Retirees encouraged to start tertiary study

11 May 2021 | Students News

Selwyn Dobbinson is an advocate for, and exemplar of, lifelong learning.

The 82-year-old retired veterinarian will receive his PhD in Animal Welfare at Friday’s Lincoln University Graduation, to be held in the Christchurch Town Hall.

“Universities are usually considered to provide students with degrees that act as an apprenticeship for their future careers. However, I believe that tertiary education should be an ongoing process,” he said.

“With aged persons commonly being characterised as having dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other neurological conditions, encouragement to pursue further tertiary studies could not only benefit the individual but the country as a whole, through the results of the studies that could be undertaken.”

Selwyn believes retirees should be encouraged to pursue studies relating to topics that they have encountered about during their careers, and this is a formula he has followed himself.

After graduating from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science in 1961, he worked in mixed general practice, spending five years in Nelson and two years in Balclutha. He then purchased a veterinary practice in Dunedin.

He was puzzled by a bacterial disease in cats, and unable to find the answers, embarked on a two-year diploma course in microbiology.

“Google was not available in those days and computers were only just beginning to be developed,” he said.

After five years in Dunedin, Selwyn took a job with Pfizer Laboratories. During that time, he developed an interest in pig medicine, a discipline in which no other veterinarian in NZ was involved at the time.

“Soon after commencing that role, I became involved in an outbreak of a new viral disease that had first been reported internationally only months before,” he said. “There was little information available on the management of the disease, so I contacted Professor Mirek Stankiewicz at Lincoln to find out how the immune system responded to viral diseases.

“This led to my embarking on a master’s degree in immunology in 2003.”

Towards the end of his career, Selwyn became concerned that pigs sent to abattoirs sent from well-managed farms arrived dead at their destinations.

“Post-mortems that I carried out were unproductive, so I decided to investigate the problem more thoroughly. It soon appeared that the problem was quite complex and required a detailed study of several aspects of conditions during the transport of pigs from farm to abattoir.”

He spoke to Lincoln University’s Professor Jon Hickford, who encouraged him to undertake a PhD based on the study, which he started in 2015.

He found that pigs could die of heat stress at any time throughout the year, with the type of vehicle a major contributing factor. He hopes that the knowledge he has gained may lead to improvements in stock transport vehicle design.

With the advent of Google and other readily available information, Selwyn still sees a place for local study.


“Much of that information may not be relevant to New Zealand conditions. Our climate, topography, low population, and increasingly diverse ethnicity impacts on a wide variety of businesses and professions.

“Undertaking studies locally requires a graduate to balance the findings from international studies with their relevance to our conditions.

“As I found in my study, conditions in New Zealand can be so different from those found overseas, that a local study could be essential to get a clear understanding of a problem.”