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#1
Old 04-22-2011, 11:51 PM
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Is 40 too old to go for a Ph.D.?

In another thread I mentioned that I'm interested in psychology. This will mean taking post-baccalaureate undergrad classes for prerequisites, then going through the Masters program and the Ph.D. program (often times are bundled together)...

I'll be turning 40 next February... is this worth it? I'd like to be a clinical psychologist but I don't want to end up spending the entirety of my career paying off student loans, you know? I'm still kind of doing the what-ifs stage of the game.

Anyone here start a degree-intensive career later in life? Did it go well? Were you disappointed? What is your advice?

I realize that some of the programs offer a stipend and a tuition waiver--one would hope I could get into a program like that, but they seem competitive. I graduated with an undergraduate BA summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA... problem is my major was art so it's unlikely to impress unless I can spin some sort of "art therapy" angle in an amazing application essay...

I don't know. I just like turning to the teeming millions for opinions since there's just so dang many of you with so many dang life experiences that I always feel like I get my money's worth out of stirring my poking stick around.

Thanks in advance for your opinions. Please let me know what sort of late-entry careers you have managed to get into ad how they're working out.
#2
Old 04-22-2011, 11:58 PM
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My mother started a graduate program in psychology when she was just around that age, earned her PhD, and went on to a rewarding career, which she is still involved in at age 70+, so I'd say, no, you are never too old.
#3
Old 04-22-2011, 11:58 PM
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My grandfather switched careers from accountant to general practioner at 40. Cherished his med school college days and loved his second job.
#4
Old 04-23-2011, 12:18 AM
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You're never too old. (My grandmother earned her master's at 80.) You will be 50 whether or not you go to grad school, so you might as well do it if that's what you want.

However. There are an awful lot of grad students out there, grad school apparently gets more miserable and more expensive every year, then you have to do clinicals and internships and I don't even know what, and there are lots of psychologists.

I'd advise you to be very clear on the difficulties of grad school and all that; I think far too many people go into it with rose-colored glasses on. But if that's what you truly want to do, then do it.
#5
Old 04-23-2011, 12:26 AM
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If by "is it worth it", you mean from a purely financial point of view, then almost certainly not. Even if the PhD increases your earning power (it probably won't, significantly), that's offset by the many years you'll spend earning almost nothing to get it, and starting at 40, you won't have as many years of the increased earning power as a traditional student would.

From a point of view of personal fulfillment, though, sure, go for it. You're never too old to learn.
#6
Old 04-23-2011, 12:39 AM
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Chronos is correct, if it's for financial reasons you really have to crunch numbers carefully to make sure that you will come out ahead.

But if it's a matter of doing something 'cause you love the subject and you want to learn more, it's money WELL spent. Learning because you have a desire to educate yourself on that subject is always money well spent.

Getting any degree to increase your earning power or change careers, at 40? Well that can be done but you better seriously do the number crunching and include all sorts of surprise contingencies
#7
Old 04-23-2011, 01:19 AM
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I'm not looking to get rich, but I don't want to retire still paying student loans, either, you know?
#8
Old 04-23-2011, 06:51 AM
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I'm 42 and just finished my first year of my law degree.

I will not make enough money to have a positive return on investment, I don't think, particularly if you count time spent, but so what? I am driven to do this, and the journey is it's own reward. I'm paying for the journey.
#9
Old 04-23-2011, 08:35 AM
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I'm in grad school in my mid-30s, and often lay awake nights wondering what the hell I was thinking.
#10
Old 04-23-2011, 10:20 AM
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Nope you are too old to learn, don't try.


