Explicit age discrimination in academia.

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Lavabug
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Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby Lavabug » Thu Apr 18, 2013 12:37 pm

Don't know if this is the right forum, move accordingly:

I've been keeping an eye on a few job registers for the past month and have come across a few things like these:

http://jobregister.aas.org/job_view?JobID=44588
"be aged 35 years or younger"
http://jobregister.aas.org/job_view?JobID=44810
"preferably be less than 40 years old"

AFAIK, age discrimination is strictly illegal in the US, but I'm wondering if age discrimination still takes place in the international academic job market in general (and subliminally in the US). This concerns me substantially because it is very likely I would hit one of these ages by the earliest time I could graduate from a phd and/or a first postdoc, assuming I can even get into a graduate program next year. Makes me wonder if I am wasting my time with academics if people my age wouldn't even be considered for a job, as I'm having enough trouble finding one now.

Maybe admissionprof or astroprof could chime in?

admissionprof
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby admissionprof » Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:11 pm

Yes, age discrimination is strictly illegal and I'm surprised by these listings. We have often accepted students for graduate school in their 40's, and they go on to get decent jobs. I would be concerned about accepting a graduate student in their 60's, but technically would still evaluate the application on its merits (the personal statement should discuss future career plans post-PhD, which would be "interesting").

Unofficially, I suppose an institution wouldn't want to hire an assistant professor in their 50s since they would likely retire before even reaching full professor status. But that's something that would probably be unspoken.

Lavabug
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby Lavabug » Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:24 pm

admissionprof wrote:and they go on to get decent jobs.

Do you know if they held their own in the postdoc and beyond market, or if they transitioned out of science (assuming you know if they did so voluntarily or not)?

I'm mainly concerned if the "science/math is a young man's game" philosophy is still a real thing in the job market. I really haven't heard of any tenured academics who "lost" more than 1-2 years along their entire schooling now that I think about it, but then again there may be a huge selection bias.

janisper116
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby janisper116 » Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:38 pm

It's not illegal if you can reasonably claim the person's age is a hindrance to their completion of job duties. From the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967:

It shall not be unlawful for an employer, employment agency, or labor organization-

(1) to take any action otherwise prohibited under subsections (a), (b), (c), or (e) of this section where age is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the par­ticu­lar business...

The only way an older PhD would interfere with the normal course of business that I can imagine is that individuals research output and potential would be severely limited by their age, which is of concern to the institution. This is along the same lines as what admissionprof said. I'm sure there are other things though.

Lavabug
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby Lavabug » Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:05 pm

janisper116 wrote:It's not illegal if you can reasonably claim the person's age is a hindrance to their completion of job duties. From the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967:

It shall not be unlawful for an employer, employment agency, or labor organization-

(1) to take any action otherwise prohibited under subsections (a), (b), (c), or (e) of this section where age is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the par­ticu­lar business...

The only way an older PhD would interfere with the normal course of business that I can imagine is that individuals research output and potential would be severely limited by their age, which is of concern to the institution. This is along the same lines as what admissionprof said. I'm sure there are other things though.

I would think it would be very hard to argue for a demonstrable handicap that gets in the way of a tenured academic job, judging by the type of activity they're typically required to do.

It would make sense to require younger, fit individuals for being an astronaut/pilot, observational astronomy at high altitudes, and certain risky engineer work, but most academic science? A senior lecturer I had loved to joke and tell us we'd all have a big fat ass like his by the time we were done with our physics degree.

janisper116
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby janisper116 » Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:42 pm

I was thinking more along the lines of a PhD student is an investment by the university and they want the greatest roi they can get. Still, applying that clause in the law to that sort of situation is definitely a stretch.

janisper116
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby janisper116 » Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:44 pm

I think in general a younger student would give better roi just because they have more time. However, obviously an extremely motivated older individual is more valuable than a young slouch.

Lavabug
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby Lavabug » Sat Apr 20, 2013 7:18 am

janisper116 wrote:I think in general a younger student would give better roi just because they have more time. However, obviously an extremely motivated older individual is more valuable than a young slouch.

Um, we're not talking about phd students, we're talking about professional jobs: post-phd research posts at scientific institutions or tenureships at universities/colleges. It's well documented that people in their 40's+ can get into graduate programs, but that's not the question.

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Andromeda
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby Andromeda » Mon Apr 22, 2013 6:09 am

American who moved to Europe here, and yes approach is much more common here than in the US where it is of course illegal. They'll often ask about your spouse too and if you have kids in some countries (translation for "will your spouse take care of the kids?"), which is similarly illegal in the US... in Germany you also need to usually send a photo along with your application, so lots of bias can come into play there too.

