French woman, 91, gets her PhD after 30 years

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Colette Bourlier

A year-old woman has become the oldest person in France to get a PhD after taking 30 years to complete her thesis.

Colette Bourlier successfully defended her work yesterday before a jury in the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon, saying that she “took breaks” from writing her thesis which is called ‘Immigrant workers in Besançon in the second half of the 20th century’.

She was awarded a “high distinction” by her supervisor, Serge Ormaux, who said the length of time it took to complete the PhD was “atypical”.

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

Armed with her 400-page thesis and walking stick, Bourlier explained why it had taken her 10 times the normal time to finish her PhD: “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 as 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.

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