89-year-old retiree earns physics Ph.D. from Ivy League school

Manfred Steiner earned PhD at 89
AP Photo/Stew Milne

It is never too late to achieve your dreams in life. Just ask 89-year-old Manfred Steiner, who will receive his Ph.D. from Brown University’s Department of Physics in February.

Following World War II, Steiner left his birthplace of Vienna, Austria, for the U.S. As a young man, he dreamed of becoming a physicist.

“It’s an old dream that starts in my childhood,” Steiner said in an interview with Brown University. “I always wanted to become a physicist.”

However, his family advised him to go into medicine.

“My uncle was a physician, an ear, nose and throat specialist, and he had taught in the United States for a while,” he said. “He taught plastic surgery — showing people how to make noses smaller or how to straighten them out. My family’s advice was that medicine was the best path for me. So I reconciled myself, ‘They are older and wiser,’ and I followed their advice.”

AP Photo/Stew Milne

So Steiner earned a medical doctorate in 1955, but he didn’t stop there. He began a traineeship in hematology at Tufts University, including a three-year training in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry there in 1967. Then, he accepted a position as a hematologist at Brown University, becoming an assistant professor of medicine in 1968, a full professor in 1978 and head of the medical school’s hematology department in 1985.

In 1994, he helped establish a research program in hematology at the University of North Carolina in Greenville, going on to direct that program until 2000 when he retired from medicine. But retirement was no reason for him to stop learning. Instead, he decided to pursue his original goal, a little at a time.

“One or two classes a semester was enough for me,” Steiner told WPRI. “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.'”

This September, he successfully defended his thesis. Steiner advises other retirees to keep their minds sharp by giving themselves new things to ponder.

“Now I’ve reached what I’ve always wanted,” he told WPRI. “Now I want to do it. 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.”

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