Tag Archives: continuing education

Will age be an issue in studying for a master’s degree?

In the process of applying for a Master’s degree (in early 2021) I thought it would be a clever idea to meet a current student.  UCL kindly arranged for me to meet one in advance from the programme to which I was applying (Democracy and Comparative Politics).  We spent an hour or so in chatting about the university and his experience on the programme. Before he left I decided to ask him a question which had been burning in my mind. Finally, I asked him what he thought it would be like for somebody at my age (I was about to turn 64). He urged me not to worry and said that he, “did not find it difficult being old”—as he was the oldest student in the class at the time. I asked him his age and he said he was 31. So the oldest student in the class was less than half my age. I gulped—what would this be like?

Regardless, I signed up for the class and am now midway through the programme.  It has been one of my best decisions ever—at least I feel that way so far.  What has it been like to study with people who are less than half my age and why did I decide to take this on despite many fears and reservations?

Firstly, I thought it would be nice to hear what this generation was feeling (the students in my programme range from their early to late 20s, with a few exceptions).  They are even younger than my children, who are all in their 30s at the time of this writing. It is therefore a generation I have little access to, and for that reason I was particularly keen to meet these young people—all of whom have come of age since the financial crash of 2008. Maybe I was also tired of hearing from my own generation and their observations, rationalisations, and prescriptions. My generation screwed things up abysmally and is therefore very unlikely to be the source of solutions.

Second, it seemed like a challenge—and I was up for a challenge.  There did not seem much point in taking something on which did not force me out of my comfort zone. And this has really taken me out of my comfort zone! Throughout my life I have felt that sometimes I need to shake things up, and this experience was destined, and designed, to achieve that. 

Third, friends of mine suggested that I would be able to contribute something unique to the rest of the class. Given that I had been working for over 40 years, it was difficult to dispute this idea–I would be very different from the other students. Nearly all of these young people were likely to be about to start their careers, and they might actually find it helpful speaking to someone who was on the “other side of the hill” (the one I am over).  This has proven to be the case.

Finally, many individuals I spoke to about this upcoming decision said that age was just something that was “in my head.”  I suppose that is true, however I have no way of knowing what is in the heads of other people, only what is in mine.  And if I am honest, I am not even sure that I know my own mind much of the time.  I also asked myself how I would feel if there was someone in my class who was 30+ years my senior. Apart from being immensely surprised by their willingness to learn, I thought that I would judge the individual based on his or her contribution—secretly hoping that these young people would do the same with me.

So far, the classmates have been absolutely lovely—my age more seems to be far more relevant to me than to them.  They seem willing to allow me to join them for lunch and even to meet them at the pub (but I respectfully leave after the second round)!  In fact, they are incredibly open and engaging and have really enhanced my learning experience. Even the dreaded coronavirus, and the many limitations it has caused, has not undermined this aspect, although obviously it has made things much more difficult.

Age is definitely an aspect of who I am and who we all are. So are gender, race, religion, birthplace, nationality, sexual preference, political leaning, and many other factors.  Like any of these, one factor does not define, and probably should not define, who you are, although I guess it does help explain a bit about what you are.  Also, the atmosphere of university education today is “tolerant” in a particular way, almost to a fault.  Perhaps that is theme I will pick up in another post? But in the meantime, I should emphasise how open minded the students I have met are to me and to each other. I think that is partly the refreshing nature of youth but also the current climate.

In any event, I am glad I have undertaken this challenging experiment.

Rodney Schwartz

London, UK—29 September 2022

I started my career in mainstream finance and then impact investing before returning to his lifelong passion of politics in 2021.  This blog reflects that return and is my way of sharing the impressions of someone journeying from finance back into education to study politics after four decades at work.  For those interested in why I started this blog click here, and to read my declaration of known biases, click here.  I welcome any comments.

Why I am dedicating my professional life to democratic innovation (and why I started this Blog)

My CV is typical—did this, moved here, achieved X, spent time at Y.  I then attempt to array these facts in such a way as to concoct a coherent narrative designed for the targeted role.  We all do this—I am hardly unique.  I have worked for 42 years and only recently has a deeper underlying “story” of which I was not consciously aware become apparent—that in my professional life the greatest pleasure has come from being a student.  Ironically, I only discovered my “driving force” after leaving formal schooling (specifically after leaving business school in 1980). 

