Too old at 25…? – On academic support and careers advice.

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Think of the trees…..! DOES NOBODY THINK OF THE TREES?

It is done. I have handed in my PhD thesis this morning. Next to me on the desk here are two spare copies I have. One for myself, and one for a potential mock viva (even though I’m not quite sure yet whether I want one). A fellow PhD student asked if he could have a look, and he went through the front matter, pausing at the final paragraph in my acknowledgements.

In this paragraph I thanked my undergraduate careers adviser who told me, at the age of 25, that I would be ‘far too old to be accepted into a PhD programme’ when I told him about the potential career paths and options I wanted to pursue.

If anything, that comment, after which I decided to leave their office, has spurred me on to prove to them that I was, at the ‘tender age of 25’ anything but ‘too old’ to be accepted into a PhD programme. Of course, first I still had my Bachelor to finish, and then a master programme to find and complete, but if that would go as wished, a PhD was in the cards for me, as it would be providing me with an opportunity to help make the world a better place from within academia; if not by teaching students, then via research and collaboration.

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Surely I don’t look a day over 30….?

My fellow PhD student said it was good of me to mention it, as it might be something to spur on people who have heard a similar argument, telling them not to pursue something that they feel is right for them. And I agree. That is exactly the reason I put it in there. If there is only one person reading that, or this post for that matter, who is doubting themselves about whether or not they could or should do something after a similar comment, and who decides to, like me, take the plunge, my work here is done.

I expect student advisers to be supportive, especially when it comes to academic learning and ambitions. Of course, we have to be realistic about things, and I would expect someone to tell me it would not be such a brilliant idea if I decided to become a professional figure skater. But at that point in time there was no indication whatsoever that I would not be cut out for doing a PhD. My grades were good,  I was academically involved and passionate, and had come to the careers adviser out of my own free will just for some fresh perspectives, all while working 24 hours a week at a social housing association. That did not matter, the student adviser said. Chances were slim I would be accepted, as I would simply be too old by the time I’d reach that cross roads, or even at that moment….  If I were too old at 25, I’d be on death’s door by the time I was 28, which was when I eventually started my PhD.

Looking around the office here now I am glad to see such a variety of people working towards their PhD. Men, women, of all backgrounds, ages, religions, shapes, sizes, sexual orientations and whatever there is that can differentiate us from each other, or make us relate to each other, for that matter. All passionate about their project, all anxious about their careers, all wanting to make a difference in their personal fields. We laugh and complain together, regardless of all those differences. I hope the same for my future career, research group, colleagues and anyone else I’m involved with or will collaborate with.

But for now, time to go back home, the geraniums are waiting…!

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