Now how do you feel? You have to agree at some level or you would not ask. If the statement bothers you, then go for the degree.
#11
Old 04-23-2011, 11:48 AM
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Just make sure you get a full tuition waver PLUS a stipend and health plan while a grad student. If you can't get accepted to a program with all that guaranteed, that's an indication that you aren't good enough to be there.
#12
Old 04-23-2011, 11:59 AM
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My mother is a few years short of fifty and she was just accepted into her employer's Ph.D graduate track program.
#13
Old 04-23-2011, 01:10 PM
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A PhD is a research degree, even in a field like clinical psychology. They're not training you in how to be a therapist; they're training you in how to evaluate different modes of therapy (among other things). As such, they expect you to know a lot coming in, and you'll probably need to put in a couple years of work to get to the point where you're a competitive applicant. I'm not in clinical psychology, so I can't say specifically what you'll need, but I'll bet good money that it looks a lot like this list:
  • At least a 3.0 general GPA.
  • GRE scores above 1100. Many schools won't even read your application if your score is below this cutoff.
  • Good grades in upper level psychology courses.
  • Letters from faculty who honestly believe that you can handle graduate coursework and do research, and are willing to stake their reputation on that claim.
  • A personal statement indicating that you understand what you're getting into and that you have a good reason for wanting a research degree.
  • Lab experience.
You should read this essay on one person's experience getting into one of the top psychology programs in the world with nothing but a mediocre undergraduate GPA. That's a pretty good characterization of what you have to do, but at the same time it shows that it is possible.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruken View Post
Just make sure you get a full tuition waver PLUS a stipend and health plan while a grad student. If you can't get accepted to a program with all that guaranteed, that's an indication that you aren't good enough to be there.
Two comments:
  1. This is the absolute God's honest truth. If they actually want you, they'll pay for you. And you don't want to be in a program where they don't really want you.
  2. If you take offense to a stranger on a message board pointing out that you might not be good enough, how will you cope when--not if--one of your professors tells you that you aren't good enough?
#14
Old 04-23-2011, 01:30 PM
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My experience is on the more technical side--engineering and hard sciences, but I think it depends on what you want to do and why you want to do it. If you are doing it because you love it and you want to learn more, then, as said above, you are never too old. If you are doing it as an employment opportunity, then you need to look on return on investment. If you're 40, assume you will be 45 by the time you get your PhD. My sister is a psychologist and makes a comfortable but not great living. Assuming she's typical, if you're doing this with loans, depending on what school you go to, you may be paying student loans into your 50s or even 60s. Given this, do you want to retire in your 60s 70s or never? If you enjoy the work and want to work into old age, then again--plenty of time. If you want to retire relatively young--65-70, I don't think its worth while. Im 47 and have been offered opportunities to get my PhD and turned them down. I just don't see the benefit at my age of going through the academic and political hassles involved in getting a PhD.
#15
Old 04-23-2011, 04:38 PM
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If your major goal is to be a practicing clinical therapist, you can also consider a MSW (Masters of Social Work) with the relevant practical training for licensing as a therapist in your state (usually 2 years of supervised practice). This is a much shorter route, if clinical practice is your primary goal.

OTOH if your primary goal is a Ph.D-level study of psychology, with clinical practice being more of a neat bonus, you would probably find this unsatisfactory. It wan't clear from my reading of your OP which part whether advanced education, or the opportunity to practice was you primary goal.

Last edited by Hello Again; 04-23-2011 at 04:39 PM.
#16
Old 04-23-2011, 07:30 PM
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Some thoughts:

1) Can you support yourself while you're doing this? Otherwise, yeah, you'll have debt, and not an easy time paying it back, especially while planning for retirement. Also, I don't know anything about your personal life, but studying takes away from all the fun things in life, even the mild fun things like hanging out with your family.

2) A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

3) Good luck. I know you weren't expecting this to be point 3, but I really mean it. Good luck with making the decision, which is a damned hard one, and good luck if you go for it, or if you don't.
#17
Old 04-23-2011, 08:20 PM
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Depends how you plan to use it - I knew a woman in my undergrad days who loved to say "professional student" when asked what she wanted to be "when she grew up".
Decades later, on a whim (I was spending 6 weeks driving around the country), I looked her up - she was about to:
1. finally get a PhD (Psychology)
2. Turn 40

She had been on and around that campus for 17 years, but when it came to finding a job, all of a sudden nobody could remember her number.
She ended up as an assist. prof in TX, and was dead within 10 years.

If you want to start late (you should have at least 1 co-authorship on your cv by 40), you will need to establish up front that you are dead serious about a career. You will also need to bust your ass on class work
#18
Old 04-23-2011, 10:27 PM
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From a personal fulfilment view, learning's a lifelong process and being able to call yourself "Dr. OpalCat" would be pretty cool- but from a financial/practical point of view- probably not. What are you going to do with a Ph.D that isn't career-based?

