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09/06/2016 09:36 am ET Updated Sep 07, 2017

I Completely Reinvented My Career at 34, and This Is How I Did It

What are some tips for someone looking to change their career after age thirty? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Robin Hanson, associate professor of economics at George Mason University and research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University, on Quora:

Since I started grad school in a whole new subject, economics, at the age of thirty-four, I am someone who changed careers late in life. Previously I had been an AI research software engineer for nine years. But I haven't done a study of a large group of people who did this, so I mostly only have my own experience to go on here. Even so, let me make some observations.

Some of my observations are specialized to the case of someone going back to school in order to change careers. Math tends to be one of the biggest barriers to such people; most people don't do much math and find it hard to learn math later in life. Fortunately, I used math a fair bit in my job, so I was much less rusty on math.

I was also reading and thinking a lot about my new career well before I went back to grad school. I think it would have been much harder to just jump in and start a new subject if I hadn't been thinking about it.

Older returning students are known as being more focused, but also less plastic. Professors who want clay to mold into a copy of themselves tend to avoid such students. So seek out professors and other mentors who seek less clay.

For a more general observation, beyond just returning to school, I'd say that you'll do better at a later career change if you tend to be more youthful in many ways, including being energetic, passionate, flexible, and submissive. The more that you are conformably settled in your many ways, and act like a big fish in your pond, the less well you can manage a career change.

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