What does age have to do with it?

So I had a very interesting discussion with my supervisor and a member of my supervisory committee yesterday (that’s right, I now have a supervisory committee). The two of them were discussing who, between two people, might be the right internal external for my candidacy committee. The discussion quickly turned into a discussion of how one of the two was younger, much younger, than the other.

Following this discussion, I had a one-on-one meeting with my supervisor, and so I took the opportunity to actually ask what age had to do with their discussion. In my experience, age has very little to do with anything in grad school. Grad students come in all ages, even more so than undergrads, and same with professors. The only difference there is that professors ages are more likely to give some indication as to their “ranking” (assistant or associate or full, etc), but even then, not so much, given the wide variance in age of people graduating with PhDs.

My supervisor told me that when he forms a committee (supervisory, candidacy, or defence), he likes to try and “balance” out the ages of the committee members. (Not that this always happens, all their professors on my masters thesis defence would fall into the “older” category.) His reasoning behind this is that:

  1. Younger professors are more likely to have different view points, be more open to changes in how things are done, and be more on top of the newest research.
  2. Older professors have been on many defences/candidacies/etc and know how they are done and how to properly judge the progress of a student. They’ve also had a lot more experience behind them in terms of research they’ve either done or seen done.

My supervisory committee, which is consists of three professors including your supervisor, consists of two “older” professors and one younger one. Both my candidacy and defence committee will contain my supervisory committee, and so at the very least, there will be both older and younger members on all three.

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