to Ph.D, or not to Ph.D, ah....that is the question

Off-topic conversations and chit-chat.

7 posts Page 1 of 1
Soliciting advice/opinions concerning the pursuit of a Ph.D. latter in life. Personal stories always welcome.

42 years old married, two kids under six.

BS degree, biology minor in chemistry.

15 years Chromatography (HPLC, nano HPLC, GC worked for W. Jennings)/mass spectrometry (Ion traps/QQQ/some TOF/got to look at a FTICR :D ).

Last 7 years I've worked as a researcher with an interest in clinical applications of mass spectrometry (took a Post Doc position that turned into the RA position).

Reasons to get Ph.D.: More opportunity, more freedom.

Reasons against: Spending any time in a classroom, time balance (family/work).

I think the reason I’m considering this is that my ideal job would be to do my own research and get paid fairly well for it. University/government/industry…. doesn’t really matter as long as I have the freedom to decide what I want to do (within a broad framework i.e. clinical applications of MS).

Any thoughts?
Jeff Rivera
Physical Scientist/Researcher II
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
LSD-Newborn Screening
8100 Lowry Blvd.
Denver, CO 80230

Hi Jeff,

This is a tough one!

Here are my thoughts:

1) The "Do the research I like more" factor:
There are not really a lot of places that you can do the research that you want.
Actually, I think that the only place that allows you to do so is the University, if you are full professor.
National laboratories also gives some flexibility, but you will have to bring the money if you want to do the research you want (i.e. by writing grants). However, unlike university that applies for NIH RO1 grants that are gives you some flexibility, in the national laboraotories you will have to go for a R21/R33 grant, which are general what other believes is important (at least you have to choose between some projects).
The industry is more market driven, so fundamental research is not really their priority. I guess that they would let you work on something if you are able to demonstrate that there is some commercial interest behind it...

2) The age factor:
The PhD will probably give you more opportunities and more freedom. It will probably allow you to become easier a section leader or higher, if that is what you want. Assuming that you start your PhD next year (age 43), you will finish it at an age of 48-50 year old (if done in USA). This will leave you with about 15 year of work to realize some "return on investement". Furthermore, even with a PhD, it will be pretty difficult to become a university professor at this age, if that is what you want.

3) The money factor:
Maybe this is one of the most important! Can you afford to have a salary decrease for several years? If you have to make sucrifies to get the degree, it might be tougher that you think, especially as you have now a family...If money is not a problem (i.e. you have enough of it) then my previous argument about return on investement etc becomes obsolete and at this case I would just go for it.

4) The back to school factor:
That depends on you. How would you feel about having to study again, have assignements or having to take exams?

Leaving the work force and going back to school for your PhD at ages >40 is tough. I admire the fact that you even considering it!

Actually, it would be best if you could talk to someone that was at a similar age/family status and went for it... Maybe someone from this forum?
One thing that Kostas mentioned in another post, but omitted here, is the European PhD option. In Britain, which is the only country that I can talk about with any confidence, many universities have minimal requirements for classroom courses; basically, you're in the lab full-time from the outset and can get the PhD in 3-4 years (and there's a strong culture of making sure students finish in 4 years). Given your age, this could be a major advantage. Since you just need the PhD to break through the glass ceiling and get considered for more interesting positions, this option could work quite well. Employers shouldn't care too much about the shorter duration; you have all that previous experience after all. Furthermore, living in another country can be a great life expereince.

Hope this was useful,

David Simpson

Kostas and Dave, thanks for your kind input. Dave, I particulary like the idea of going overseas. My wife and I have thought for some time that it would be a great experience for our family.

I also want to thank Tom Jupille for a very thought provoking email.
Jeff Rivera

Physical Scientist/Researcher II

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

LSD-Newborn Screening

8100 Lowry Blvd.

Denver, CO 80230


That is not fair! You, among all the others you should have known that you should share your thoughts/comments with the whole community! :wink: ... well, at least when it has to do with something from the forum :wink:

PS: How else can I dwell your opinions?

Kostas, first of all, it was a long e-mail. Second, it aired more personal detail than I would be willing to put up in a public forum. Third, it included some comments and ruminations that might be subject to misinterpretation in public statements.

Like the Wizard of Oz, some things are better left behind the curtain. :roll:

Bottom line, my comments were consistent with yours. My final advice was, in effect, "after considering the pros and cons, go ahead and 'trust your gut'". Humans by and large do a good job of subconsciously integrating a range of inputs and jumping to correct conclusions.
-- Tom Jupille
LC Resources / Separation Science Associates
+ 1 (925) 297-5374


Not sure where you are with your decision but wanted to share my experience with you. I went straight from my B.S. to working in the Biotech industry (in the Boston area). After around 3 years I realized that I really wanted a stronger understanding of Chemistry and Biochem. fundamentals as well as expand my analytical methodology knowledge. I entered a part-time MS program at Northeastern University, all were night courses so I kept working full-time and my company paid for it. A couple of years later, I decided I wanted to get the Ph.D., but had heard enough horror stories that I knew I had to choose the program and my advisor carefully. I had a great relation with one of the Professors at Northeastern, Paul Vouros, and was really interested in his research areas, so I spoke to him about joining his group and transfering into the full-time doctoral program. End of the story is that it worked out great, transfered my course work, took my qualifying exams right away, was able to start my research right away and cut around 2 years off the typical length of the program. There are also many universities/companies that have COOP Ph.D. programs, Northeastern being one of them. This may be really ideal for you, where you will join a company that lets you get your Ph.D. based on work you are doing for them.

Hope this helps with your decision,

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