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One, two, three, here's your PhD

Date posted: Monday 1 Aug 2011

One, two, three, here's your PhD
When Swinburne University of Technology lecturer and celebrated children’s book author Dr Mark Carthew steps up to receive his PhD at his graduation ceremony on Tuesday, it will mark the end of a life-changing journey.

Dr Carthew, who has published more than 100 children’s books, has spent four years working on his PhD, Can you keep a secret? An artefact and exegetical essay investigating the poetics of children’s rhymes and verse. His thesis looks at, as he describes it: “the poetics of the language of rhymes and the resonance, the musicality of words, and why some rhymes resonate over time”.

The first step in his journey towards his PhD was to make the decision to break away from the career he loved – working as a primary school teacher – to head back to university. The Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship he received in 2006 to work on his thesis at Swinburne, however, made the journey a little easier.

“It was the scholarship that gave me the option to even think about it,” he said. “You hear the word ‘journey’ as a buzz word, people pull it out quite a bit. I had to resign from my teaching position and I loved primary teaching. That was a big personal- and family-based decision, to commit to further study.”

The financial hardship that comes with going from a full-time wage to a student income was another challenge.

“That’s been a part of the journey as well, that hasn’t been easy financially.”

Yet from early on in his studies, there were signs that he made the right choice. The artefact in his PhD, an anthology of children’s rhymes, Can you keep a secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure was published by Random House in 2008, and a year later he released a companion music CD, Timeless songs to share and treasure.

While he was studying he was busy writing children’s books as well, which were widely acclaimed. His 2008 book The Gobbling Tree won a 2009 Speech Pathology Australian Book of the Year award, and another book, Five Little Owls, was short-listed in the 2008 awards.

Then, at the start of 2011, came the icing on the cake. Dr Carthew became a full-time staff member at Swinburne’s Lilydale campus – the campus he had spent the last four years studying at – as a lecturer and program coordinator for Primary Education.

“The role is fantastic; it sort of moulds all of my interests together at the moment.”

He describes the team at the Lilydale campus as a small, wonderful group, a team that he got to know first as a student, then a tutor, and now as a lecturer. Indeed, he has very close ties with the Professor of Writing, Josie Arnold. Professor Arnold was Dr Carthew’s high school English teacher at Brentwood Secondary College in Glen Waverley, more than three decades ago.

So, when he steps up to receive his PhD on Tuesday, he will reflect on his long journey, and where it has brought him to today.

“The life part, it is quite hard – in terms of workload and the stresses that come with it, but it’s like climbing a mountain: once you get there and you have that PhD, it’s all worth it.”