91-Year-Old Woman Bags PhD After 30-Year Thesis


A 91-year old French woman, Colette Bourlier, has become one of the oldest people in France to gain a PhD after completing a thesis that she had begun three decades earlier.

Bourlier was awarded the mark of “high distinction” for her work, which she successfully defended on Tuesday before a jury of the University of Franche-Comte in Besancon, eastern France.

Her thesis, which was entitled “Immigrant workers in Besançon in the second half of the 20th century,” was drawn directly on her experience of working as a teacher in literacy programmes for immigrants in the eastern French city.

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Bourlier explaining the decades it took her to complete her work, says

“It took a bit of time to write because I took breaks.”

She became interested in a PhD after she retired in 1983. Normally, a PhD in France is written in three years.

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Her professor, Serge Ormaux, describes Bourlier as “an extremely atypical” student, saying she took care of welcoming and teaching literacy to Besançon’s immigrant populations for 20-25 years.

Ormaux says Bourlier is probably the only person who knew all the aspects in such detail and who was able to weave everything together. She backed it up with statistical analyses.

She successfully defended her thesis in front a jury for two hours on Tuesday. Since Bourlier is going deaf, she had to sit very close to the jury so she could hear their questions.

However, the world’s oldest person to receive a PhD is a 102-year-old German woman, Ingeborg Rapoport.

Ingeborg Rapoport was awarded a doctorate last June, nearly 80 years after the Nazis prevented her from sitting her final exam.

Rapoport wasn’t allowed to defend her doctoral thesis in 1938 under the Nazis because she was part-Jewish. Nearly eight decades later, she became Germany’s oldest recipient of a doctorate at age 102 in June 2015.

She received her doctorate at the University of Hamburg, after passing an oral exam.

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