I have pursued this inclination to study almost exclusively outside of academia (at least until now), which fortunately meant that I could put food on the table. Looking back, eliminating the random noise, my career was dedicated to studying two subjects in depth—financial services (1980-2007) and impact investing and social enterprise (1999-2021), and I earned an income by leveraging the knowledge I acquired.  (BTW, I can explain the chronological overlap should anyone be interested–just get in touch.)

Hovering in the background was a third subject, politics (specifically democratic innovation), to which I have now decided to dedicate the remainder of my professional life.  At 64 I am most unlikely to get a 4th shot!  I have had several academic and professional “nibbles” in the political realm, so it is not all new to me.  I secured a BA in Political Science at the University of Rochester, and whilst studying was campaign coordinator for the Republican Party at the university and for youth across Monroe County, New York (there were liberal Republicans then, and I was one).  Moving to the UK in 1987, I became active in the Liberal Democrat Party, eventually standing as a parliamentary candidate in the 1997 general election in the Welwyn Hatfield constituency in Hertfordshire (lost the election but kept my deposit).  In 2019, out of frustration with a hopeless third party which lacked any distinctive presence or policies, I joined another hopeless party (The Green Party), which at least stands for something crystal clear and vitally important.

I despair at the state of formal party politics and the state of democracy throughout the “West”.  Thus, having chosen to leave impact investing in 2021, I decided to concentrate all my efforts on this apparently pointless field, and seek to learn as much as I could about what has gone wrong and if there is anything, anyone, anywhere is doing which is having a positive impact.  I lump all the attempts I observe into a broad category that I call “democratic innovation”.  The financial services sector I began covering in the 1980s was utterly transformed, partly through technology, but also through other vital structural innovations.  The investment industry has been and is being transformed through the introduction of ESG and impact metrics into the investment process.  This transition of investing from a two-dimensional discipline (risk and return) into one with three dimensions (adding impact) is profound, far-reaching, and growing rapidly.  Politics, at least in the OECD democracies, has hardly changed since I was a kid—and this is hardly because it is working so well.  Dissatisfaction with democracy is at an all-time high of 58% according to the Bennett Centre for the Future of Democracy at Cambridge University[1].  So, as I entered the final years of my professional life, I thought, “what could be more interesting and important to study than innovation, or the lack of it, in western democracies?”  On this occasion I have decided to commence my study formally, seeking a Master’s Degree in Democracy and Comparative Politics from UCL in London.

Throughout my career I have been a writer of my reflections on the areas which I have studied.  As an equity research analyst with PaineWebber and Lehman Brothers I wrote thousands of pages of research notes on the finance industry, its trends and prospects, and those of its constituent companies.  As one of the early entrants into the emergent social enterprise/impact investment field, I composed over 100 blog posts, authored many articles, and two academic papers about the subject.  On both these topics, the written work seemed to generate interest, but in any case I find writing both therapeutic and clarifying for myself.  Thus I feel compelled to start writing again about my latest interest.

It feels self-indulgent and audacious to publish this work, assuming it will be of interest to anyone.  This is especially true in this subject area, where many experts already make substantial contributions—and I am extremely far from being an expert.  However, I have found that “putting it out there” invites challenge and thereby improves my own thinking—and sometimes that of others.  It also encourages debate, which I always find to be beneficial  What I can add is my experience in observing innovation in other fields of endeavour and drawing out contrasts.  I am hopeful that this will enable me to offer some positive contributions.  

Also, I am not the only one who is on a continuing journey, and I thought that by sharing some of my trials and tribulations I might encourage others.  I imagine that there are people reading this who are also worried/fed up with/scared beyond description about the state of democracy in the west—I hope this blog will resonate with them.  Maybe others are considering a similar life change—and these musings may offer some encouragement (I really am loving it—18 months in!).  I will write about politics, political economy, democratic innovation and the experience of a graduate student in politics, especially one who is more than twice the age of everyone else in class.  I welcome challenge and debate, as I believe this makes us all smarter and better informed.  Unsurprisingly, I am going to call this series “The Politics Student”. 

Rodney Schwartz

London, UK—29 September 2022

I started my career in mainstream finance and then impact investing before returning to his lifelong passion of politics in 2021.  This blog reflects that return and is my way of sharing the impressions of someone journeying from finance back into education to study politics after four decades at work.  To read my declaration of known biases, click here.  I welcome any comments.


[1]https://www.bennettinstitute.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/DemocracyReport2020_nYqqWi0.pdf  downloaded at 10:18 on 29/9/22.