Thirty years in the making, 91-year-old French woman finally earns her PhD

Dr Colette Bourlier, who turns 92 next month, said she had taken lots of breaks while working on it

Colette Bourlier, PhD, France, 91

Colette Bourlier, who has just been named a PhD in geography [Twitter]

After three decades of work, albeit with many pauses, a 91-year-old woman in France has become the country’s oldest recipient of a PhD after finally completing her thesis.

Colette Bourlier, who successfully defended her work yesterday before a jury in the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon in Eastern France, was awarded a “high distinction” by her supervisor. She took her seat at her viva voce armed with her 400-page thesis and walking cane.

Explaining why it had taken her ten times the normal period in which to complete her PhD, entitled Immigrant workers in Besançon in the second half of the 20th century, the new Dr Bourlier replied: “It took me a bit of time to write because I took breaks.”

Bourlier, who turns 92 next month, gained an interest in the lives of immigrants while teaching history and geography at a senior French secondary school. Retiring in 1983, she became involved in engaging migrants in literacy and language learning classes, at times going door to door encouraging husbands to enable their wives to develop their abilities to communicate.

Describing her PhD duration as “atypical,” Bourlier’s supervisor, Serge Ormaux, praised his student’s diligence and hard work.

“She is probably the only person who knew all the aspects in such detail and who was able to weave everything together,” he said.

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