Many students take some time away from school before pursuing higher education, but before this semester, it had been 29 years since Greg Lampros GRD ’05 sat in a classroom.
Lampros, 54, is the oldest matriculating student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences this year, pursuing a master’s degree in the history of medicine and science.
The average age of matriculating students, excluding Lampros, in the Department of History of Medicine and Science is 31, and, in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as a whole, students are even younger. The average matriculating student is 25 and the average enrolled student is 27.
Lampros’ decision to return to school was not, as some might expect, the product of a mid-life crisis or unanticipated career change. Since he graduated from the University of Utah in 1975 with degrees in History and Biology, Lampros has known that he wanted to attend graduate school. But, at the time of his graduation from the University of Utah, he had three children and felt that he simply could not afford graduate school.
Today, Lampros is without regrets.
“I made the decision for my family,” he said. “Once you set a goal, you never have to give up on it.”
Instead of pursuing a degree in Bioengineering and Anatomy, which was his passion, Lampros began a career after graduation in the Forest Products Industry and also worked for some time in an emergency room. In his spare time, he read scientific journals that kept him connected to the world of academia.
“In business, I saw the practical side of life and in the emergency room, I saw a difficult part of life. Now I can put all these things together,” Lampros said.
Lampros said he sees his time away from school as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
“I am used to working long hours and under a lot of stress,” Lampros said. “This is an advantage as far as studying — I don’t have a problem sitting in the library all day.”
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler agreed that older students often possess advantages over younger students because their life experiences can provide a broader perspective on their academic work.
“They have great maturity. They have life experiences that others don’t,” Butler said.
Gabrielle Guise, the oldest matriculating Ph.D. candidate this year, believes that she is more prepared for graduate school today, at 40, than she was when she was younger.
“I know that I really want to do this,” Guise said. “I don’t know if I had this at 25.”
Like Lampros, Guise delayed her studies for family reasons. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1985, she earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and then started a Ph.D. program at New York University. Shortly into her studies, however, she started a family and decided to delay her work in academia.
“I realized I couldn’t do both well,” Guise said. “And I had already committed to the family.”
Lampros’ and Guise’s situation is not highly unusual or extreme — every year there are a small number of older graduate students, Butler said — .
The oldest student currently enrolled in the Graduate School is 64 years old.
What Dean Butler did note was Yale’s unusually young student population.
“At elite colleges and universities, the age distribution is much more skewed downward,” Butler said.
He suggested that because Yale students are so young, there may be erroneous assumptions that learning is a necessarily youthful activity, and older students may be a reminder that learning is a lifelong process.
Neither Lampros nor Guise feels any particular discrimination because of age.
“I’m aware that I’m older,” Guise said. “But the nice thing about an intense academic exchange is that everything falls away. You lose track of who’s a man or a woman — age is just one more category.”
Pat Cabral, a senior administrative assistant at the Graduate School’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, said age discrimination has not been a focus of the office and she could not remember any reported instances of prejudice.
While older students such as Lampros and Guise may not feel any discrimination while at Yale, they may face challenges trying to start a career after they have finished their degrees. Lampros’ ultimate goal is to teach or write books, but he noted that, in some ways, his goals have already been met.
“I will receive 100 percent satisfaction from what I am doing here anyway,” Lampros said.
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