Sure, you don't have to do anything with it at all- but it's also possible that being that qualified will hurt your career more than helping it, too.

From the sounds of it you've already decided to go ahead though, right?
#19
Old 04-24-2011, 08:47 PM
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I'd consider a lesser degree that would let me be a therapist, as that is my end goal. And yes I would be able to support myself while in school as my husband will be finishing his residency next year and I wouldn't start until after that. I finished college late (2 years ago at 37) after taking time off for motherhood. I know I'm a good student as I had a 4.0 and was dedicated to my studies. I did take one psychology class and enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm still in contact with my professor, actually. I'm pretty sure I'd need to take some more undergrad psych courses before pursuing graduate school.
#20
Old 04-24-2011, 10:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OpalCat View Post
I know I'm a good student as I had a 4.0 and was dedicated to my studies.
Getting a PhD isn't about being a good student. It's about being a good researcher. Your job as an applicant is to convince a group of world-class experts in psychology that you have what it takes to advance the frontiers of human knowledge. Strong grades are necessary, but by no means sufficient.
#21
Old 04-24-2011, 10:19 PM
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I'd suggest you consider a professionally focused program that would allow you to work while you pursue your degree. I'd also recommend something that allows you to get into practice faster than a PhD would.

I'm in a grad school where most people are in their late 20s- early 30s, and I think we are all realizing that this school thing is starting to get really, really old. Grad school is light years more challenging than undergrad- I easily read 1,000 pages a week of dense text, and grad school papers are in the 20-50 page range with the expectation that they include heavy (often primary) research. When I had a midterm, we spent more than 40 hours in the course of two weeks in study groups for a single test.

At this age, all-nighters are losing their charm.

More frustratingly, we are all getting pretty itchy to, you know, actually do what we are learning. I'm growing to loathe that I spend my life working my ass of something that does not actually impact the world. You start feeling like a caged bird. I think it's important to have some big non-school things in your life that will give it meaning, because grad school starts to be a grind.
#22
Old 04-24-2011, 10:46 PM
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Go for it. You are never to old. Everybody needs to reinvent themselves at least 3 or 4 times in a lifetime. If you don't do it you know you will always wonder 'what if'.

Consider also that people are working well into their 70's. Not just because they can't afford to retire, but because so many people are able to push back some of the effects of aging.

I have a professor who is in her late 50's and has just recieved her PhD. Now she's thinking that she needs to start something new.

Its all in the journey.
#23
Old 04-24-2011, 11:26 PM
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Here's a nice talk about PhD programs in computer science. There is a fair amount of CS stuff in there, but a lot of what it says is true about any research degree.
#24
Old 04-24-2011, 11:38 PM
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I went to grad school in my 40s.
As was so eloquently put to me when I asked the same question of my friends and family... "You're going to get older either way, dumb ass. How can it possibly be a BAD idea to pursue something you're interested in?"
#25
Old 04-25-2011, 08:43 AM
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If you want to be a therapist, why not become a licensed clinical social worker? The only big thing that differentiates them from a clinical psychologist is the title. Also, you have more flexibility. An employer may hire a social worker just because they don't want to pay the premium expected for a Ph.D. And if you don't like the therapy thing, you could be a case worker, work as a guidance counselor, or be an advocate at a non-profit. Your options are much greater than if you pursue a Ph.D, believe or not.

I got my degree early in life, so take what I say with a grain of salt. It was a damn hard thing to do in my 20s, at the "prime" of my life, when I had the energy to pull all nighters, slogging through paper after paper, trying to make sense of the jargon while convincing myself that I wasn't studying stupid stuff no one cares about. Not to mention, the competition amongst other grad students is NO JOKE and you will not get extra points simply for being older than everyone. Remember, most of the students you will be in school with won't have children or "adult" drama to worry about. They can be totally engrossed in their work, totally guilt-free. And their advisors will expect them (and you) to do this. I know in my lab, you were stigmitized if you had too many obligations in your life (like husband, children, extra job, etc.) because you weren't seen as "committed" enough.

