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Tom O’Donoghue Headshot

Emeritus Professor Thomas (Tom) O’Donoghue

Graduate School of Education

"Cultivate curiosity about the subject matter ‘for its own sake’, locate its origins in time and place, and generate within yourself a love of learning."

Professor Tom O’Donoghue grew up in a bilingual (Gaelic and English) community in County Waterford, Ireland (alongside the birthplace of Robert Boyle, the scientist, who himself was a Gaelic speaker). His schooling was with the Irish Christian Brothers. He won an Irish government scholarship to study a new BA Hons Degree program that required attending St. Mary’s University, London for two years and another two at the new University of Limerick (where he was the very first graduate). After, he spent a portion of time between 1975 and 1989 teaching Gaelic and history in secondary schools when not on leave of absence to study at Trinity College Dublin (MEd) and at UCD, The National University of Ireland (MA, PhD). He then moved to PNG with his wife, Margaret, and his daughters, Sinéad and Déirdre. Migration to Australia followed: a year in the Northern Territory, a year at QUT, and they then moved to UWA in 1993.

Most interesting aspect of my career

I had the privilege of supervising a large cohort of postgraduate research students within my research programs in the history of education and in school leadership in challenging circumstances, including post-conflict societies. As a result, I engaged not only with terrific Australian students, but also with students from Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Rwanda, Cambodia, Chile and Serbia. They enriched my life enormously.

Most important experiences at UWA

In 2018, a UWA scientist mentioned to me that Swiss relations purchased a house decades ago in Seana Phobal, a remote Irish parish. She had visited. Something clicked. It’s at the end of a long narrow road by a beach? Yes. ‘Called The Lane?’ ‘Yes. Do you know it?’ ‘My mother was born there.’ Probability theory took on new meaning for me.

Where did you think you would end up when you began your career?

In 1989, I worked at a Catholic teachers’ college in PNG. Liking the warmth, we stayed a second year before moving to Australia. My intention was to eventually apply for a position in Ireland. I never did. When offered a tenure-track position at UWA I was delighted. I never had a career plan. Each promotion just led to the next.

What do you consider to be your most significant achievements?

Elected Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, Elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (UK) Designing in blended learning format (a pioneering program for UWA) the MEd degree, which was then offered in Broome, Karratha, Port Hedland, Albany, Kalgoorlie, and Northam. Designing, developing, and delivering the Doctor of Education program in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Where to from here?

I have a large writing agenda. I plan to write a general work on the history of approaches to teaching in universities internationally – a hugely neglected topic. I will also devote more time to writing in Irish Gaelic, starting out by completing a manuscript on various periods of time I have spent in PNG. I have lots of travel plans also.

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