Hugo Sbai, who was born in the year 2000, recently received his doctorate in computing from the University of Lille, and is now preparing his second thesis, at the University of Oxford, England.
This puts him among the youngest people in the world to achieve a doctorate, according to record-keepers the Guinness World Records.
He attributes his formidable educational progress to a method of studying created by two of his aunts, both of whom are also hold PhDs from the University of Oxford. The method is “replicable to all students”, Mr Sbai said. "I am not particularly talented; everybody could do it."
Mr Sbai began school in the normal way, but was first offered the chance to skip a year of school when he entered a “double class” at CP/CE1 level (age 5-7).
From there, the aunts realised that traditional schooling has a tendency to teach the same subjects three times over the course of several years, and that this could work to their advantage.
For example, one might study Greco-Roman ancient history at a low level at primary school, a slightly higher level in collège (middle school), and at a complex level at lycée (high school).
“So why not go straight to this third version?” said Mr Sbai.
His aunts then bought textbooks for all subjects at lycée level, and created a curriculum for their nephew that would allow him to skip nearly all the years of collège, and go straight to taking the Baccalaureate; the examination usually taken by final-year lycée students before university.
Mr Sbai first attended the Lycée Claude Bernard in Paris at just nine years old, where he was, he said, “welcomed as a mascot” by the other students, and had many friends.
He would then go on to study computing at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and also - in parallel - began studying for a law degree at the prestigious Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne.
Five years later, with two degrees already done, he would begin his PhD-level study at the University of Lille, and receive his doctorate aged just 17.
Mr Sbai explained: “I was lucky enough to understand the subject [computing] pretty quickly. Research is such a big area, so you have to try many possibilities, and publish articles in scientific journals. But I had a great supervisor, who knew how to get the best out of me. After a year, the university accepted my thesis.”
Mr Sbai, who has said his family has never pressured him to study or achieve more than he wanted, now plans to continue his second PhD at the University of Oxford, focusing on cyber-security.
After that, he would like to help others achieve the same educational leaps forward.
He said: “I would like to become a teacher, to help democratise the method that allowed me to get to this point, and also work in business, on computing and technology systems; and maybe even in law.”
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