91 year old receives PhD

91 year old receives PhD

08 Oct 2008

When 'Doctora' Lilit Thwaites agreed to supervise Spanish literature PhD student Joseph Ciampa, neither knew how remarkable Mr Ciampa's journey to obtaining his PhD would become.

After eight years of study, thanks to Dr Thwaites' support and Mr Ciampa's dedication, the 91 year old has become one of the oldest PhD recipients in the world, and far from "winding down", Mr Ciampa is already planning to do another masters degree.

Dr Thwaites says that finding ways to accommodate Mr Ciampa's unusual circumstances was at times problematic.

"He didn't have the usual computer skills, for example, and getting to La Trobe University via public transport eventually became difficult for him," Dr Thwaites says.

Mr Ciampa's meticulous drafts and notes had to be typed, and so Dr Thwaites had to find typists who were prepared to work with a manuscript handwritten in Spanish, and to charge modestly for doing so. "We were fortunate that we were able to take advantage of the expertise, and willingness of former students and departmental administrators to turn his draft version of the entire thesis into a series of Word documents", she says.

Despite the challenges, Dr Thwaites recalls many stimulating supervisory sessions with Mr Ciampa, as he shared his ideas on Spanish author Carmen Martín Gaite (who is to Spain what Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir are to the English and French-speaking worlds).

"Our conversations were never a one-way street. They enabled me to rediscover Carmen Martín Gaite through his eyes, his ideas and the interconnections he made between her and other writers and ideas, while offering him my thoughts and suggestions on the author and her era. Martín Gaite would undoubtedly have deemed it an exemplary implementation of her theories of narratology!" Dr Thwaites says.

"There was a real delight when our conversations took an unusual or unexpected turn or led to a completely different outcome from the one anticipated, delight accompanied by a twinkle in his eye and what could only be described as a euphoric giggle."

Dr Thwaites concurs with the examiners' assessment of Mr Ciampa's work as a significant and original contribution to the study of Spanish literature.

"The fact that he had all the time in the world to read, think and write meant a seemingly never-ending stream of ideas he felt should be included in his thesis. One of my biggest challenges as a supervisor was to keep the thesis within manageable bounds."

Dr Thwaites will miss his handwritten letters which always started with 'Gentilísima Dra Thwaites.'

"They were always handwritten in a lovely, old-fashioned 'proper' style in Spanish," Dr Thwaites says. "Not exactly the style of communication we usually receive from our students nowadays!"

"Joseph still talks about 'our' next project. I've told him my retirement precludes any further collaborative studies with me, but it's clear that it hasn't stopped him from continuing with his studies and his writing. He's a perfect example of life-long learning."

Joseph Ciampa will receive his PhD in abstentia, on Friday 10 October 2008. Mr Ciampa has also been made an Honorary Associate in the Spanish Program of La Trobe University.

Enquiries

For media enquiries, please contact Dr Lilit Thwaites on:

+ 61 3 9479 2435; 9383 2695 (home)
E: l.thwaites@latrobe.edu.au
W: www.latrobe.edu.au/spanish

The world's oldest PhD recipient is believed to be Edgar Douse, who, at 93, was awarded a PhD in theology in Britain in 2004.

The Australian record is believed to be held by Ron Fitch, who, at 92, was awarded a PhD on railways in 2002.

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