Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

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bathingape
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Joined: Mon Mar 12, 2012 3:25 pm

Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bathingape » Mon Mar 12, 2012 3:48 pm

Hi all,

I'm a 3rd year dual major in physics and mathematics at a state school which isn't known very well for either. I have a 3.9 GPA in my physics courses and a 4.0 in my maths. I'm currently working on research dealing with magento-optical properties of complex nanomaterials.

The possible problem is I'm 37 and will be 38 or 39 by the time I graduate (the reason I'm crazy enough to return to school for physics at my age is a story for another thread). My adviser has in so many words told me to give up on any grad school ideas and become an actuary. The professor overseeing my research has said he will help me with recommendations as much as he can, but that I should plan for the worst. All this being due to my age, and the belief that no one will want to invest time in me based on it.

I think they have a valid argument to some minor extent. But I have no plans to be the next Feynman or Newton, instead I'm doing this for my personal curiosity and improvement. I'm fine with never making a huge impact in the field, as nice as it would be. But should I really just give up on ever going to grad school?

Shadowknite25
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby Shadowknite25 » Mon Mar 12, 2012 4:13 pm

I'm not a good person to give others advice since I'm not very experienced about this, but I'm just giving out the reason I'm getting my PhD. Currently I'm working as an engineer, but I don't really enjoy it at all. I feel empty everyday I go home as I am not doing what I'm passionate about and not living up to my potential. Then I realized that physics is my passion. I don't care much for money as long as I have enough to satisfy all my needs. I think that there's nothing wrong with doing what you love and what makes you happy. I think that's what makes life worth living. You're only 39 when you graduate, plus, say, 6 years of grad school and maybe 2-4 years of postdoc. You'll be around 50 by the time you finished with everything and it's still plenty of time for you to continue your professional career wherever you like.

bathingape
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bathingape » Mon Mar 12, 2012 4:35 pm

Shadowknite25 wrote:I'm not a good person to give others advice since I'm not very experienced about this, but I'm just giving out the reason I'm getting my PhD. Currently I'm working as an engineer, but I don't really enjoy it at all. I feel empty everyday I go home as I am not doing what I'm passionate about and not living up to my potential. Then I realized that physics is my passion. I don't care much for money as long as I have enough to satisfy all my needs. I think that there's nothing wrong with doing what you love and what makes you happy. I think that's what makes life worth living. You're only 39 when you graduate, plus, say, 6 years of grad school and maybe 2-4 years of postdoc. You'll be around 50 by the time you finished with everything and it's still plenty of time for you to continue your professional career wherever you like.


While I appreciate the response, my career in general isn't my concern. I'm being told that I have slim chances of getting accepted anywhere because my age takes away from my intellectual merit.

Shadowknite25
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby Shadowknite25 » Mon Mar 12, 2012 4:42 pm

I see. At my undergraduate school, there was a graduate student who's been teaching in high school for awhile and just going back to graduate school. He's quite old as he has all grey hair. But my undergraduate school is quite small and easy to get in.

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 12, 2012 5:24 pm

To be honest, you probably wont get into the top 10-20 schools. Aim from 20 and below, though, and you have a good chance of getting in somewhere. You should have some disposable income to spend, so put it to good use applying to a load of schools (and, of course, everywhere that offers free applications like CMU and U Pitt)

admissionprof
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby admissionprof » Mon Mar 12, 2012 5:51 pm

I'm surprised by your advisor's comments. We often take students (sometimes out of the military in their early 40s). They are great TA, great researchers, and usually get good jobs on finishing. I would be curious to know how many of the PhDs at the top 20 schools are over 40. (We are a top 50, but not top 20, and have had one every couple of years for a long time).

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 12, 2012 6:11 pm

admissionprof wrote:I'm surprised by your advisor's comments. We often take students (sometimes out of the military in their early 40s). They are great TA, great researchers, and usually get good jobs on finishing. I would be curious to know how many of the PhDs at the top 20 schools are over 40. (We are a top 50, but not top 20, and have had one every couple of years for a long time).



Same here at Davis. Like I said, the OP should be able to get in somewhere; but for whatever reason the few anecdotes* I know of all point to even the best applicants over a certain age being precluded from the top schools (from anecdotes I take to be top 20, but could be a few more or less). Thus, I take as a phenomenological theory that the probability of acceptance to top 20 schools is negligible.

On a side note, if I was forced to come up with a theory-motivated model and had to take a guess as to why this is true, I'd start with this statement, which I bet is held near universally by the over 35 crowd (and less universally in those just out of undergrad):

I have no plans to be the next Feynman or Newton

Which of course are the two people every prof at a top school with dreams of Nobel prizes wants their next two grad students to be.

*my sample size is 10 or so, which is poor statistics for every branch of study in a physics department, except for possibly cosmology (supernovae, anyone?)

asdfuogh
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby asdfuogh » Mon Mar 12, 2012 7:20 pm

I don't really have anything to add, but good luck! I really respect not just your desire to become a physicist, but also that you're taking steps to do it. Not everyone has the guts to do it, again, good luck because we'll be colleagues one day :D.

gwadsworth
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby gwadsworth » Mon Mar 12, 2012 8:20 pm

Hi, I am 30 and graduating with a 3.55 overall with several life events causing some problems towards completing a degree etc. . . I've been able to get an offer from a top 30 and a top 50 school for a PhD. I promise you that your transcript is cleaner than mine. Therefore, I feel confident to say that if you want it you can probably get into a good graduate program. Now the real question is whether getting into a top 20 program is really necessary considering you'll be 40 when you get there and 45 when you get out. I think you should thoroughly research the programs you apply for and talk to their coordinator/recruiter.

