I am a female, 17 year old graduate student working towards her PhD in Neuroscience at a major research university. I graduated from university in Dec 2010, when I was 15. In addition, I graduated high school in December 2005, when I was 10 years old.

For third through twelfth grade, I was able to take part in a distance education program run through Texas Tech University. Although I was able to complete the requirements at home, I was following the state curriculum normally presented in schools... pointless projects included (my personal favorite: a book on elves). All exams were proctored, assignments mailed to my teacher, and lesson requirements met. Since I was able to set my own pace, I was able to complete the aforementioned grades in four years (and a week or two).

I started college the following fall at a local community college, before transferring after two years to an actual university. I graduated with my BS in biology in Dec 2010, and worked in a research lab (as well as taking a few extra post-bacc classes) until being accepted to my current (more prestigious) university in the PhD in Neuroscience program.

All of my proof has my full name on it (and not in a way that can be hidden), so I've messaged the mods for verification. Ask away.

EDIT: Proof has been submitted to mods. There's nothing else I can do. I am Caucasian. I do not regret doing what I did- I feel I've made up for what I missed. I was pulled out of normal school because my education was being compromised for the sake of the weakest in my class and my parents wanted better for me.

EDIT 2: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/151f3b/iama_17_year_old_phd_student_who_graduated_high/c7il1qx (before it gets buried)

Comments: 2920 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

wtg001600 karma


PenguinJetpack827 karma

Well you're cheery.

wtg001264 karma


PenguinJetpack333 karma

Nope. I honestly thought I'd miss more than I have. Sure, I've missed some things. At the same time, however, I have had opportunities some people will have to wait until their late twenties for and others may never have. Of course, it is pointless to be sad about what I missed, but I truly am happy with how it turned out. I don't feel like I missed anything significant. The things I lost really do pale in comparison to what I've gained.

wtg001132 karma


PenguinJetpack108 karma

Thank you.

poikadoom385 karma

How do you avoid procrastination ?

PenguinJetpack1951 karma

I'll answer this later.

PenguinJetpack715 karma

All joking aside, I really don't. I procrastinate as much as anyone else- I just have to make up for it later.

ammicha318 karma

  1. Tell us about the elves.
  2. Extracurricular interests?
  3. U want sum fuq bb?

e- Now, guys, don't start sinking me. OP is capitalising on her age to open an AMA; I'm capitalising on mine to see if she wants to fuck.

PenguinJetpack194 karma

As I recall, all of their clothes must be red and green and they love to learn. That was close to a decade ago, though.

I am a terrific baker. The running joke on our floor is that, since my arriving, everyone has gained ten pounds. I find this plausible, as I have mad skills. :)

madoog282 karma

What are you genuinely bad at?

And none of this "Oh, I just can't seem to play Beethoven's Fifth on the piano and cello at the same time" business, I mean something that most people are better than you at doing.

PenguinJetpack554 karma

Physics. I suck at physics. I also can't carry a tune to save my life, play no musical instruments, can't eat with chopsticks, and am terrible at parking. I'm also not a very neat person.

Jakebrwn10176 karma

Have you done drugs?

PenguinJetpack281 karma

Nope. Never had the inclination to.

greenmask162 karma

are you asian by any chance?

PenguinJetpack306 karma

Nope. Boringly white. Amusingly, that's the most common assumption people make about me. My friends, when they relay my story to others, are often asked that same question.

thatoneum151 karma

PenguinJetpack219 karma

I harbor an intense hatred for the menace that is Doogie Howser, MD for the exact reason that nobody can resist making the comparison :). NPH is still awesome... but I resent that show. XD I also used to be compared to Amy Farrah Fowler (meanies). My social skills have improved with practice since then.

fierylady2150 karma

What made you decide to accelerate your studies in such way? Did you want to do it or was it something your parents chose for you? Are you still technically under the care of your parents or did you claim independence from them so you could work and go to school as you wanted? Also, since your peer group is much older than you, do you ever find trouble relating to them or wishing there were things you could do with them that you can't (such as go to the bar or to certain clubs)?

PenguinJetpack227 karma

I was only 6 when I started the accelerated program, so the decision was ultimately made by them. Although (as teenagers do) I frequently complained about that decision, I have consistently agreed that it was the best option, and still feel that way today. As for what I wanted when I was 6, I can't relay it with any accuracy or meaning. I am not emancipated, mostly because I didn't have to be. My parents are on my lease, my mother co-signed my employment contracts (a requirement to be paid), and I will be able to declare residency without being emancipated (a requirement of my program). If it would have been necessary, I would have sought emancipation... but it really would have been a waste of time.

