From physics to philosophy for PhD

14 December 2009

Profs Nan Yeld and Robert Segall

Prof Robert Segall and his wife, Prof Nan Yeld.

Retired physics professor Robert Segall has embraced the concept of lifelong learning and will receive his second PhD this week.

At 74, Segall is to receive his PhD in philosophy and will be capped by his wife, Dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development, Professor Nan Yeld.

He is modest about his remarkable achievement though, putting it down to "hard slog" rather than brains.

But you will have to be really up on your game if you want to engage him in even a brief discussion on the meaning of life.

The man knows his stuff ...

Segall found himself in the unique position of being older than his supervisor, and says he found the PhD to be "a wonderful education".

Um ... so what was it all about, exactly? Well, not atoms and particles, or mathematical equations, that's for sure. Perhaps we should summarise it (purely for the sake of brevity, you understand) by saying Segall's PhD dealt with a mix of things like moral realities, "mind independent worlds", social constructs and moral philosophy.

Although the jump from physics to philosophy may be a big one in most people's book, Segall's long-standing interest in the subject made it a natural one for him.

"I enjoyed it immensely," he says. "Philosophy is a subject that has always been close to my heart."

Segall has three children, Tim, Anna and Bill, and, although he used to be a keen squash player, these days he spends much of his free time reading. Nobel Prize-winner JM Coetzee stands out as one of his favourite writers.

Is there another PhD in the offing? Well, you'll have to watch this space ...

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