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Australia’s oldest PhD graduate becomes a doctor at 94

Media release

For Australia’s oldest PhD graduate Dr David Bottomley, learning is a life-long journey.

At 94 years of age, Dr Bottomley graduated from Curtin University last night with a Doctor of Philosophy after completing his thesis, which examined the teaching methods of five progressive English educators who introduced an understanding of science into the curriculum from 1816 to 1885.

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry congratulated Dr Bottomley on completing his PhD and recording his place in the history books as Australia’s oldest recorded PhD graduate.

“Dr Bottomley’s incredible achievement shows age is definitely no barrier to furthering your education and his graduation will be an inspiration to many,” Professor Terry said.

Dr Bottomley, a Melbourne-based father-of-four, grandfather to 13 and great-grandfather to one, said he completed his PhD part-time and finished in seven years – a year ahead of schedule.

“The first feeling I had was one of relief and utter numbness – I think that’s a feeling shared by most postgraduate students after any big exam or assignment,” Dr Bottomley said.

“I had been working on it for so many years and I suddenly had permission to come out of my academic cave and wasn’t quite sure what to do with all my free time.”

And even though he intends to make use of that by going to the cinema, taking walks in the park and spending more time with his wife, Anne, of 68 years, Dr Bottomley already has plans to continue his education studies.

“I’m already looking at more ways to apply and improve my basic skills, and hopefully help stir the creative pot,” Dr Bottomley said.

“I believe the ideas of the headmasters I studied are worth repeating today in order to instil that creativity and sense of learning in the next generation.

“I hope to extend my Doctorate finding on the impact of creativity in school curricula and I am already thinking of ways the lessons learnt through my PhD can be applied to today’s school students as well as among Australia’s ageing population.”

Dr Bottomley said he wanted to complete his PhD at Curtin in order to work with John Curtin Distinguished Professor David Treagust, from Curtin’s School of Education, who supervised his thesis, titled ‘Science, Education and Social Vision of Five Nineteenth Century Headmasters’.

“To me, education is something you live in; it’s a life force as (Nobel Prize in Literature 1925 recipient) George Bernard Shaw might have called it,” Dr Bottomley said.

“I don’t think our learning journey ever ends. I could do with a smart phone tutor, but I think we can all learn from speaking to people with different angles of thought and putting varied expertise towards solving some of society’s greatest challenges.”

Starting his career as a science master at an Albury, New South Wales school in 1946, Dr Bottomley then worked in social and market research across England, Australia and Asia for 60 years before completing a Masters by research degree at the University of Melbourne.

Dr Bottomley graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy (Science and Mathematics Education) on 5 February 2019.

Photo credits: Jaimi Joy