When Did You Start Your Career?

Updated on June 22, 2012
J.H. asks from San Jose, CA
19 answers

Hi Mamas,

I am planning on starting my doctorate at age 30. It's an intense program that will take 5 years and require about 60 hours of work a week (I'm hoping less but that is what students have told me). It would not be surprising if I was delayed a few years and didn't start working in my field until I was 38 or so. I have taken an unusual path and often feel disheartened that I don't have a career to speak of.

So, when did you start your career? I would love to gain a better perspective of my timeline :)


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So What Happened?

Thanks for the responses! After earning my B.S. in Human Biology, I started a non-profit and lived in East Africa for 1.5 years. I worked with my brother and we had a major falling out (related to his girlfriend who was out to get me - lord knows why). I am incredibly proud of what I created but the experience was tarnished by the conflict I had with my brother and I had to walk away from the organization. I have residual feelings of inadequacy from not reaching some of my goals. I got married, had DD and have been working in admin because of the stability and benefits. I work for my parents and so I have little to no professional network. I've always had the intention of going back and getting a doctorate in biochemistry and the opportunity has finally come. I played around with alternatives but this is what is right for me. I'm feeling some anxiety about the years ahead and I appreciate the encouragement!

Thanks Riley for the perspective - I'm going to hold on to the idea of 25 years in the field.

Also, thank you DOP - you are absolutely right and that touched me deeply.

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answers from Seattle on

Sounds like you are right on track. I am an undergraduate in my thirties. The graduate students I work with are mostly in their thirties as well. My PI for my undergrad research is in his 60's and didn't get his PhD until he was in his thirties... he is a capacity in his field (also a science) and has been getting numerous awards for his work lately...
If my grad school plans work out I will be 40 before getting my PhD...
It is NEVER too late.
Good luck!

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answers from Santa Barbara on

You are going to be the same age regardless!! Don't worry one bit!

Science is amazing...my undergrad was in Biology and Chemistry.

First career was at 22, made a huge change to scientific sales at 25 (I'm 46). My mother started college the same year I did when she was 38 and finished her MFA at an incredible university.

Best of luck!!

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Seattle on

Even if it takes you 10 years... you'll still be working for 25 years after! Or heck, even longer depending on your field.

Ahem. Which I say, because IF I finish my education (MS, Phd), I'll be 40 when I "start" although I've been working in different areas of these fields (academia and healthcare) for over 10 years total over the past 15 years.

If you've only got 5 years to go, though, that's a good 30 years "in".

I'm quite seriously considering a 180, however, and quitting school entirely (or for at least the next 10-15)... and starting an entirely different kind of work next year (don't want to jinx it). If I do... I'll be 33.

If I DO do a 180, then either I'll stay in harness till I retire OR "retire" after 15 years, and start back to school in my mid 40's. Acedemia is a pretty sedentary career (while my 180 is not). So I could very easily do my 180 in my 30's and 40's, finish school, and then teach in my 50's and 60's.

All I know right now, is that God finds me particularly funny. Whenever I make plans, he seems to double over in stitches. So while I have 2.5 different plans right now, I'm not going to count on anything going accordingly, and do my best not to get hit by a bus. I've been writing since I was 12 (most writers can't afford to quit their dayjobs for a loooong time, if ever), was military at 17, did a whole slew of miscelaneous-most-people-career-this-out-jobs-that-I-don't-want-to between discharge and have been in school off and on since 23 (had my son at 23), and am now 33. So I just "keep moving forward".

I have a great life; but it, and my timelines, have definitely been quirky ones!

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answers from Seattle on

My mama went to art school in her country of origin when she was a young thing.

She traveled the world, moved to Europe, had my sister.
Worked misc. jobs as a single mom in Sweden.
Got married to my papa, had me (at 33), was a stay at home mama and helped with the family business.
My parents divorced when she was 45.

By then her degree was 'worthless', but she had to think of her future happiness and financial security, especially since there won't be a safety net of pension or social security because she's not native US citizen and has always worked for herself.

