Student earns doctorate from Bristol 52 years after starting PhD

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A student has finally been awarded his doctorate more than 50 years after starting his PhD.

Dr Nick Axten, 76, started his thesis on mathematical sociology at the University of Pittsburgh in the US in 1970.

But after five years he returned to the UK with the PhD unfinished.

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The University of Bristol conferred him a Doctor of Philosophy in front of his wife Claire Axten and 11-year-old granddaughter Freya.

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He had been awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, but said his research had been “exceptionally difficult”.

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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,” he said.

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“This one has taken me 50 years.”

Dr Axten’s research is a new theory for understanding human behaviour.

It is based on the values each person holds, which Dr Axten believes has the potential to change the view of behavioural psychology.

Now a dad of two and grandfather of four, he started his undergraduate degree in Leeds in 1967.

“It was still flower power and there was a revolutionary feel. It was the time of the Vietnam War, Paris, Prague and student sit-ins,” he recalled.

“Jack Straw was president of the Students’ Union in Leeds. Sociology and psychology were suddenly boom subjects. I went to study them because I wanted to understand people.”

Dr Axten, of Wells, Somerset, said he loved his time as a mature student at the University of Bristol between 2016 and 2022.

“All of the other philosophy graduate students were around 23 but they accepted me as one of their own,” he said.

“They are clever people full of ideas and I loved talking with them – especially at the pub in the afternoon.”

During a varied career Dr Axten lived all over the UK and was creator and principal author of the school teaching programme Oxford Primary Science.

 

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