There was no way I can overcome the problem of me getting old. The only thing I can do was not to delay my application any longer. So in a way, this weakness was easily overcame.
The other weaknesses were my lack of advanced degree, research experience and LORs. In a way, they were all related. I actually considered taking up a Masters (either part-time or full-time). However, I concluded that it was not feasible due to my work commitments. Furthermore, neither my wife nor I wanted to spend $20k on this.
With this decision, I thought that there was nothing I could do to overcome these 2 weaknesses. For a while, I thought this was it. Then, a thought came to me - why not be a RA for some Profs? This way, I could build up my research experience and also get some LORs.
What a brilliant idea! Now, let's find someone who wanted me. Not an easy task but eventually I identify Prof A whom I share similar research interest in. Great! What a good fit! After emailing him in early 2006, I waited for his reply. And I waited. And waited. Basically, my first attempt to be an RA died a quick and quiet death.
That wasn't a good start and I started to doubt this strategy. Then I identified Prof B (in another Uni) in early Feb. So I dropped him an email, offering my service. This time, there was a response. And it was good. Very good, in fact - he talked about having a research grant for a project that could fund my position as an RA. I gave thank to the One up there.
So I met up with Prof B for an interview in early March and it went on quite well. He said he liked what I had to offer, but one problem was my time commitment. He wondered whether I could give sufficient time to this important project that was funded by an important agency, given my work commitment. I put what I could offer on the table for his consideration.
One or two days later, I received his email thanking me for the interview with a big "BUT". So my second attempt also died... although it was not as quiet as the first. However, this really knocked me down. I asked the same One up there why my hope was lifted for it to fall.
My morale was a bit low after this. I thought I should give up the idea of being an RA. Then, one day in mid-March, as I was surfing the website of yet another Uni, I saw Prof C's profile. I thought since I had already 2 setbacks, what was one more? So I dropped him an email. He replied but said that he did not have any more funds for RA. I said it was ok... money was not the important thing... blah, blah, blah.... So he asked for my CV and, to cut the long story short, I am now his RA, for free.
So now, I am getting the research experience that I thought I lacked. And maybe a good LOR. And possibly a publication. Isn't it interesting how things turn out?