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As I am preparing to head out to mLearn/EcTel 2019, an issue turned up on potential ageism. Do you know of anyone who started their academic track at 50 or older and managed to gain access to a higher academic position? Please send me a message, I would love to interview them and know how they achieved that position. In case you have data regarding the below statements on age and academic positions, please inform me as well, would love to factualize my assumptions.
Academia is filled with older people!
If I look around at conferences, the biggest target population consists of older (old-ER) academics, who have achieved academic status, and doctoral students (mostly younger, present author and some of my friends excepted). So, if I walk around, it feels as though there is equal representation in terms of age.
But then I started to dig a bit deeper, while looking for successful role models within academia, who started their academic journeys later on in life. Now I wonder whether people that start their academic careers later in life, actually make it to higher positions within the academic world?
You just need a body of work …
It is a reality that you need to have some sort of body of work within a certain field to step up the professional ladder in most areas. But there seems to be a discrepancy in what is possible in the professional (read corporate) world and what is possible in the academic world. Or am I mistaken?
Forbes has this 30 under 30 people to follow. The list is comprised of people who are successful at a young age in something newsworthy. If you consider the age of 30, this means that even the ‘oldest’ ones only have 9 years maximum to reach this status of success. If you would translate this into academic tracks including bachelor, master, and phd finished, you have only about 4 to 5 years max to achieve potential success. This means you can achieve a successful status within this short amount of time: less than 5 years. Basically, if you start at 50+ you should be able to achieve success before keeling over and dying of old age :D
Now let’s get back to academia and tenure tracks for researchers starting their career later on in life.
Looking for numbers
We move towards a more data-driven world and with that, an increased belief that data is the final argument (not agreeing with this, just generalizing). So I wonder: what is the average post-doc age, and how does this average compare to average PhD age? Or better yet, how many 45+ people start a Ph.D. track, and how many 50+ people get into a post-doc function?
Just wondering, as I have the feeling that this doesn’t add up. And if this adds up, then how many of the tenure positions are held by academians starting out later in life? Can anybody get their hands on such numbers?
The reason I ask, is because some of us late academic bloomers can have a lot of citations (in open journals), written and published in a short amount of time. We also come in with transferrable skills: project leads (corporate), team skills, innovations… and I am just wondering whether these might be neglected when comparing candidates for academic positions. Could this be? Or am I wrong in assuming this? (again are there numbers?)
In a world where there is increasing pressure to combine academic with professional fields, this seems something that is missing. Because people with a prior corporate or governmental background, might be well placed in cross-over academic tenure positions? And in those countries where they urge people over 50 to stay employed or be employed, I just wonder if there are equal opportunities?
Or aren’t late bloomers part of academia status positions?
Who knows, excuses might be:
- Yes, but they don’t have enough high profile papers,
- Yes, but they didn’t supervise enough phd students,
- Yes, but you need the 10 years of prior experience (not true, certainly not for 30 under 30)
- Yes, but there is no ageism (without arguments to follow that statement),
- Yes, but if you start late, you cannot expect to move up the academic ladder (that would be a crushing answer, would not it!).
Just looking for role models or numbers
Do you know of anyone who started their academic track at 50 or older and managed to gain access to a higher academic position? Please send me a message, I would love to interview them and know how they achieved that position.
If you have numbers regarding the above, oh!!! Please inform me as well, would love to factualize my assumptions.
In the meanwhile, writingly yours from EcTel and mLearn.