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Love is in the air as husband and wife celebrate dual graduations

Support, encouragement the key as married couple complete different degrees

When Paul Marshall decided to undertake his Masters degree, it had been some two decades since he had set foot in a classroom.

As a land management practitioner for Landcare, Paul had spent years managing large-scale revegetation projects, but wanted to strengthen his research capability at university with a Masters in Environmental Science.

He thought he would be studying alone, but his wife, Dr Virginia Marshall, had other ideas.

“I wanted to encourage Paul because he hadn’t been at university since the 1990s and that was by distance education. I knew UOW, I knew the university system, so I wanted to be able to support him through his studies,” she said.

Virginia’s list of achievements was already considerable. She has seven degrees – yes, seven – to her name, including a double degree in Arts and Law from UOW and a PhD in Law from Macquarie University.

She began a Graduate Certificate in Laws (Criminal Practice) with the aim of furthering her knowledge and encouraging her husband on his own academic journey.

Today (Tuesday April 17), Virginia and Paul both celebrated their graduation from UOW; Paul in the morning ceremony and Virginia in the afternoon.
It was an emotional moment for the couple, who said that being able to graduate on the same day was “very special”.

“We are so fortunate to be able to celebrate together,” said Virginia, who together with Paul splits her time between the Southern Highlands and Canberra.

“We have two of our kids here too, so that’s really lovely. We are coming down from Bowral, so we are going to celebrate by getting our feet in the salt water and having time in Wollongong’s beautiful surf.”

Paul’s Masters thesis – titled ‘Strengthening Biodiversity: Examining volunteer engagement in local government community nurseries’ – focused on how to engage volunteers to work in Landcare-run and Council-run nurseries, based on his experience working for Wingecarribee Council’s Bushcare Program.

“No one has studied that aspect before, so I wanted to research the role of community volunteers supporting conservation” he said. “Engaging volunteers is really important to protecting biodiversity and contributing to our bushland reserves. I was working fulltime and studying, so I had to learn what it was like to be a researcher.”

Virginia has plenty of experience in the field of research. Now the Inaugural Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellow at ANU, Virginia is a practising lawyer with her own firm, an expert in Indigenous water rights, and has published a book, Overturning aqua nullius, which was launched by the Honourable Michael Kirby.

Virginia left school in Year 10, but was propelled into the world of academia later in life, she told UOW’s Outlook Magazine last year. Before this, however, she was a professional opera singer, and is fluent in German, French, and Italian.

Virginia and Paul found that as they both returned to studying this time around – juggling the inevitable demands of life, work, children, and research – it enabled them to support each other and understand what the other was going through.

They share four children – three sons and a daughter – and it is clear that theirs is a marriage full of love and support. However, Virginia admitted that the children are both intimidated and impressed by their parent’s long academic record.

“The kids are so supportive,” Virginia said. “But one son tells me that it’s pretty daunting to have parents who have studied so much.”

Virginia said she is now focused on her work at ANU, but Paul admitted he has developed a love for education and hopes to add to his resume. And, of course, his wife will be there to support him on that journey too.

“I’m definitely thinking about my PhD now,” Paul said.

“And that’s with my support and encouragement,” Virginia added.