Then Go Someplace Else Buddy!

After I completed a master’s degree in applied physics, which included a thesis on research on the teaching and learning of physics in the primary grades, I realized I would need to complete a doctoral degree. At the time I was playing squash with the President of our institution and one day in the change rooms he advised me not to take an EDD but to insist on a PhD. He pointed out that in an Australian context and EDD was not well understood and it might be regarded as an inferior degree even though in his view the degrees were equivalent to the differences in quality within a category being at least as great as the differences between categories.

I selected the University of Georgia because colleagues in the University system in Western Australia convinced me that the top institution for research and science education was the University of Georgia. Furthermore, I had read an excellent paper in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching authored by David Butts, who was the chair of the science education department at the University of Georgia.When I arrived for my initial meeting with David Butts it was quickly apparent that we were not on the same wavelength. I am not sure what I expected, but as a faculty member from a college in Australia it didn’t occur to me that I would be treated as a student rather than a colleague. Our first meeting was not collegial and when the topic turned to my advice about taking a PhD rather than an EDD David Butts looked at me scornfully said: “if you want to take a PhD then go someplace else buddy!”

Great! I had arrived with a wife, two children, and a limited budget. I was at the strongest place for science education research on the planet and the person I had come to work with was telling me that I should probably think about going someplace else. This was a moment to be adaptive. I swallowed what was probably my pride, assured him that I was in the right place, and walked out of the door to look for a major professor who could work with me.

William Capie agreed to be my major professor and in many regards the choice was a good one. With his support I had a successful experience as a doctoral candidate and he and I co-authored a number of pieces associated with the research I did at the University of Georgia. When I returned to the University in 1985 on a Fulbright award our collaboration did not “take off” mainly because I had moved on in my interests involving classroom research and he was steeped in the development of the teacher assessment instruments. Our interests were no longer sufficiently coherent and in some regards I was becoming strongly opposed to the positivistic research underpinnings associated with teacher assessment and a reductionist view that was incorporated into their structures.

I found it ironical that in 2000 I was presented with the David P. Butts Award for contributions to Science Education. This award was presented by the University of Georgia for outstanding accomplishments of alumni.