Honestly, I don't have much trouble relating to anybody. I have consistently gotten along the best with those older than myself, so it was a dynamic that was familiar to me. Certainly, I have much less life experience than they do, but it's not really a problem. They tease me about being too young to drink (the current joke is that I get to be the designated driver on my 18th bday when I can finally go to bars). I tease them about being old (we recently discovered that I had no idea what an eight track is or how to work a VHS). It's a give and take, and nobody seems to have a problem with it.

Not going to bars is a bit of an annoyance, but not really a problem. The grad students I'm friends with aren't really barhopping on weekends, so it's only an issue (that I know about, at least) maybe once a month.

Imprezzed134 karma

Have you ever had, lets say, a normal age appropriate relationship? You know, the whole awkward boyfriend/girlfriend that most people experience in their mid to late teens?

PenguinJetpack285 karma

Not as much as most, but I have kissed a guy (a couple, actually) and been on dates before. I don't really mind- I know I'll have many more opportunities to dabble in guys as I get older and out from under the jailbait shadow.

godbois128 karma

  1. What is the education level of your parents?
  2. What do your parents do for a living?
  3. Any siblings? If so, what is their education level?
  4. Besides baking, what do your hobbies include?

PenguinJetpack152 karma

One has a bachelor's and the other is an MD.

Together, they manage a practice with thousands of patients.


Right now, not much. I like rock climbing and used to scuba dive. I'd like to take up boxing and dance should I ever find the time.

ttifiblog103 karma

Have you ever seen the movie "Real Genius"?

PenguinJetpack82 karma

Nope, but someone further down suggested I watch it.

CappyPig97 karma

I'm a 15-year old who just finished first semester as a full-time college student. Math/CompSci/Music triple major. What advice can you give me, as another accelerated student, to help along the way?

EDIT: So, apparently a lot of people like giving me their ideas and feedback and such. I'll consider doing an AMA of my own just for that. I did one back in Augustish that can be found here, but if people are interested I'll do another one to show my progress since then and such and such.

PenguinJetpack130 karma

First of all, you're bonkers for doing a triple major. Even coming from me. :) If it makes you happy, go for it... but I still say bonkers. Cool combo though!

Honestly, I don't think there is advice that will work for everybody. Try and balance everything the best you can, but remember that school has to come first. It's a lot easier to recover social skills than a bad GPA. This comes more from my experience as a TA, but make sure you ask for help if you're struggling at all. In my case, so long as the student has tried to solve it without me, I will do everything in my power to help.

Try to keep a level head amongst the simultaneous barrage of criticism and praise. It's really easy to swing too far in one direction. At the same time, remember that not all comments are meant negatively (like, say, someone calling you bonkers). Sometimes people really are stunned, not critical. I don't know how many incredulous people you'll run into, so I don't know if that's relevant.

Remember that you have to perform at the level of your peers- there's no curve for being 15.

Don't take yourself too seriously. You're pretty awesome and you're doing awesome things. Take time to pat yourself on the back- it helps. :)

SvenRhapsody155 karma

Just a brief comment but while you definitely want to focus on school and maintain a decent gpa once, if ever, you leave academia your gpa will mean nothing. Literally nothing. Your social skills however will be immensely important in everything you do for ths rest of your life.

PenguinJetpack86 karma

Excellent point. I approached it from the "med school/grad school" side and not the real world side. Thanks for mentioning.

queenpersephone96 karma

I see in other comments that you're a TA-

I'm 26 and a PhD student for social io psych. I have absolutely no problem commanding control over my classes because of my age and life experience, I think. However, I have a few friends who look really young and lack presence, and they really struggle to maintain control.

So how's that going for you? You're likely the youngest person in the room, and yet you're supposed to be the "teacher". Do you have to spend a lot of time "proving yourself" to the undergrads?

PenguinJetpack178 karma

They don't know, for one. That helps. I do not look my age- being 6 feet tall is a blessing. I do have a more laid back approach to teaching, but I know what I'm talking about, the students think I know what I'm talking about, and they seemed to have learned a lot. As far as I know (and I can't imagine I wouldn't hear about it if someone knew), nobody has any clue. It's not that hard to hide- I just dress a little nicer when I teach and nobody questions it.

bakemaster90 karma

Alright, baking genius. GAME ON.

  • What's your favorite way to substitute for eggs in a recipe?

  • What do you need to make baking powder if you run out and can't go to the store?

  • What's the difference between a cup of sifted flour and a cup of flour, sifted?


PenguinJetpack79 karma

I use oil and occasionally pumpkin or applesauce. It's rarely a problem though, since I always have eggs on hand.

Cream of tartar and baking soda. I don't remember offhand the amounts though.

Sifted flour is sifted and then measured. Flour, sifted is measured and then sifted. Flour, sifted will have more flour in it, since it was more densely packed in the original measurement.

Master2u76 karma

I understand that some can excel at the work level of college but what about the social level. You are still jail bait.