The title thing is cool...for the first few months or so. And then it ceases to be all that big of a deal. Why? Because unless you're a medical doctor, no one will care. Occassionally I get addressed by my title and yeah, I use it in my email signature for professional reasons, but it's a very non-important thing to my life. And pay? Ha!! I'da been better off just sticking with a B.S if I cared about that. I go to a clinical psychologist and I call her "Dr." out of respect, but most of her patients do not (and she's all right with this).

A Ph.D will not make you a good therapist, IMHO. It will make you a more educated one, but that doesn't necessarily give you the skills you'll need to become a really good therapist.
#26
Old 04-25-2011, 09:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by even sven View Post
I'd suggest you consider a professionally focused program that would allow you to work while you pursue your degree. I'd also recommend something that allows you to get into practice faster than a PhD would.

More frustratingly, we are all getting pretty itchy to, you know, actually do what we are learning. I'm growing to loathe that I spend my life working my ass of something that does not actually impact the world. You start feeling like a caged bird. I think it's important to have some big non-school things in your life that will give it meaning, because grad school starts to be a grind.
One thing to keep in mind, is that older students tend to have a different attitude toward study than the younger ones- I found graduate school quite a bit easier than undergrad, partially because I was studying things that were more in line with my interests, but mostly because having had a real job for 5 years, I basically approached grad school as a job, which is not how I approached undergrad. At least for me, if I put in as close to 40 hrs a week all semester long on reading, assignments and class, I didn't really have to bust ass and do all-nighters.
#27
Old 04-25-2011, 11:04 AM
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Just a thought, but psychiatric nurses get paid fairly decently, and often make a bigger impact in the lives of patients than their psychiatrist or psychologist do because they are there day after day and see the whole person.

Now nursing is not for everyone,and you may not want to work in a psychiatric hospital but there are psychiatric nurse practitioners who can do a lot of good stuff on an outpatient basis. Of course every jurisdiction has different rules.
#28
Old 04-25-2011, 11:39 AM
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100 Reasons not to go to Graduate School. He's only up to 56, but there's a lot of good stuff in there.
#29
Old 04-25-2011, 12:37 PM
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Quote:
I graduated with an undergraduate BA summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA... problem is my major was art so it's unlikely to impress unless I can spin some sort of "art therapy" angle in an amazing application essay...
So have you considered art therapy? Really! and why not? Seems so up your alley, performance artist, fine artist, can you fathom it?
#30
Old 04-25-2011, 12:51 PM
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I really think you should listen to the advice about a goal oriented path to legal license to be a therapist. Academic group-think is more about exclusion then about learning. Therapy is more about empathy and pragmatic thinking. Dr OpalCat is a neat title, but it won't necessarily make you a better therapist.

Speaking as a former hospitalized nut case, two people were responsible for actually getting me onto the road out of insanity. One was a MD Psychiatrist, and a gifted therapist. One was Nurse/MSW and a very wise and perceptive woman who understood people because she always was one.

I think you are more like the second lady, from the times we have met.

Pursue the dream you have.

Don't go too far into debt for a set of letters on your letterhead.

With prayers for your good fortune, whatever you choose.

Tris
#31
Old 04-25-2011, 04:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OpalCat View Post
I'd consider a lesser degree that would let me be a therapist, as that is my end goal. And yes I would be able to support myself while in school as my husband will be finishing his residency next year and I wouldn't start until after that. I finished college late (2 years ago at 37) after taking time off for motherhood. I know I'm a good student as I had a 4.0 and was dedicated to my studies. I did take one psychology class and enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm still in contact with my professor, actually. I'm pretty sure I'd need to take some more undergrad psych courses before pursuing graduate school.
Would you be pursuing this while in Boston? (I seem to recall that you and your husband are considering your stay here temporary). Both UMass Boston and Cambridge College have Masters Programs in Counseling Psychology. They allow you to become licensed as a mental health counselor (LMHC) rather than a social worker, if you find that you prefer one ideology over the other. Both of these are also programs designed for working adults, so classes are held in the evenings and on weekends.

