Dream of a Doctorate

13 December 2023
Dr Diane Zetlin with her granddaughter Bella.
Dr Diane Zetlin with her granddaughter Bella.

Dr Diane Zetlin graduated last year with a PhD in Philosophy.

This milestone achievement was a long-awaited feather in her cap, as it didn’t come without some challenges along the way.

The dream of a doctorate had to take a backseat for some years, as raising her two granddaughters single-handedly was always Dr Zetlin’s first priority.

Add in fulltime work, 3 separate cancer diagnoses, a move interstate, and an equestrian accident which landed her in a wheelchair temporarily, this remarkable lady still managed to keep up her studies and achieve her goal.

Dr Zetlin has always wanted to complete a PhD in political philosophy.

“I think whenever you embark on a PhD it is a long-term relationship,” she said.

“You have to expect a few life-changing events along the way, but how you navigate them is what’s really important.”

Dr Zetlin’s work has a strong focus on research and practice in the areas of gender equality and empowering women, as well as gender and development.

She is currently working on developing a project aimed at empowering women at the local level to negotiate with government in relation to funding arrangements in their community in Papua New Guinea.

“It is quite a difficult position for women to be in, so we are looking at building their capacity,” she said.

Although in its early stages, if the project succeeds she hopes it will have a ripple effect more broadly throughout PNG.

“The history of my life is that I swing between the intellectual ideas and then have a passion for actually getting engaged with the changes that are taking place for the better.”

Dr Zetlin is working on the project alongside a former student of hers, from her time as a lecturer in UQ’s School of Political Science and International Studies.

She was a highly regarded teacher and researcher who taught postgraduate courses related to gender, political theory, international development and conflict resolution, before retiring in 2017.

In fact, as the former convenor of the Peace and Conflict Studies major, Dr Zetlin was part of the team that helped launch the Rotary Peace Fellowship Masters Program.

She also consulted to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – an organisation that actively monitors and networks at local and international levels on a wide range of issues for women including disarmament and political solutions to international conflicts; reconciliation and land rights in Australia; elimination of racial and other discrimination; economic justice; and environmental sustainability.

An extraordinary human being with an impressive career, from working in Bertrand Russell’s Peace Institute in the 1960s, to being national president of the NETU, to teaching at UQ and now a graduate of their Philosophy doctorate program, Dr Zetlin’s biggest cheer squad has always been her two granddaughters.

“My granddaughters Bella and Grace are very chuffed. I wasn’t going to attend the graduation ceremony but they insisted, and so I do what I’m told!”

Both Bella and Grace are incredibly proud of their grandma and were excited to see her walk the stage at graduation in December 2023.

" Watching our grandma achieve her dreams has been inspiring and brought so much happiness to our lives, we are so incredibly proud of her and all she has achieved, she is truly an inspiration to us."

Professor Deborah Brown from the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry supervised Dr Zetlin and said her thesis is a breathtakingly original piece of work—one that you know will become a point of reference for scholarly work going forward.

“It was described by her examiners—outstanding scholars from Princeton University and Birkbeck College, London—as ‘ingenious, original and thought-provoking’, a ‘tour de force’ and ‘her interpretation of Hobbes on women as much richer and more nuanced than any other known’,” Professor Brown said.

“It was accepted without revisions—which does not happen often!”

Dr Zetlin said these comments were the most rewarding thing for her personally.

“When people who you have looked up to for 20 years write such thoughtful reflections on what you’ve done it really makes you feel like it has all been worth it,” she said.

Now Dr Zetlin has ticked PhD off her list, she hopes to turn her work into a book in the near future, and keep her great-grandson entertained along the way!