Nel Mezzo: is a midlife Ph.D. worth it?


The midlife return to grad school fits what may be a universal rhythm. You learn a profession, you learn how to live, you form independent judgements. You get a sense how some kinds of stories are going to come out.

Rather than assist or apprentice to others, you want to apply your own understanding to the world. In the case of service or advocacy work, you want to “stop pulling people out of the river, go upstream, and find out who’s pushing them in.”

Lived experience and the independence of mind that comes with age aren’t enough. Try to get by without more, and you risk becoming a crank. There’s a need for a backbone, a framework, a methodology, a way of testing one’s own conclusions against accepted knowledge. Hence why not a return to academia?

Sadly, reports like the first item in this Edge of the American West column make me wonder if the midlife return to grad school is still a sensible choice.



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