If you are planning to stay in and around Boston, this is an area pretty heavy with mental health practitioners. Setting up a private practice might be challenging, so I think you'd likely be looking at working in an agency as a clinician, at least at the beginning. This is an excellent way to get your supervision hours in for licensure and the rates of reimbursement can be pretty good for Masters-level clinicians. (That was my former career, so if you have specific questions, feel free to PM me).
#32
Old 04-25-2011, 07:55 PM
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Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
100 Reasons not to go to Graduate School. He's only up to 56, but there's a lot of good stuff in there.
If you haven't already done so, go and read this. The author makes some extremely valid points which are definitely worth keeping under consideration.
#33
Old 04-26-2011, 12:07 AM
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I'm not very far into it yet, but the author of those 100 reasons seems to be basing his/her assumption on the goal of the degree being "to get a position teaching at a university" which is nowhere near what I want to be doing.
#34
Old 04-26-2011, 12:32 AM
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Originally Posted by OpalCat View Post
I'm not very far into it yet, but the author of those 100 reasons seems to be basing his/her assumption on the goal of the degree being "to get a position teaching at a university" which is nowhere near what I want to be doing.
That list should really be titled "100 reasons not to get a PhD." Getting a pre-professional graduate degree is an entirely different experience than getting a PhD. (ETA: In general a non-PhD has a very well-defined end-point, will probably cost you tuition but, if you choose carefully, will also have very good odds of getting you the job you wanted when you came in, and it won't take you 6+ years.) And I agree with all the other observations that a PhD does not sound like a match for what you want to do.

Last edited by sugar and spice; 04-26-2011 at 12:34 AM.
#35
Old 04-26-2011, 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by OpalCat View Post
I'm not very far into it yet, but the author of those 100 reasons seems to be basing his/her assumption on the goal of the degree being "to get a position teaching at a university" which is nowhere near what I want to be doing.
The author is working on the assumption that you won't be able to get a job in the "real world" with your Ph.D so teaching at a university is all you're likely to be able to do with it.

As someone who recently finished what you lot in the US call Graduate School (albeit not with a Ph.D) I don't think he's actually that far off the mark in many respects.
#36
Old 04-26-2011, 01:19 AM
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Haven't read more than the OP. That said, 40 is ten years younger than 50. In ten years you can have a good profession and career well started.
#37
Old 04-26-2011, 10:43 AM
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I'm thinking about going and getting a PhD myself, and I'm 38.

I keep reading about how graduate school is so horrible, etc... but I went to graduate school in the business school, and got 2 master's degrees- a MBA and a MS (IT & Mgmt). I didn't think it was that bad really.

I'm thinking about going back for the PhD in either MIS/IT or possibly organizational behavior, both of which are business school disciplines.

What's the PhD market look like in those fields? Everything I read about talks about the pure sciences or the humanities, and how horrible academia is for people in those fields, but nothing about engineering or business. Does the relative availability of jobs in those fields reduce the glut of PhDs vs. something like say... archaeology, where there are not commercial jobs to be had?
#38
Old 04-26-2011, 11:36 AM
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I recently met someone who switched career paths and went into psychology, well past the age of 40.

My former boss gave up lawyering and became a cardiac surgeon when he was in his 40s.
#39
Old 04-26-2011, 02:14 PM
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I finished my doctorate in my mid 30s. In my field, that's not terribly uncommon. I never thought I was too old or young - but I didn't have kids then.

I think the best advice to really understand what you want to do, ultimately. If it's counseling, it doesn't sound like a Ph.D. is necessary. There's a lot of expense and challenge in the Ph.D. and I would wager this is why a lot of smart people are ABD. If you don't have the passion at some point you realize it isn't worth it. There's a lot of rejection and "go back and do this again, the right way" by people with Ph.D.s as you earn yours. If you can't handle a lot of that it's definitely not a good move.

And as others have mentioned, the culminating project is a dissertation, a research project that you more or less put together from soup to nuts. If that doesn't appeal to you, and you don't have any idea of a project that engages you (even if it's vague at this point) - watch out. There are a lot of folks ABD who did great in coursework but stumbled when it became time for them to start their own research agenda.

Also, I'd take a good look at your extracurricular commitments. Do you have time to meet and interact with your cohortmates and profs beyond courses? If you don't you'll soon find there is an "inside track" that you are not privy to, and that can feel isolating and frustrating. This is also why a lot of Ph.D. programs accept full-time students only. Our graduate program takes part-timers and full-timers and I definitely see how part-timers don't necessarily benefit from the experiences that happen after class.