IRC in France which is a prime example of all this you need to basically get your postdocs and professorships in line before a very young age (like 30!) which inevitably leads to the nepotism of "I know this student's adviser and he's vouching for him, so let's hire him" because frankly you don't have enough time to establish yourself as a researcher. This nepotism frankly leads to France being much less of a science powerhouse than they should be considering how much money they put into it (as this system also does not breed many new ideas to come out of it, as you need to work on the same old topics to get your job).

I don't think it's an unusual thing for many fellowships (in astro at least, not sure about general physics) to specify that you can only apply for them X years after you finish your PhD- aka they're not ageist because you can finish your degree whenever but after THAT the clock starts ticking. This is of course still problematic in many ways because if you want to go take a year off to have a kid for example that's a year you'll never get back research-wise when it comes to applying for the choice fellowships.

Lavabug
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby Lavabug » Mon Apr 22, 2013 6:27 am

Andromeda wrote:American who moved to Europe here, and yes approach is much more common here than in the US where it is of course illegal. They'll often ask about your spouse too and if you have kids in some countries (translation for "will your spouse take care of the kids?"), which is similarly illegal in the US... in Germany you also need to usually send a photo along with your application, so lots of bias can come into play there too.

I guess a solution to this is sending a picture of oneself in their early 20's and on the interview day just state you had a rough flight to explain discrepancies with the photo, if they're rude enough to ask. :lol: I thought most developed EU countries were a lot more flexible than the US when it came to parenthood leaves.

IRC in France which is a prime example of all this you need to basically get your postdocs and professorships in line before a very young age (like 30!) which inevitably leads to the nepotism of "I know this student's adviser and he's vouching for him, so let's hire him" because frankly you don't have enough time to establish yourself as a researcher. This nepotism frankly leads to France being much less of a science powerhouse than they should be considering how much money they put into it (as this system also does not breed many new ideas to come out of it, as you need to work on the same old topics to get your job).

Sounds awfully a lot like Spain, nepotism galore. I've seen fairly shameless age discrimination in the private sector over here (even for mere cashier jobs), so I guess it's probably the same in academia.

TakeruK
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Re: Explicit age discrimination in academia.

Postby TakeruK » Mon Apr 22, 2013 11:38 am

Andromeda wrote:I don't think it's an unusual thing for many fellowships (in astro at least, not sure about general physics) to specify that you can only apply for them X years after you finish your PhD- aka they're not ageist because you can finish your degree whenever but after THAT the clock starts ticking. This is of course still problematic in many ways because if you want to go take a year off to have a kid for example that's a year you'll never get back research-wise when it comes to applying for the choice fellowships.


I think the purpose of these fellowship is to grant them to "new PhDs", not someone who has been in the post-doc world for years and years. Like you said, I don't think they are ageist since it's not necessarily targeting "young" workers. Instead, the awards are supposed to go to "up and coming" researchers, not those who have already had several years to establish themselves (successfully or not).

I haven't got to that point in my career yet, but would these "X years after PhD only" awards really not take in account years off for family or medical reasons? If not, could one apply for and win a fellowship then choose to defer it for paternity leave? Or, what happens if you decide to have children during your award -- could you take maternity/paternity leave? I'm not sure how US awards work, but in Canada, you can defer the equivalent of the NSF Post-doc fellowship for up to 3 years:

http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Students-Etudiants/Guides-Guides/PDFRegs-BPRegs_eng.asp#def wrote:Before commencing your award, you may request permission to defer it for up to three years, but only for reasons of maternity, child rearing, illness or health-related family responsibilities. You may not defer your award in order to take up another award, accept or hold employment, or pursue studies.


Also, with the NSERC PDF, you can interrupt the award for up to 3 years to take an unpaid leave of absence for parental, illness, or family responsibilities. However, you can also apply for paid parental leave and get 4 months of leave paid for (in addition to the regular value of your fellowship). The fine print says that while NSERC will grant you leave up to 3 years, you also need approval from your employer. However, since Canadian law requires all employers give their employees at least 1 year of parental leave, per child, this means you will probably get at least one year of leave, and perhaps up to 2 years if you have multiple children while on this fellowship.

Is taking leave for Post-Doc fellowships an unusual thing in the US then? Or do the major US fellowships (NSF, Hubble, Sagan, etc.) include all of this too?




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