So she started school. From scratch.

She graduated with a Masters when she was 53 years old, and shortly after, started a private practice. She will be 60 this year.

Does she regret it? Heavens no. She loves her work and is GOOD at it. In fact, she brings a unique perspective to her clients, having done a little bit of everything. It makes her a better career woman, more driven, more directed, and more relatable.

Sure there are days when she wishes she could just be a grandmother and artist, days when she got home so tired all she could do was cry. But you know what? It was worth it.

I'm really proud of my mama. It was a wonderful example she set for me, since I was 12 when she began. As a woman who did things backwards (first comes the baby, then came the marriage, this fall I'll go to school for my four year degree, followed by a masters (cross yer fingers!)), I am grateful to have seen my mama go to school as a middle aged single mother.

IF all goes as planed (which it never has), I'll finish my bachelors when I'm thirty and my masters when I'm 33 or 34.

There are no guarantees in this life, so I guess the best I can do is to follow my deepest leading. We'll see where that takes me!

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answers from Columbia on

You only get the one life - doesn't matter when we started ours.


Good luck!

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answers from Dallas on

I'm almost 30, and I've never truly had a career. I just don't care, personally. I never lived to work. I worked, because I had bills. My goal was never a career. I know plenty of people like that. I also know many people who got laid off and had to start over in their 40's and 50's. I have friends who I went to high school with, who are just now going back to school. It's becoming a lot more rare for people to even have careers, these days. Growing up, there were many more lifers. (Meaning, people working for companies until retirement.) That's very rare now. My mother in law is taking courses right now. She said there are more people in her classes, that were laid off and starting over, or deciding to finally finish college at middle age, then recent high school graduates. You'll find lots of people older then you, restarting their careers. It's very common now. The point, is there is no timeline!!

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answers from San Francisco on

Well. I started the career I have now at about age 28. However, after nearly 13 years of it, I am finding myself entirely burnt out and needing a change, and am planning to make a career shift this fall. So... I'll be 41 and starting something related, but new to me.

Don't feel bad. I think the idea that people should have A Career that they do for their entire working life is outdated. Everything you have done to this point has, in some way, brought you to where you are now and will help you in the future, so while you may not feel that you have "a career," you have surely gained valuable experiences and skills.

Best of luck in your doctorate program!

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answers from Chicago on

I totally agree with Dad. I once read about a woman that finished her residency in pediatrics at the age of 68. It is never too late.

And you know how the saying goes, pennies add up to dollars. The same holds true in life. Every little bit adds up to make our life stories.

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answers from St. Louis on

38, I was a late bloomer. :)

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answers from Omaha on

Good for you!! Don't be discouraged about your age. You can use it to your life experiences to your advantage! Everyone has to find their own way in their own time. For me, I graduated high school and went directly to college the next Fall. Loved every minute of it. I got my degree in elem. education and got a job right out of college. A year after that I started my masters program.
My oldest brother graduated from high school and went to community college for a year or two. He took a break and worked with my dad. A few years after that he went back to school and earned his degree and decided to start law school after that. He is now a successful lawyer.
My youngest brother went to a big university after high school. After a year he decided to come home and go to community college for awhile. That really wasn't his thing, so he decided to just work. A few years after that he joined the military. He loves it and is working on a degree and earning many top honors like a bronze star and the Robert Steatham award for his courageous work as a soldier.
My point is, just in my family, we have all taken different paths and have all achieved great successes individually. Just because your path doesn't look like someone else's it is still your unique path. Embrace it and you will do fabulous! Good luck!!

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answers from Santa Fe on

I'm a biologist and my husband is a physicist. When we were in grad school there were lots of other grad students in their 30s. Ages 25 to 36 seemed about normal. My husband and I both finished when we were 29 but so many of our friends were about 32-35. And some were older. For some reason in my program I was one of the oldest students...but in my husband's physics department there were many older grad students. Many of them were starting at about age 30. Don't feel disheartened...you are doing great! Just start your program and enjoy it...don't worry about your age. If it makes you feel any better one of my best bosses ever did things differently. She was a stay at home mom and raised her kids first. Then when she was done with that she went and got her PhD. When I worked for her she was the head of this huge environmental program at Los Alamos National Lab. She was a very smart woman and it was great working for her.

