By Sunday Abah Adah


In an apparently short walk to academic excellence, a brilliant African lady who broke record as the youngest Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) holder on the continent some 5 years ago at 23 has proven that she was born for stellar achievements as she recently became an associate professor at the University of Johannesburg at 33.

Musawenkosi Donia Saurombe, a Zimbabwe native, made history in 2017 when she became the youngest person on the African continent to earn a PhD at 23 years old. Recently, she broke the glass ceiling again when she became an Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

Musawenkosi, raised in Botswana, started taking her Bachelor of Commerce degree from North-West University at the age of 16 and graduated with distinction at 19. She went on to receive her honour’s and master’s degrees from NWU at the ages of 20 and 21, respectively. Musawenkosi was just 23 years old in 2017 when she obtained her PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology also from NWU

Since then, she has started working in the academic field. She worked as a Post -doctoral Research Fellow at the North-West University from 2017 before becoming a Senior Lecturer at the University of the Free State Bloemfontein in 2019. In 2021, Musawenkosi started working at the University of Johannesburg as a Senior Lecturer. Most recently, Musawenkosi, who is now 29 years old, has been promoted to associate professor at the university. In a LinkedIn post, her friend, Tutu Kgobane, celebrated her achievement and wrote, “Congratulations, my sister. The youngest PhD graduate in Africa. She has now been appointed as a professor. Prof Musa! So proud of her.”

On the other hand, and in a dissimilar, anachronistic scenario, 76-year-old Briton, Nick Axten, has finally completed his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh after 52 years.

Nick Axten began his long walk to academic excellence when he commenced his research on mathematical sociology for his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh in the US back in 1970. Recently, the University of Bristol awarded him a Doctor of Philosophy degree in a ceremony witnessed by his wife and his 11-year-old granddaughter.

Axten had been the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, but he stated that his research had been complicated

After over 50 years since starting his PhD in 1970, Nick Axten has finally graduated. The now 76-year-old had to engage in “a long hard think” over the intervening decades.

A Complicated Research

In 1970, Axten was awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship for a PhD in mathematical sociology at the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

However, after five years, he returned to the UK without completing his PhD. The University of Bristol has since awarded him a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Axten’s wife, Claire Axten, and 11-year-old granddaughter, Freya, were in attendance for the ceremony, as reported by the BBC.

Axten remarked that the task he attempted to achieve in the early 1970s was exceptionally challenging.

“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.”

His latest research, which he intends to publish, is an extension of the ideas he developed in the US five decades ago.

His new theory aims to comprehend human behaviour by examining the values held by each individual.

Going Back To School

Axten believes that this new theory can potentially transform the understanding of behavioural psychology.

He further revealed that he loved being a student again at Bristol University and that back in the 1970s, all other graduate students were around 23, but they accepted him as one of their own.

Axten returned to the University of Bristol in 2016 to pursue an MA in Philosophy at 69.

He subsequently embarked on a PhD programme in Philosophy at the same university, completing it in 2022 at 75.

According to Axten’s supervisor at the University of Bristol, Samir Okasha, Axten was an extremely dedicated, dynamic, and enthusiastic student during his time at the institution.

Axten had a diverse professional career, living in different parts of the UK. He created and served as the principal author of the Oxford Primary Science teaching program.

He currently resides in Wells, Somerset, with his wife and has two children and four grandchildren.

Grandfather Earns Doctorate

In a similar story, at age 70, Joseph Grant walked across the stage to receive his doctoral degree in Political Science from Howard University, HU, making himself proud in 2021.

He is proof that a person is never too old to follow their dreams and achieve them.

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