British man awarded doctorate 52 years after starting his Ph.D.

Some problems need a lifetime of thinking.
Ameya Paleja
Dr. Nick Axten in the early 1970s and on the day of his graduation.
Dr. Nick Axten in the early 1970s and on the day of his graduation.

University of Bristol 

Nick Axten was recently awarded his doctoral degree by the University of Bristol in the U.K. While doctoral students usually take five or six years to complete their program, it took Nick 52 years to go from Mr. Axten to Dr. Axten.

If you are looking for inspiration and motivation to do something new in the mature years of your life, then the academic world is the best place. Previously, Interesting Engineering has reported how then-89-year-old Manfred Steiner had completed his doctorate in physics after having studied and practiced medicine all throughout his professional life.

Problems that take a lifetime

Axten's journey, however, is very different. He was an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds in 1967 at a time when personal computers weren't even a thing, and smoking was commonplace even inside university buildings.

The world had a revolutionary feel to it with the ongoing Vietnam War and students organizing sit-ins. "Sociology and psychology were suddenly boom subjects. I went to study them because I wanted to understand people," said Axten in a press release.

Following his graduation, Axten received the prestigious Fulbright scholarship and went to the University of Pittsburgh in the U.S. to do this Ph.D. in mathematical sociology. "What I was trying to do in the early 70s was exceptionally difficult," Axten added.

British man awarded doctorate 52 years after starting his Ph.D.
Axten with his wife Claire after being awarded the PhD

After five years at Pittsburgh, Axten returned to the U.K. with an unfinished Ph.D. As part of his varied career, he lived all over the U.K. and became the creator and principal author of Oxford Primary Science, a school teaching program.

In 2016, at the age of 69, Axten went to the University of Bristol to do his MA in Philosophy. After completing his MA, he began studying for his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the same university under Professor Samir Okasha, his supervisor.

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Some problems are so great it takes the best part of a lifetime to get your head around them. They need a long hard think. This one has taken me 50 years," said Axten after the University conferred a doctorate in Philosophy in front of his wife, Claire, and 11-year-old granddaughter, Freya.

Axten's research builds on the ideas he was working on in the U.S. five decades ago. He hopes to publish his research which is a new theory that tries to understand human behavior based on the values each person holds. Axten believes this could change our understanding of behavioral psychology.

“Doing a Ph.D. is a lot of hard work, but it’s been brilliant,” he added.

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