Sylnita and Gerard Make PHD History: A Love Story




20 years ago, Sylnita Swartz-Filies and Gerard Filies; walked side by side down the aisle, the first step in their journey to a lasting romance. 20 years later, they once again walked side by side, this time to receive their PHDs. The couple made history at the University of the Western Cape this week, when they became the first married couple to graduate with their PhDs, at the SAME TIME.

Education has always been a key aspect in both Sylnita and Gerard’s lives, with both of them completing their first Occupational Therapy degrees in the 1990s. Sylnita went on to complete a Masters in Child and Family Studies in 2007 and has now received her PhD in Educational Psychology. Gerard on the other hand found his passion in the world of academics as a lecturer, and he has been a lecturer for nearly 20 years at the University of the Western Cape. Gerard says his “passion for inter-professional education” lead him to complete his Masters of Philosophy in Health Sciences Education at Stellenbosch University in 2012.

Family is something very close to the couples heart and they both agree that spending quality time with their children never came second to their degrees. Both Sylnita and Gerard say that “long drives”, “movie nights”, “picnics” and “braais on the stoep” were of the regular things the family would do. With Sylnita studying towards becoming an Educational Psychologist, it comes as no surprise that she is a hands-on mother when it comes to raising her two children. In fact, both Sylnita and Gerard agree that their PhD journey has brought them even closer to their children. Most of the time the family would sit with each other, with the couple working on their PhD research, while also helping their children with their homework. It is clear that academic excellence is something deep-rooted in the Fillies’ lifestyle.

The couples historic walk down the ‘aisle of academia’ is an occasion worth celebrating because they managed this extraordinary achievement while working full-time and also made they sure that they played an active, meaningful role in the lives of their kids. However, Sylnita hopes that their story inspires others and not just their children. She wants people to know that academic achievements like theirs are possible. It takes dedication, hard work and a healthy family/work/study balance, but it most certainly can be achieved.

With 2 lovely children, a rock-solid 20-year marriage and two PHDs,  Sylnita and Gerard Fillies have proven that, if you put your mind to it, being good at everything,  is pretty much possible.

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