What do most of the people in the program you're looking at end up doing? If they all go into research or academia, and that's not your goal, you are not going to "fit" their type... and you may not enjoy constantly battling those expectations.

Last edited by Hippy Hollow; 04-26-2011 at 02:15 PM.
#40
Old 04-26-2011, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Hippy Hollow View Post

What do most of the people in the program you're looking at end up doing? If they all go into research or academia, and that's not your goal, you are not going to "fit" their type... and you may not enjoy constantly battling those expectations.
I'm not looking at any particular programs yet, just investigating the concept at this point.
#41
Old 04-26-2011, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by monstro View Post
I got my degree early in life, so take what I say with a grain of salt. It was a damn hard thing to do in my 20s, at the "prime" of my life, when I had the energy to pull all nighters, slogging through paper after paper, trying to make sense of the jargon while convincing myself that I wasn't studying stupid stuff no one cares about.
I think that all depends. I was working on my Ph.D. when I was in my mid to late 30s, defending my dissertation at the age of 39. It worked for me because I was sufficiently mature, disciplined, and motivated at that age; that wouldn't have been true for me in my 20s.
#42
Old 04-26-2011, 03:44 PM
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Originally Posted by OpalCat View Post
I'm not looking at any particular programs yet, just investigating the concept at this point.
Oh, cool. I would make this part of your selection criteria should you pursue the idea further. You are in a great place to investigate options!
#43
Old 04-26-2011, 04:56 PM
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A friend of mine is close to finishing up a PhD in Humanities. At one point she cracked under the pressure and tedium. So great was the nervous breakdown that followed that she was shitting blood for awhile.
#44
Old 04-26-2011, 06:06 PM
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Originally Posted by bump View Post
I'm thinking about going and getting a PhD myself, and I'm 38.

I keep reading about how graduate school is so horrible, etc... but I went to graduate school in the business school, and got 2 master's degrees- a MBA and a MS (IT & Mgmt). I didn't think it was that bad really.

I'm thinking about going back for the PhD in either MIS/IT or possibly organizational behavior, both of which are business school disciplines.
Just so you know there is a bid difference between a MS and a PhD. The grueling part isn't the classwork it's the research. As I said in a previous thread on this, in order to get a PhD you really need to have a passion for the subject such that you can eat, breath and dream about your subject for months on end without getting burned out. If you have this passion than a PhD is a great way to satisfy it if you don't then you may regret your decision.

To the OP, it sounds like you are pretty early in the process. It won't hurt too much to take those post-baccalaureate courses to see how it suits you. In the meantime consider what it is about a career as a clinical psychologist that appeals to you. You may find that you could bail with a masters degree and still get a position that suits your desires.
#45
Old 04-26-2011, 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Buck Godot View Post
You may find that you could bail with a masters degree and still get a position that suits your desires.
This is looking more and more likely to me.
#46
Old 04-27-2011, 07:46 PM
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I'm a 39 year old undergraduate psychology student- I'm only a junior. I'm debating the MS vs doctorate thing. One concern is that there are not really a lot of schools here in Atlanta that DO masters in psych. Most of them are PhD programs, or beyond commuting range. I'd love to get a Phd, but not sure that the time commitment is realistic. There is always Argosy, but it is SO expensive
#47
Old 04-27-2011, 09:52 PM
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That's not good to hear, because Atlanta is where I'd be doing this... We're only in the Boston area until Dan finishes his residency.
#48
Old 04-27-2011, 10:14 PM
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That's not good to hear, because Atlanta is where I'd be doing this... We're only in the Boston area until Dan finishes his residency.
Clark-Atlanta as a School of Social Work. That's where you get a MSW, not from a Psychology Department.
#49
Old 04-27-2011, 11:22 PM
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Ah, good news!
#50
Old 04-28-2011, 02:43 AM
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Here's a nice talk about PhD programs in computer science. There is a fair amount of CS stuff in there, but a lot of what it says is true about any research degree.
Thank you for posting that, that made me feel SO much better that I'm doing the right thing right now, that my handful of Bs don't matter, and that starting undergraduate research early (and doing an undergraduate honors thesis) is the "right" thing to do if I want to go to a PhD program.
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