PenguinJetpack114 karma

And that shall annoy me for the remaining months until I'm 18. Most people seem to forget how old I am, so I've been welcomed with open arms in every social situation I've encountered. Being jailbait is less of a concern for me than the underage possession laws. My state has some pretty strict definitions of possession, so I have to tread carefully (obviously, I don't drink). Oddly, I have violated those laws more at school-approved functions (holding someone's glass while they dig something out of their purse, cleaning up a spill, helping my boss carry wine) than I have at parties.

Blasphemic_Porky70 karma

How easy is it for you to retain knowledge? Do you forget a lot?

PenguinJetpack180 karma

Yes. I have my own special ways of cramming knowledge into my head, as I was not blessed with an eidetic memory (Damn you, Sheldon!). I did recently use my cat as a study tool. We were studying muscular neuroscience and many of the studies that have been done on central pattern generators (spinal circuits responsible for patterned output, like walking) were done in cats. It's pretty cool, actually- a cat with a cut spinal cord (if its weight is supported and movement is artificially stimulated) can walk on a treadmill. No, I did not repeat those experiments, but she was a good model for remembering flexor vs extensor during walking motions.

heyhowmuchfun62 karma

Do you know your IQ?

PenguinJetpack172 karma

Nope. My parents never thought it was worth having tested.

MorganFreman56 karma

How did you get around places in college before you were able to drive? Did your parents drive you everywhere/did you live with them while attending?

PenguinJetpack86 karma

My dad drove me everywhere. The first time I drove independently was on the way home from the airport, after dropping my dad off. He was flying home after helping me move into the city where I now attend graduate school.

MorganFreman66 karma

That's crazy, and pretty cool. I'm 17, and just the thought of graduating college two years ago is mind blowing. Two years ago I was struggling with high school Physics. Congrats on all of your hard work getting there!

PenguinJetpack83 karma

Thanks! Physics is evil, anyways.

toolboc55 karma

I'm curious if you graduated from the University of Houston because IIRC correctly at my graduation (which was December 2010) a 15 year old female graduated in Biology (there was a big announcement about it). Either way, Go Coogs!

PenguinJetpack34 karma

Hello old coog. :) Yup. Were you at the one where Khator messed up my last name? She did at mine, which was notably annoying. Wasn't the oldest one in his 50s with a degree in electrical engineering?


toolboc22 karma

How cool, so you are her! I'm pretty sure we actually graduated together, College of NSM with MS in Computer Science here. It must be great doing grad school with so much time ahead of you. I got out of my master's at 26 and wish I could have been more proactive. I would feel extremely lucky if I was you. There are no "what am I going to do with my life", or awkward low income scenarios in your early 20's. You will already be made, so it's like you will have a spare 7 years+ on everyone, not to mention the prospect of early retirement. Good luck on your endeavors.

PenguinJetpack22 karma

Yup, that was me. 2pm graduation on 12/17/10, if I remember correctly. I was just thrilled I didn't trip- wearing your mother's heels is not the best way to cross the stage. Plus, my legs were numb because I'd been sitting for so long. Thanks so much!

Kross0755 karma

Do you have any regrets about the way you grew up? Do you feel like you missed out on crucial things that "normal" children experience? What do you hope to achieve with your early education?

I wish the best to you and hope you are able to achieve all that you seek. You obviously have already had an impressive life, take care.

PenguinJetpack143 karma

I think there are many things I've missed out on (prom is the example I always use). The fantastic thing I'm realizing now that I am out of the house (a different state, actually) is that not all of those experiences are unique to a "normal" social life. Being in graduate school, around people who accept me, has yielded more healthy friendships than anybody ever guessed. It certainly has been a much more welcoming atmosphere than the few teenage friends I had while I was in undergrad and they were in high school.

I did miss a lot of things people think of as quintessential teenager experiences. On the other hand, I was able to experience some amazing things that many people never get to do and others that many people have to wait until their late 20s for. All in all, it's what happened. Debating can too often take away from the excitement of what's happening now. The great thing about doing this young is that I can compress the terrible parts of my education down. If I continue on the academic career track, for example, I'll be entering a tenure track faculty position at 27. As a point of reference, one of my fellow graduate students is a third year student at 27. There's a lot I'll get to experience sooner and for longer because of what I did.

asdtomas49 karma

What are your plans in life? Like, do you think you'll start working straight ahead after you finish your PhD, or maybe do some other sort of education like, uh, another PhD? Because it's hard to picture someone hiring an 18/19 year old PhD, right?

PenguinJetpack175 karma

PhDs in my field take about 5-7 years. I will not be done before I'm 22, and that's if I'm insanely lucky. After that, I'll most likely have to do a postdoc, which are about 2 year jobs that have more to do with your PI (grad school boss)'s recommendation than anything else. By the time I'm on the market for any sort of faculty position (or industry, or anything else), the novelty will be gone. Even now, I'm 6'0" (thank you tall father) and nobody assumes I'm anything other than ~23 like the rest of the students. I assume the same type of thing will happen when I look for a job. I don't tell them, they don't check, they don't know.