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answers from Norfolk on

Since I switched majors it took me 5 years to finish college (a BS in Information Systems Management).
Then I worked fast food jobs for a year till I landed a job in my major (Cobol Programmer) - when I was 25.
That was 25 years ago.
My current title is Business Analyst and I retire in 15-17 years (if I can afford to).
People start doing things at all kinds of ages.
Your life is your journey - you can't compare it to what others are doing.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Wow - I'm so impressed that you're taking the plunge to restart your career journey! Maybe this will inspire me a bit too.
You didn't mention what your field is, but most doctorate programs require some kind of internships, teaching or parallel work component - working in your field while you study. Look for opportunities to leverage your past experiences while delving into your new field.
Don't be disheartened to feel you don't have a career at 30. When I look around at my colleagues, it's pretty rare that people have a single track focus on one specific career path starting at age 22. The most valuable people have deviated from the straight & narrowly defined career path to dabble into a lot of different things. This helps make them well rounded & able to relate to other people in a very diverse working world. I work in IT, but studied German & Political Science, and worked as a bookkeeper. If you only had people with IT degrees who have only worked in IT, we'd really be at a disadvantage trying to relate our services, to the business people, customers, vendors who use them.
Turn around your perspective. You've been building your career, and what you bring to any situation, through the wealth of education, work & life experiences that you've had in your 30 years.

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answers from Kansas City on

Go for it! I received my bachelors degree and worked up until the day before I gave birth to my daughter. Stayed home, went back to work part time... then, I decided at age 45 to go back for my masters degree. It took me three years as a full time graduate student (also working full time) and it just about did me in some days...

I had a great support system and was able to complete the work required. Fortunately, I was hired right away. I am now doing a job that I absolutely love. I am a better mom, wife and friend because I am happy with my career.

Yes, I missed out on some family time, but my husband and kids have complete respect for what I've done and my kids see value in their education as well. You can do it! Good luck!

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answers from Los Angeles on

I had one at 20 but began my real career at 26.
Now at this stage in my life I am having to re-invent myself after the youngest child is in school.
It's never too late esp at your age.
Just be sure you are choosing the right career for you and that you will finish it. Otherwise you can choose a different career path that may not take as long. It's really all about choices & determinationg to make it work!
Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

I started a doctorate program right after I turned 35. Five years later, and I'm soooo close to graduating AND so close to turning 40. I found out I was accepted into the program when I was 9 months pregnant, and started very soon after the birth of my daughter (I already had a toddler). I have also had an unusual path. While it's been psychologically hard feeling a little older than average (which you won't be) and being impatient to get back into some kind of career, I am actually finding now that I'm on the "downhill" side that my unusual background is helping me, because it is making me stand out. However, I am also finding that my path into my next career is similarly unusual and outside the norm, in part because of my atypical path to getting here. That said, I am now working in a job that a lot of people in my field would be thrilled to have and are shocked that I was able to land even before finishing my doctorate. It's doable, it will be hard, there may be times when you're stretched so thin you're sure you'll snap, but it is possible! And you will probably be younger than me when you finally do graduate. :) Good luck!

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answers from Dallas on

About 2 weeks after I graduated from high school. I had taken a vocational drafting class. I used that profession to work my way through engineering school. So I did career first then had kids at a much later age.

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answers from Sacramento on

I started Vet School at age 34, ended at age 38 then had a baby. Worked out just fine!

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answers from Syracuse on

Right out of college, at age 22. I worked for 10 years in my field and am now home full time with my kids, I had them at age 30. I do contemplate going back to school and starting a career in another field quite often though. Good luck to you!

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