Bottomley’s thesis looked at five well known science educators from the 19th century.
“[They] were in the history of science for their science teaching, and that to my mind is a very limited approach to history. I want to get a much more detailed idea of who they were, what their teaching aims were and whether they had similarities,” he says.
Bottomley says that the educators were well ahead of their time.
“They saw science as part of what they termed the modern education, which included modern history, modern geography and modern languages, all necessary for the young progressive man headed for a commercial career.
“In their development they presented science as part of man's inheritance, that it was a factor in the development of civilisation and that knowledge of science was hence an important part of what they repeatedly referred to as a modern education.”
Bottomley started his working life at Albury Grammar School in 1946, but only stayed a teacher for three years before being recruited as a market researcher.
“[I was] asked to run a small market research company and I said 'what's market research?' It's been my profession ever since,” he says.
Despite this, Bottomley never truly left education.
“I've done about four or five degrees in education, in-between my own professional work. It's only this last study I've taken some years full time to do it and not pursued my commercial work.”
Before graduating, Bottomley had no idea he was set to become the oldest PhD graduate in Australian history.
“I was most surprised,” he says.
“I thought this was the domain of professors who had so much learning to get off their chests, they probably wrote PhDs in their weekends.”
Finishing his thesis has only left Bottomley more curious.
“[It’s] just like any major examination, the way the poor children are belted over the heads so to speak at school ... You put enormous effort in a short space of time into a project and suddenly you don't have to. What do I do now? You're left a bit numb.
“Well in my case I have plenty to think about and I've been thinking about that over the last few weeks.”
Bottomley’s next project is to study what he calls the “concomitants of creativity in schools”, or the ability of educators to foster student initiative.
“It's rather a large subject,” he says, laughing.
“I could go further, but I'd need another century.”