I think it more likely that the thing to hold you back would be your undergraduate program's reputation in physics. Also, I think graduate programs are looking for people with more ambition since you are essentially a financial investment for them.

Best of luck to you

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 12, 2012 8:36 pm

Now the real question is whether getting into a top 20 program is really necessary considering you'll be 40 when you get there and 45 when you get out.


Exactly. The real benefit to top 20 schools (other than a serious breadth of possible research to do) is it makes getting top-notch post-doc positions a little easier. Assuming you know what you want to do, and don't want a postdoc (by the time you work through the traditional path for tenure in physics nowadays, it'll be time for you to retire), a well-researched top 50 school strong in your area of interest will offer just as much--if not more*--fulfilment as a top 20, with what often turns out to be a higher standard of living. So don't worry about what your advisor said, other than to recognize that you should apply other places then MIT et al.

*At the lower ranked school, you'll be less likely to have to fight for the attention of the professors you're interested in.

bathingape
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bathingape » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:50 am

Thanks for the advice all. I suppose I was just reading way too much into my adviser's negativity.

A top 20 program is not that important to me. I had planned on applying to one top 10, but only because my wife received her history PhD there (and maybe by some inconceivable chance her professors that she remains in contact with have some sway over the sciences dept.)

vesperlynd
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby vesperlynd » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:13 am

bfollinprm wrote:So don't worry about what your advisor said, other than to recognize that you should apply other places then MIT et al.
Actually, one of my classmates at MIT is 30 working on a masters. The military is paying, and he'll teach at West Point for a while before coming back for his PhD. By the time he comes back, he'll probably be 36 or 37. Age probably isn't issue when the school doesn't have to pay.

CarlBrannen
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Mar 14, 2012 7:42 pm

bathingape wrote:I had planned on applying to one top 10, but only because my wife received her history PhD there (and maybe by some inconceivable chance her professors that she remains in contact with have some sway over the sciences dept.)


I don't think that will make any difference. And I don't think being older is any disadvantage. I'm 54 and will be taking the PhD physics qualifying exams (or preliminary exams) next month. Frankly I feel sorry for the kids who have to compete with me.

bfollinprm
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 14, 2012 7:55 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:I don't think that will make any difference. And I don't think being older is any disadvantage. I'm 54 and will be taking the PhD physics qualifying exams (or preliminary exams) next month. Frankly I feel sorry for the kids who have to compete with me.

I can find no other reason other than your age, Carl, that would have caused the ridiculous rejections you received last year. And for the record I tremble at the thought of going toe-to-toe with you.

alphanumeric
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby alphanumeric » Wed Mar 14, 2012 8:23 pm

bfollinprm wrote:
CarlBrannen wrote:I don't think that will make any difference. And I don't think being older is any disadvantage. I'm 54 and will be taking the PhD physics qualifying exams (or preliminary exams) next month. Frankly I feel sorry for the kids who have to compete with me.

I can find no other reason other than your age, Carl, that would have caused the ridiculous rejections you received last year. And for the record I tremble at the thought of going toe-to-toe with you.


I'm an older student myself, and I can say that my maturity has been quite a benefit. I got into a top 20, but I think I might have missed out on higher due to my age and confusing history. No matter. Those who rejected us will apologize and kick themselves soon enough. :twisted:

bathingape
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby bathingape » Fri Mar 16, 2012 8:52 am

alphanumeric wrote:I'm an older student myself, and I can say that my maturity has been quite a benefit. I got into a top 20, but I think I might have missed out on higher due to my age and confusing history. No matter. Those who rejected us will apologize and kick themselves soon enough. :twisted:


I too have found my age and maturity to be beneficial. My previous college career ended due to having to care for my father when he was dying of lung cancer. But to be perfectly honest with myself, I wasn't the best student then. Now I treat school like my former business. There is no subject a reasonably intelligent person cannot master with hard work IMO

asdfuogh
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby asdfuogh » Sat Mar 17, 2012 4:25 pm

Having met and talked to several older students, I was pretty damn impressed with their maturity, I felt lacking in stature next to them. I think if you get past the parts of the admission process which is only paper, a non-traditional student would definitely make a great impression (since I am now assuming that it takes great maturity to understand your dream and to work towards it).

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InquilineKea
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby InquilineKea » Sat Mar 17, 2012 10:43 pm

bfollinprm wrote:
CarlBrannen wrote:I don't think that will make any difference. And I don't think being older is any disadvantage. I'm 54 and will be taking the PhD physics qualifying exams (or preliminary exams) next month. Frankly I feel sorry for the kids who have to compete with me.

I can find no other reason other than your age, Carl, that would have caused the ridiculous rejections you received last year. And for the record I tremble at the thought of going toe-to-toe with you.


I agree. In any case, I know that one physics professor at Stanford justified the age discrimination in one of his posts on Quora. See http://www.quora.com/Graduate-Admission ... Jay-Wacker

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quizivex
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Re: Getting accepted as a non-traditional student?

Postby quizivex » Sun Mar 18, 2012 9:56 pm

^^ Eh, he justified age discrimination based on being too far removed from the undergraduate program... It'd be hard to pick up pure physics again after working 10 years for Microsoft...

But this shouldn't really hold for someone like Carl who has published real physics papers recently.




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