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'Age is no bar'

At 59, Kolkata woman pursues dream of earning a Graduate Certificate in Computer Science at Illinois


Shubhra Das is living proof that you're never too old to learn—or return to college.

In Spring 2022, Das—an IT professional and educator from Kolkata, India—started a top-ranked graduate certificate program at the University of Illinois at 59 years young, marking her return to the classroom as a student after more than three decades and earning her a shout out on Twitter from her elder son.

Encouraged by her father because of her passion for math, Shubhra Das earned a double bachelor’s degree in computer science and math (1988) and a master’s in computer science (1990) from Bethune College at a time when it wasn’t common for women in India to pursue technical degrees. Bethune was the first women’s college in India and the first or second in Asia, depending on the source. Das carved out a career in the technology industry, working as vice president for quality assurance at Acclaris Business Solutions Pvt. Ltd. and at IBM. She formerly served as a faculty member at Manya-The Princeton Review, teaching math and computer science courses to high school students preparing to take college entrance exams. She currently is self-employed and is a part-time faculty member at Frame Learning, another test prep company.

A longtime dream

Although she already had a master's degree, Das always dreamed of studying abroad and earning a credential from a world-class university. In 1995, her family moved to the US and lived in California for seven years. However, she and her husband—Debashis, then an IBM executive—had their hands full working and raising Debarghya, who goes by Deedy, and younger son Subharghya.

Das put her dream on hold and focused her sons’ educational endeavors, so that they would have that opportunity. Debarghya earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from Cornell University. A tech entrepreneur, he worked at Facebook and Google before being on the founding team of Glean, a startup in the San Francisco Bay area.

After Subharghya started his undergraduate studies at Cornell—remotely in 2020 and on campus in 2021—Das decided it was time to revisit her dream.

“My husband (who also has a degree in computer science) always said I should look to fulfilling my ambitions when my kids grow up,” Das said.

Though she would have preferred to attend in person, she knew it would not be feasible with COVID restrictions, visa issues, and responsibilities at home. In response, her sons helped her research prominent programs that were online and financially feasible.

The power of a CS credential from Illinois

“My eldest son recommended the University of Illinois because he was well-acquainted with the talent pool from UIUC. After diving deeper into the program, it seemed like a good fit,” Das said.

Though she originally applied to the Online Master of Computer Science in Data Science program, offered through the Department of Computer Science in the Grainger College of Engineering, she was offered admission to the department's Master's Certificate Program since she already has a master's.

Das said she enjoys the program's flexibility, which allows her to listen to lectures at her own pace and from the comfort of her home, which is 11 1/2 hours ahead of Urbana-Champaign.

Das is on track to complete the certificate program through the #5-ranked graduate program in computer science in the nation in December 2023. When she does, she will be prepared to enter one of the highest-paying and in-demand career fields in the diverse computer science industry.

An inspiration to others

While it’s no surprise that Das’ husband and sons are #PROUD, she’s tickled that her return to school has been inspiring others.

Debarghya’s tweet has garnered several thousand likes, retweets, and replies from people who expressed admiration and well wishes to those who shared their stories of returning to school or desire to.

“Glad when I hear such stories,” @aaditkamat replied. “My mom was also telling me about how her friend (in her late 50’s) has just started pursuing her MBA. Though I know that it’s true only for some things this is a good case of “Age is just a number.”

“Inspiring! I am probably her classmate at UIUC (off campus),” @GRV11 wrote. “Totally agree that learning should never stop.”

This gives me hope to kick start my second stint of learning after a gap of 8 years,” @Neha_N_M added.

That is not to say that Das didn't have some reservations. Would she be able to keep up with her younger peers and focus for prolonged periods? She also had eye surgery for a condition that impairs her vision significantly.

But "everyone in my family has confidence in me and what I can achieve, and I'm incredibly fortunate to have that," she said, adding that propelled her forward.

Das recalled that when her sons were growing up, she constantly encouraged them to never give up.

“It’s a role reversal now with my sons constantly egging me on to study hard and do well,” she said.

So what advice would Das give to anyone who’s contemplating going back to school later in life?

“If someone loves learning, then age is no bar at all,” she said. “Everyone can and should go back to school later in life if they still have the hunger for knowledge. Often in our society, many people lose their love for learning after bringing up their kids (and not knowing that this option is on the table). I was fortunate enough to not lose touch with my studies because of the time I spent teaching my children as they grew up.”

Learn more about the Professional Master of Computer Science programs and other Online Programs at Illinois, including graduate degrees, certificates, and endorsement; and Coursera MOOCs