There was an 18 year old girl with a PhD in English, but no word on whether or not she has a job. To be fair, it's not entirely an age problem... I don't know anybody hiring English PhDs. :)

ranger_dan443 karma

Have you been published anywhere? I'm just curious as to how the academic community would react to the opinions/theories/hypotheses of someone so young.

What was your experience like with the distance courses? Are you from Texas? (I only ask as you stated you did the program through Tech, and as a Texan/Aggie myself, was wondering why through them.)

PenguinJetpack51 karma

I had my name on an abstract presented at the largest conference in our field, but I wasn't lead author, so it doesn't matter much. My lab is hoping to submit a paper within the next month or two with my name on it as well. Honestly, I don't think the academic community will care. If my hypotheses are good, they're good. Doesn't matter how old the person who formulated them is.

Chaotic is probably the best description. That, and expensive. I'm seven years removed from it, though, so my perceptions now aren't as accurate. I am originally from Texas, although I'm not there anymore. I think TTU was the only one with that kind of program at the time, but it may have just been a proximity thing. I don't honestly know.

BonerYNot31 karma

What are your feeling on the McDonaldization of education?

PenguinJetpack141 karma

I left normal school in large part because I was forced to wait quietly and do nothing while my teacher attended to the least intelligent and most disruptive member of our class. The GT program I had was once or twice a week and consisted of solving logic puzzles, rather than learning the material at a higher level. I have only experienced public high school secondhand, but I can't quite understand how having several hours of homework a night can possibly contribute to anything other than boredom and burnout. People should be split into classes based on their abilities and expected to perform during school hours. There should be out of class assignments, but not so many that a diligent student can't complete them with time remaining for activities necessary for basic mental and physical health.

iamtheinfluence25 karma

Do you ever get to party at your college or no?

PenguinJetpack52 karma

Not in the sense most people think of. I have to be very careful about the "possession by a minor" laws, so, while I can still attend parties, I have to be uber-careful not to do anything that could be mistaken (and relayed to a police officer) as drinking. Likewise, I can't go into bars until I'm 18 and drink until I'm 21. I am extremely pleased with my social life right now, and people have been extremely kind in accommodating my limitations so they can still spend time with me.

bitter_twin_farmer22 karma

What do you want to do for a living?

PenguinJetpack39 karma

At this point, it's still up in the air. I TA'ed two classes this semester and discovered that I really enjoy (and seem to be good at) teaching. Currently, the top two are tenure track faculty or faculty at a liberal arts (teaching only) college. However, I fully expect that to change with the ups and downs of graduate school.

[deleted]20 karma


PenguinJetpack50 karma

Waiting to not be jailbait, mostly.

It's not a big concern for me right now- I have plenty else on my plate. Once I'm 18, if the right situation comes along, then wonderful. Until then, it's kind of a moot point. I fully anticipate dating similarly-minded people- they're just likely to be several years my senior. That is a dynamic I welcome, as it's always been the most natural to me.

You_Are_the_Pan24 karma

I was just thinking as I was reading this post that dating guys your own age would definitely be a waste of your time. Just be sure to do a thorough creep check when you do start dating older. Even other geniuses can be pervs ;)

PenguinJetpack28 karma

I don't think creep checks are special to me. I'd do them even if I were dating an 18 year old. Being 18 will certainly make life easier though.

The nice thing is, so many people have supported me that I don't think I'd have to do the creep checks myself. Other people seem to be looking out for my welfare too.

Nutdip20 karma

Have you ever seen the movie "Real Genius?" If not, you should. I bet you'd like it.

PenguinJetpack13 karma

Interesting. I'll check it out sometime- thanks!

aSimpleMan18 karma

Can I be your trophy husband? I'm not too fugly.

PenguinJetpack18 karma

That's very sweet of you.

HBIFC13 karma

Not a question but....

Guns up! ;)

PenguinJetpack29 karma

I was a bad red raider- I had no idea that was their slogan. =) The only TTU pride I ever showed was when they sent me a "congrats on being our youngest graduate" package- with an XS shirt, of course.

charrcoalie12 karma


PenguinJetpack50 karma

I play more sims 3 than I should, but that's about it.

alexapedia6 karma

As someone who took 4 years to get both my bachelors and masters (now working on a PhD), how did it take you 5 years to finish university if you finished high school at 10?

If I had accepted the offer to skip grades the traditional way, I'd have finished my PhD at 22 - after graduating high school at 15.

PenguinJetpack12 karma

I started college at 11, in the fall after I graduated high school. Without AP credits or summer classes, it's pretty hard to condense it any more. I certainly was not aiming for speed in undergrad.