How to get into academia later in life?
January 28, 2013 7:53 AM   Subscribe

What possible avenues are there to get 'back' on an academic career path in your late 30s? Are there any unusual paths that I have not considered?

Details / Context:
- Living in London UK (partner working in London).
- Bachelor degree (w/ hons) in Maths / Philosophy in Australia.
- Interested in pursuing Philosophy / Economic Theory / Political Theory
- Worked in mindless finance office job for 10 years.
- Currently unemployed /casually employed and spending days trying to 'catch-up' on some texts/theory at home.

Ideally... I'd manage to snag a PhD (w/ funding) at a Uni in London somehow and without having had to pay to do a Masters (which is expensive especially as a 'foreign student'). That would cover the next 3 -5 years.... after that...hmm.. well something will come up.

Or at least find some way of moving into a more theoretically interesting and thoughtful career. Income potential is not really that important. (ie Median wage would be adequate)
posted by mary8nne to Work & Money (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
So, are you planning on applying to doctorate programs? Or, are you looking for some other route into academia? Academia is a wide category so I'm not sure what you mean. Do you want to be a professor? A lecturer? Do you want to help research get done? You could apply for administrative jobs at a university and get a foot in the door that way, and then apply to programs in your university. I don't know what the funding situation is like in the fields you've described, but sometimes researchers have opening for lab managers or grant managers, which might be a good way to get a taste of it all.

Traditionally, for PhD programs. you should find a researcher you want to work with, someone who's work you find interesting, and hopefully someone who is funded, publishes, and is a relatively nice person. If you want advice for how to go about starting a doctoral program search, that would be an excellent AskMeFi post.
posted by absquatulate at 8:52 AM on January 28, 2013

(Can you clarify what you mean by philosophy? Are we talking Žižek or Heidegger or Quine or Kuhn or what?)
posted by and so but then, we at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2013

(Er... I don't particularly mean "which of those people do you agree with?" but rather something like "which of those people would you like to be in the same conversation as?")
posted by and so but then, we at 9:04 AM on January 28, 2013

I am currently doing an AHRC funded PhD, and I would not have gotten to this point if I had not done a Masters beforehand.

However, you say you are interested in Economic Theory. So you may wish to look into the ESRC funding schemes which are more flexible.

The LSE website has some information on this:

The ESRC funds 1+3, 2+2 and +3 studentships.

The 1+3 scheme provides funding for a one year research training master's linked to a three year PhD and is designed for students who have not already completed an ESRC-recognised programme of research training.

The 2+2 scheme provides funding for programmes which commence with a 2 year MRes programme followed by a 2 year MPhil/PhD.

The +3 scheme provides funding for a three year PhD.

posted by veids at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2013

You are probably going to need to do a PhD to have a chance at a decent career in UK academia now, unless you have a very relevant set of life experiences (which it doesn't sound like you have), and even then you will be restricted at an increasing number of institutions. Many universities will no longer give a chair to a member of staff without a PhD, however accomplished, and some may be explicitly or tacitly requiring one for more junior positions. Promotions may be more of struggle without. You want to work at a better institution as this offers more chance of a permanent position rather than a series of crappy contracts and being the whipping boy/girl for piles and piles of teaching related gubbins. Not having a PhD will reduce your chances of a job at these institutions.

A lot of the funded PhDs for the coming academic year are currently hitting the ad pages so you need to be looking for these now. Try and

There are not that many sources of UK PhD funding now that ask the student to apply and then find a supervisor. Rather, the supervisor applies for funds and then advertises the funded position. Bear two things in mind: 1: You can negotiate a bit with the supervisor over the topic you will be researching, buts/he gets the final say over funding, so don't force your ideas down their throat. 2: PhDs never finish where they started so you will have plenty of time to take a different direction over the three years of study.

You mention you would be a foreign student. Are you EU or otherwise, because I would think that if the latter this will restrict your ability to land a funded PhD. Fees for these are typically about £10k a year higher, which means your supervisor would need a £90k pot instead of a £60k pot to fund you through three years. Since they will not have the extra money they will generally go for an EU student. Some funding pots restrict applicants to EU students only. If you are from non-EU then it may be a good idea to talk to a university careers department and they might be able to tell you of a funding pot to encourage studentships for someone from your country. This will be a longshot but you never know.

If you do qualify, I would suggest that if you find a funded PhD you like the look of that you need to be proactive. Swat up as much as possible on the topic, then contact the supervisor directly for a chat. Don't show off (because you won't know enough to get away with that) but try to sound informed and interested and keen. Basically you are trying to form a personal connection to convince the supervisor to stick their neck out. Supervisors are looking for students who are, amongst other things:
*motivated (so you don't quit as this looks bad on supervisors record)
*independent (so you are less work for supervisor)
*intelligent (since good work is good, and might mean papers)

Try to give the impression you are all of these.
posted by biffa at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd start by talking to a couple of academics first, they might help you lose the notion of academia offering "a more theoretically interesting and thoughtful career"... The other thing they might be able to explain is how extremely difficult it is to have any kind of academic career - I did a fully-funded (social sciences) PhD at a decent UK university, published, did all the right things and four years out of the PhD all there seems to be on offer are short-term positions which require moving around the country so I am trying to move into university administration as we speak.

However, if you want to go ahead, I'd go at it in the following way:
1. narrow down your discipline/research interests which at the moment are way too vague
2. prepare a solid research proposal and look for funding; network, network, network
3. apply for funding
4. spend 3-4 years undertaking PhD research writing the thesis and gaining all the experience that will help you (hopefully) get a job - teach, publish, organise conferences etc.
5. defend the PhD
6. spend anything between 1-6 years (looking at my peers) in short-term research/teaching positions until you manage to land something permanent
7. begin to have a semblance of an academic career

btw, the job market in humanities is even worse than in social sciences.
posted by coffee_monster at 8:03 AM on January 29, 2013

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