by Meredith Dault
March 27, 2011
For most people, earning one PhD would be accomplishment enough. That’s why Terry Bridges, who is working on his second doctoral degree, laughs when he considers his current trajectory. “I know...a lot of people say ‘are you crazy?’...and I wonder that sometimes too! Because I know how much work is involved.” But as Bridges, who earned his PhD in 1992, explains it, he likes being in university. He’s also pursuing his current degree in a vastly different discipline, which he says makes it exciting. “It’s a new kind of research,” he says with a smile.
Bridges is currently in the second year of his PhD in Education. Though it seems a far cry from his first doctoral degree in Astronomy, he says the two have always been closely connected in his mind. “I was always interested in science outreach,” he says, explaining that he ran the Queen's Observatory for several years (which offers tours to school groups and the general public) and always had an interest in informal education. “I guess I always had it in my mind to do a PhD in Education,” he adds. “because I knew I wanted to combine science and education, and I thought that the PhD would be an interesting option.”
And it’s not as if Bridges has been twiddling his thumbs between degrees, either. In the nearly twenty years between the end of his first PhD and the start of his second, Bridges has had all sorts of international adventures. After first earning the title Doctor, he and his wife packed up their children (then aged 1 and 4) and moved to Toulouse, France, so that Bridges could pursue a year-long post-doc position. He then secured a job working at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Cambridge, England where he and his family spent the next five years. That led to more work in the Canary Islands, and in Australia.
But Bridges says he and his wife (whose family is in Belleville) knew they wanted to come back to Canada. He set his sights on a faculty position in astronomy at a Canadian university, but there weren’t many options. “So instead, I taught as an adjunct professor in physics,” he explains. “It was okay, but it wasn’t really going anywhere. I knew I wanted something more.”
That’s when he decided to turn to the education side of things more seriously, beginning a Bachelor of Education degree at Queen’s in 2004. Though Bridges says he enjoyed the experience, it made him realize that working in a school full-time wasn’t what he wanted to do. And so, in 2009, he started working towards his second PhD.
Though Bridges, who is co-supervised by Dr. Azza Sharkawy and Dr. Richard Reeve, says he has been through three or four different ideas since beginning his degree, his current research project involves working with grade seven and eight teachers with the Hastings School Board (a school board just west of Kingston). He’s interested in running a pilot program in “Japanese Lesson Study,” which he describes as a method of teacher collaboration commonly used in Japan. “A group of teachers decide on a topic that they want to improve their teaching in,” he says. “They then get together to design a lesson plan -- and one of the teachers teaches that lesson to her students, and the others observe. And then they get together again to revise and re-teach.” Bridges says the approach is catching on in North America. His goal is to see if it improves teacher confidence and encourages them to try more hands-on teaching, particularly in science. He hopes to begin recruiting teacher-subjects in September.
Bridges is also involved in the community outreach centre at the Faculty of Education, (whose mandate is to do outreach in science and math) and is currently working with Dr. Lynda Colgan to coordinate Science Rendezvous-- a science festival for children and families which takes place on-campus May 7. He also serves as a Teaching Assistant for several sections of the B.Ed. course in elementary science, and recently helped with Science Discovery Day, a public science event put on by the Primary/Junior teacher candidates.
Though Bridges says he isn’t entirely sure what he’ll do once he has earned this degree, he knows he’ll have options. “Maybe a faculty position?” he speculates, “or a consulting position with a school board, or with a science organization? He also hasn’t ruled out teaching part-time, or teaching internationally with his wife (especially now that his children are grown).
He is, however, certain about one thing: there won’t be any more PhDs in his future. At least not for now.