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11/11/2016

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recent grad

A friend of mine entered my PhD program in his 30s, after leaving a stable but unsatisfying career. He now has a TT job. So it's possible.

Malcolm Keating

My undergraduate degree was a double major in English and Spanish. I took a master's degree at the University of Missouri - St. Louis in philosophy, spent a year between the MA and PhD working on Sanskrit (I work in Indian philosophy and philosophy of language), and then began my PhD at UT-Austin. Currently, I have a TT job at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

The OP didn't pose any specific questions, but it sounds like the worry is about whether they will be able to get into a PhD program and, I imagine, get a job after. As my story and the recent grad's comment indicate, both are possible. I don't know whether there are any statistics about how common this path is, though.

Once you are in a PhD program, my sense is that your having or not having had a BA in philosophy is not a big issue--aside from your perhaps needing to do additional reading to get up to speed, depending on your MA program. And on the market, I doubt that your bachelor's degree is what people are looking at. The usual things like publications, letters, etc. are the focus. (Most of my colleagues assume I have a bachelor's degree in philosophy, and I am not the only philosopher here without one.)

Personally, I am glad that I had time in the workplace where I learned about things like Excel spreadsheets, time/project management, committee work, and so on. It's helpful for the day-to-day aspect of academic life. Having delayed my PhD entry also helped me be confident that going for a PhD was what I wanted to do--it wasn't just a default course of action--and I wasn't as worried about backup plans if the job market failed me.

So not only is it possible to take a non-traditional route, I think it can be a good thing.

Flurp

I'm a first-year PhD student at a well-known philosophy department in the US (Leiter top-25), and am 46. I started university when I was 40. My background is in volunteer work, activism, and some other work related to neither academia or business. When I started studying my income was from part-time work cleaning at a hotel.

My feeling is that there is age discrimination in admission to PhD programmes, but it is only a feeling. It's based on my publishing a couple of my undergrad papers in good journals (both the leading journals for the respective topics). Despite having done this, and using one of those published papers as my writing sample, I got in nowhere on my first round of applications and only two of eleven programmes on the second round. If what I hear so often is true, that publishing is taken to be the most important indication of someone's ability to do philosophy (rightly or wrongly), then this makes me think there was some important overriding factor weighing against me, and there were no significant weaknesses in my application I am aware of.

I'm very happy and grateful to have been accepted at a couple of places and to be where I am now. But I think it's likely that significantly older students will have to do quite a lot to make up for being older, for whatever reason. I doubt that this applies to students in their 30s, who seem to be fairly common.

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