. Dec 4, 2017 at 13:47
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of How old is too old for a PhD?
    – enthu
    May 25, 2019 at 19:02

4 Answers 4


The realistic answer is: you can enroll in a PhD program at age 65. However, you are highly unlikely to get a tenure-track professorship after finishing a PhD program at that age. The big reason for this is that you're already above the retirement age, and many schools do have rules about how old you can be and still advise students. Moreover, you probably wouldn't represent a good "long-term investment."

On the other hand, you may be able to obtain a position as a part-time lecturer or adjunct faculty—in other words, for positions where you are not directly supervising PhD candidates.

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    At least in the US, it is generally illegal to discriminate based on age. Do you know how that works in a situation like this? I agree a tenure track position would be tricky though! Dec 3, 2017 at 6:27
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    @chessofnerd: I think the big issue would be is how competitive a 70-year-old's profile will be versus a younger person's, especially if the younger person has a postdoc under her belt, and the elder person only had a doctoral degree. It wouldn't be an "apples-to-apples" comparison, so age discrimination wouldn't be the deciding factor.
    – aeismail
    Dec 3, 2017 at 17:16
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    You can only prove age discrimination if they are stupid enough to tell you that is the reason. Just because the 28 year old got hired and not the 65 year old isn't proof of age discrimination.
    – MaxW
    Dec 3, 2017 at 19:39
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    @MaxW That's super true. I tend to agree a 65 year old is almost certainly going to have a hard time at this. I wish them luck though (if not for job prospect, for personal enrichment)! Dec 3, 2017 at 21:15
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    @chessofnerd In England and Wales it is illegal to discriminate on age, except you can refuse to hire people above retirement age. Are you sure there isn't a similar exclusion in the US? Dec 4, 2017 at 11:41

It could be hard to get into a PhD program since potential advisers will be looking for students who will have many productive years ahead to establish a legacy. But you don't need a PhD to be a lecturer at most universities here in the US. You only need a master's. It's not the same as the tenure track positions, which actually have professor titles, but the students still call you professor.

I'm 66. I fell into teaching when my department chairman at University of Washington Bothell posted a request onto an IEEE email list for industry veterans to advise teams of seniors on their Capstone projects. I thought I was volunteering to do it free and was surprised it paid and even more surprised they'd pay me. With only a master's, it was never on my radar that any university would let me do this. At Washington, I was an affiliate (part-time), but that led to being recruited to a full-time three year appointment at University of Michigan. It's possible it could happen to you, too.

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    I studied in computer science. We had two older instructors without PhDs who came in retired from the industry. They were paid dirt but they were already living off retirement and passionate about helping the students. As far as I know they were part-time.
    – Pace
    Dec 3, 2017 at 21:06
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    @SSimon I never started one and at this point, I think that ship has sailed. When I first started teaching at UWB four years ago and realized a career in academia was something I really wanted, I applied to the PhD program on our Seattle campus but was not accepted. It's possible they decided I simply wasn't that good or that while I was a good candidate for teaching, that I wasn't that promising for research. (No one tells you why you weren't accepted.) But I also suspect the limited number of productive years I could offer past the PhD was a factor. Dec 4, 2017 at 14:53
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    @SSimon Yes, it's possible but you won't be supervising PhD candidates and, realistically, you may not have time for research given your service obligations and the heavier teaching load you'll have as a lecturer. Dec 4, 2017 at 15:17
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    @Pace Yes, the big downsides to an affiliate appointment are that the pay is less than for a full-time appointment (even with the same teaching load) and you may not get benefits or an office or the right to vote on faculty business. Dec 4, 2017 at 15:20
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    @NicoleHamilton In Germany, you would have much more rights, since now having experts teaching and supervising is a huge trend. I suggest you to try
    – SSimon
    Dec 4, 2017 at 15:30

In most academic fields in the US it takes most people 10 years or more to go from the start of a Ph.D. program to starting a tenure-track academic position. This includes the time to get a Ph.D. plus one or two postdoctoral or visiting assistant professorship positions. If you start at 65 you're going to be looking for permanent positions when you're 75, and odds are that means you'd be looking at 10 years of preparation for a position you're likely to hold for less than five years. You would also probably need to move to a new city at least twice during those ten years. That doesn't seem like a great plan from your point of view. Also it's not clear at this point whether you will still be interested in and able to do the job in your late 70s. Lots of people at your current age are effective faculty, but the vast majority choose to retire before their late 70s.

  • 1
    How is what the "vast majority" of people do relevant? The OP specifically asked whether it would be possible to get an academic job after completing a PhD. Even if the OP only does hold a TT job for five years, maybe that would be five very happy and productive years, fifteen if you count the PhD and postdoc. And no one ever knows how much longer they have. Why is it still socially acceptable to devalue someone because of when they were born? May 27, 2019 at 23:39
  • I’m just suggesting the OP think about the timing. Maybe he will want to keep working in his late seventies, but the odds suggest that’s not the most likely scenario. Might be true for him, I certainly have great colleagues in their late 70s. May 28, 2019 at 0:39

This may be difficult for younger academicians to comprehend: There is the adage that 'Those who can, do; those who can't, teach'. Let's say that I earn a B.S. or M.A. in computer engineering and go onto to start my own company, make a gazillion dollars, sell that company and start another. I sell that company and now have a net worth of twenty billion dollars. I'm sixty years old, I have the time and money. I've made my fortune, set up a foundation to do good works, and am now eager to explore other areas of life. I think, why not get that PhD? It has nothing to do with teaching; it's about challenge, accomplishment, and completion. And who knows, maybe some university will hire me--not because I'm young, but because I have wisdom and life experience.

  • 1
    And if you can't teach, teach the teachers, if that fails, become on inspector...
    – Solar Mike
    May 25, 2019 at 5:50

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