Manfred Steiner had always dreamed of becoming at physicist. At the age 70, he began pursuing this dream by taking classes at Brown University, proving that age really is just a number.
Steiner was no stranger to the academic world before this, however. He already had a medical degree, as well as a Ph.D in biochemistry. He claims that this original academic path was largely due to encouragement from his family, something many can relate to.
The whole time, he had dreams of studying physics, despite becoming a prominent hematologist– researching blood disorders. He became quite successful in this field, rising to serve as the head of the hematology section at Brown’s medical school.
Not Ready for a Full Retirement
However, when Manfred officially retired 19 years ago, he didn’t want to take up fishing or gardening in his free time. He wanted to live his dream, and started taking physics classes at Brown. Why this field? “Precision,” he told a news outlet.
“In medicine, I always felt there were so many variables,” he said. “In physics, there are some variables, a lot of them actually, but you can go to a precision that is unmatched anywhere…”
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“One or two classes a semester was enough for me,” he said. “So, I went to all the classes and eventually, I made it on to graduate school and I thought, ‘Why not continue now? I might as well get a Ph.D.’”
He went on to successfully defend his thesis: “Corrections to the Geometrical Interpretation of Bosonization”– earning him his second Ph.D, this time in physics finally.
“I was elated, I was, really,” he said. “I mean, I said, ‘I made it! I really made it.’”
Taking Charge of One’s Own Life
Not one to simply slow down and take it easy, Steiner is now working on a paper he plans to publish on portions of his dissertation, though he said a third Ph.D is unlikely.
Speaking on continuing his studies, he said “there are other subjects that I was interested in — philosophy, history — but I said, ‘No, it’s enough’ he told a local media outlet.
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“Now I’ve reached what I’ve always wanted” he said. “I know I’m going to be 90 soon, but physics is what interests me, and this is what I want to end my life with.”
As a 70-year-old undergraduate, Steiner’s path to his physics Ph.D was untraditional by any stretch of the word. As a young man, Steiner fled Vienna as World War II ended and eventually made his way to the United States.
“I knew physics was my true passion by the time I graduated high school,” Steiner told his alma mater. “But after the war, my uncle and my mother advised me to take up medicine because it would be a better choice in these turbulent after-war years.”
Dreams Are Meant to Be Followed
Like many uncertain college students, he followed the advice of his elders, and took a 30-year detour in the field of medicine. All the while, however, he was harboring a love for physics, particularly fascinated by quantum physics.
“Originally I just wanted to take classes, doing something that helped my mind and was interesting to me,” Steiner said.
But by the Spring of 2007, Steiner had completed enough classes to be admitted to the graduate school as a Ph.D. degree candidate. He remembers the academic environment as welcoming, and hardly felt out of place among the younger students. Similarly, professors of his remark that he was a delight to have in class, and brought a genuine enthusiasm and natural curiosity.
When asked to address other retirees, he said the following. “I could not imagine spending my life playing golf all the time. I wanted to do something that keeps my mind active. But it is a matter of whatever you want to do. If you have a dream, follow it. Sometimes that dream may never have been verbalized, it may be buried in the subconscious. It is important not to waste your older days. There is a lot of brainpower in older people and I think it can be of enormous benefit to younger generations.”
As for young people choosing between following a passion and taking a more conventional path in life Steiner says, “I think young people should follow their dreams whatever they are. They will always regret it if they do not follow their dreams.”