PHD CS after getting senior position in corporate ladder

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I am a senior executive in a software product (mid size) company, leading it's software (product) development division worldwide.

I have a CS masters from outside US and have over thirteen years of software development and CS teaching experience. I always wanted to do PHD and follow research and teaching career, but family and financial circumstances never allowed me to go back to graduate school.

Now I feel I am ready to scrifice to follow my dream. My well wishers think I will be insane if I leave such a lucrative job and opt for a PHD. Most people suggest that I should go for an MBA or Engineering Management degree, in which I am not interested.

Only doubts in reaching final decisions are:
1- Acceptance chances in a decent (top 30) CS department for PHD. Considering I have done many innovative projects, but no research publication.
2- If I complete my PHD in mid 40s, what will be the prospects in getting placed in an academia (graduate school)/research organization?
3- I have a family (spouse and two children)to support. Is it possible to support a family while doing a funded (for an individual) PHD and with the finances of around USD 50,000 (cash)?

Your guidance will be highly valuable for me.


-- Waqar Ahmad, July 16, 2008


Definitely this will not be an income-maximizing choice, but there might be more to life than making every possible dollar. If you want to try to support a wife and kids on a graduate student stipend ($20,000 per year), your best choices will be in the Midwest, e.g., Purdue or University of Illinois. You could supplement your stipend with a bit of consulting work.

I wouldn't worry too much about whether you go to an elite school. A top department offers more opportunity for socializing with smart colleagues, but if you're spending most of your non-work time with family it won't matter. Choose an advisor first, convince him or her that you'd be a useful lab member, and then let the advisor work the admissions process.

Will you get a job? It depends mostly on your advisor's personal connections and his or her recommendation of you. Academia is competitive and there is a fair amount of age discrimination. On the other hand, a lot of the most interesting CS research is done within companies such as Google and they are more open-minded about whom they hire.

-- Philip Greenspun, July 16, 2008

Thank you for your guidance. What I understand from your response is:
- It is possible to survive with family while doing a PHD
- Before formally applying for admission to any department I should proflet with professors (having similar research interests as mine).
- There is age discrimination in academia for job offering.

One question:
- Is there no age discrimination in PHD admissions?


-- Waqar Ahmad, July 17, 2008

I've had the same question and have a similar set of circumstances. As yet, I have been unable to obtain a direct answer. Granted, I'm responding to a two year old question now which may not help. I think the evidence lies in looking at faculty websites across various top institutions which show pictures and CV's of lab members. You'll be hard pressed to find anyone over 32 and most in the range of 25 to 30. So, if that's any indication, older men and women are off of the table. It's too bad, 15 years of technical experience often trumps a 25 year old kid when it comes to creative problem solving and establishing the correct boundary conditions for a problem. I've smoked a lot of youngsters who have a 3.8 GPA, and mine was only a 3.6, because I've been around a bit. I think it would be pretty tough for me to go on after I finish my MS in mechanical engineering because I'm too old. I think it's likely a topic that scares the daylights out of admissions committees. It's ironic from a financial standpoint too because most of us with consulting experience have had to write many successful proposals to pay our way and are used to having to clearly justify our calculations. Hence, we can function as partners in the process, not just trainees. One would think that would be valued by an adviser, but I guess not.

Regards, J. Baker

-- J. Baker, July 1, 2010