89-Year-old Physics Student Receives Ph.D. From Brown

Figuring Out Retirement 

“I wanted something that would keep me stimulated in retirement, and that was physics,” he says.

When Steiner retired, he knew from his wife’s earlier retirement that he didn’t want to spend his newfound free time playing golf. He wanted to do something … useful. His solution? Keep learning.

“I found out from my wife’s experience how lost she felt when she retired from anesthesiology, where she was very, very active,” he says. “And suddenly nothing. [She] would wake in the morning with nothing to do, and I couldn’t stand that. I said to myself, I’m still able to do something. Something useful.”

So, despite his retirement and age, Manfred Steiner was ready to become a physicist.

“[Physics] has been my dream all my life since my teenage years, so I finally said I would pursue it,” he says. “I had the ability to. You have to follow your dream, or for the rest of your life, you will ask yourself, ‘What would have happened?’.”

Following His Dream

Steiner originally signed up to take classes at MIT, but when the commute proved to be too strenuous, he decided to join Brown University’s physics program.

“I was surrounded by 20-year-olds, but they accepted me as a student,” he says. “They thought I was a professor in disguise, but I was just like any other student. I worried about the next exam just like everyone else. But they accepted me, and we became friends.”

However, unlike the other students, Steiner was accepted into the Ivy League university as a special student. He could take as many classes as he wanted per semester — allowing him a much more flexible schedule to be with his family. Instead of taking 3-4 classes a semester, the retired hematologist was able to opt for a much lighter workload of 1-2 courses per semester, which extended his time in the program longer than typical. 

“Eventually, the question came up if I should continue for my Ph.D. because I had completed all the prerequisites to enter the graduate school. So, I said I’d try it, and I was fortunate that one of the professors accepted me as their student instead of a student in their 20s. It was an undertaking for him and me, but we got on well.”

Despite securing a spot in the physics Ph.D. candidacy program, it wasn’t easy for Steiner in any sense. While he was studying at Brown, he had to persevere through several medical conditions.

“Because of my aging, I had three serious medical conditions that I encountered during this time, but I made it through all of them and eventually was able to finish the program,” he says.

Now that Steiner has successfully graduated with another degree under his belt, he wants to continue exploring and contributing to the field of physics.

“There are still some subjects that I’d be interested in studying, but my first love is physics. I want to do something in physics. I plan to publish some of my thesis, and after that, I’d like to continue writing papers about theoretical physics.

Inspired by Steiner's story? Read about a retired restaurateur who started painting at age 77.

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