Nick Axten received a Fulbright scholarship for a PhD in mathematical sociology at the University of Pittsburgh in 1970 but after five years, he returned to the UK with unfinished business.

On February 14, 2023, he received his PhD from the University of Bristol.

“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,” Dr Axten said.

Axten came to the University Bristol in 2016 to do an MA in Philosophy, aged 69. He went on for a PhD in Philosophy, finishing in 2022 aged 75.

His research builds on the ideas he was working on in America five decades ago. It is a new theory for understanding human behavior based on the values each person holds, University of Bristol said in a press statement, adding that it has potential to change our view of behavioral psychology.

“What I was trying to do in the early 70s was exceptionally difficult.”

Reminiscing his time as an undergraduate student in Leeds he said, “…It was the time of the Vietnam War, Paris, Prague and student sit-ins. Jack Straw was president of the students’ union in Leeds.”

“Sociology and psychology were suddenly boom subjects. I went to study them because I wanted to understand people.”

Axten said when he joined Bristol University, all other philosophy gradates were around 23 but they accepted him as one of their own. “They are clever people full of ideas and I loved talking with them – especially at the pub in the afternoon.”

His supervisor, Professor Samir Okasha, said, “Nick was an incredibly enthusiastic, energetic and committed student during his time here. It’s fantastic to see him graduate half a century after he started his original PhD.”

Axten is the creator and principal author of the school teaching programme ‘Oxford Primary Science’.

He is not settled in Wells, Somerset, with his wife. He is father of two children and has four grandchildren.

(Inputs from University of Bristol press release).

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