State of Play  Project Arts Centre, Dublin

May 8 and 9, 2008  Conference Programme


Prof. Kerstin Mey: Between Paternalist Care and Laissez-faire – On current models of PhD Supervision in practice-based research in Art and Design (University of Ulster)

In the German Academic System a PhD supervisor is traditionally referred to as ‘Doctor Father’. The term embodies a concept of paternal authority, signifies the supervisor’s position and ‘customary’ gendered identity in the hierarchal academic system as well as their (assumed) research and disciplinary expertise. It conjures up attitudes and images of reverence and firm (and fair) guidance. Yet it may also imply (and excuse) expectations of mild bouts of ‘juvenile’ rebellion on part of the PhD researcher as a constituent part of their maturing into an independent scholar. Although there seems to be a general agreement that the quality of supervision is vitally important for the success of the whole PhD enterprise, current perceptions of the role of the PhD Supervisor varies between disciplines. These range from the supervisor as manager of the PhD project, particularly in STEM subjects, to a more guiding and caring influence in the creative fields. The presentation aims to critically discuss key requirements for PhD supervision in practice-based research in Art and Design based on the perceived specificity of the subject field and its current prevalent approach to and form(at) of PhD research projects.

Prof. Kerstin Mey studied Art, German language and literature in Berlin, Germany, and holds a PhD in art theory/aesthetics. After positions in universities in Germany and the UK, she currently holds a Chair in Fine Art at the University of Ulster. She is Director of the Research Institute Art and Design there, and heads up the research area ‘Art and its Location’ in Interface: Centre for Research in Art, Technologies and Design. Her research is concerned with contemporary cultural practices and their social and political situatedness. She is an experienced PhD supervisor for practice-based projects. She authored the book Art and Obscenity (IB Tauris, 2006). Edited volumes include Art in the Making. Aesthetics, Historicity and Practice (Peter Lang, 2004), and with M. Kroenke and Y. Spielmann: Kulturelle Umbrüche: Identitäten, Räume, Repräsentationen (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2007). Her essay titled “The Gesture of Writing” (2005) reconsiders the role of writing in third level art education.

AVPhD April Fools

Supervisors & Examiners’ Forum

Tuesday 1st April 2008

Afternoon Introductions: Supervision

Robin Nelson

Joram ten Brink

Cahal McLaughlin

Afternoon Introductions: Supervision

Robin Nelson from Manchester Metropolitan University:

By way of introduction, I was involved quite a lot with the PARIP, (Practice

And Research In Performance) project, which was a 5 year AHRC-funded investigation into practice as research. I mention it particularly because PARIP has a website on which are published the “best practice” guidelines for PhDs in practice research, which I drew up with Stuart Andrews some years ago now. I know people have found those helpful, so if you don’t know them, just go on the PARIP website. They’re a bit out of date, particularly in terms of examination, but hopefully helpful still.

I suppose the most contentious supervision I engaged in was I had two

people doing PhDs together, a husband and wife team, and they did a joint PhD

in performance, which involved recommitting their marriage vows on the

Sanbach Services on the M6. It was a very interesting piece of performance. It was wonderful. It was theorised in terms of space and non-space on [ ] particularly, all kind of interesting things to say about post-modern performance about what was real and what was not. That had to have 4 exams, 2 internal and 2 external, and they had to be examined twice in pairs, one to establish that they both made a contribution and then together to establish it was a proper collaboration. I’ll talk about that later, if you want.

This afternoon session is about supervision. And so we’re going to focus fairly tightly on issues to do with supervision and how supervision might be different perhaps for an AVPhD, practice based PhD, than for a traditional PhD. I have a Powerpoint, but, unfortunately, there are only words, no images: just a set of bullet points to remind me what I want to talk about.

Four main areas – establishing the need for practice research; agreeing a contract on the outset; ensuring no theory/practice split; and build reading/writing documentation and critical reflection into schedule. These are the four topics I want to address.

Firstly, establishing a need for practice research.

Interview – given that we’ve already discovered there’s considerable variability of practice in how PhD students are taken on. I’m not sure whether everybody does interview prospective students. Do you all do that? We’re obliged to interview candidates and there has to be a record of the interview. It’s all bureaucratic, we know, but that’s what we have to do. One of the first things I want to do at interviews is discuss practice and press whether the research enquiry might result in a traditional PhD outcome. To put that another way round, to take someone on as a practice research student, I want to be convinced that research enquiry can only be explored by practical means. In some ways it’s much easier to do a traditional PhD. It’s certainly not the soft option that some of our more sceptical colleagues think it is. I think it’s a very tough option to do. We’ve heard a little bit about the scope of work involved and I’ll say a bit more about that later. But that’s the first thing for me. If its practice based research, as they call it, research based on a practice and not as a practice, then it’s a different kind of thing for me. So that’s one of the first things I want to tease out. Once I’m convinced that this research enquiry of necessity involves a practical dimension,that’s fine.

Then I want establish the scope of the practice and the balance of what I call complementary writing. I think this needs to be established in the first instance at this stage. That’s to say the general balance I work on is a 50-50 split following the AHRC guidelines that it should be 50-50. That’s to say, roughly 40,000 of writing and a substantial practice. Now what a substantial practice is, it depends on the practice because every practice based PhD is different. If it’s haiku poetry, it’s going to be a different thing than if it’s a film or

an exhibition or whatever. But it needs to be some kind of substantial practice.

For a performance piece that may be 50 minutes to an hour’s duration, but it could be less. For a film, it might be much less, it seems to me. And the idea of several films, I find quite worrying. That sounds to me like poor supervision. Listening to what was said this morning, I was reflecting on where I’ve had problems in examining. In almost all cases, all but one, I did wonder what the supervisors were about: had they advised at all about scope etc.? These sorts of things should be discussed and established at the beginning. Of course, it can change. So if you start out with a 50-50 balance, and then the practice is clearly more substantial and it needs less complementary writing. It might shift to 70-30.

It’s not fixed, but it needs to be clear from the outset. The other thing about that balance, it’s important that the balance is explained to the examiners. You need to know what the status of the practice is at the examination stage. I believe that should be set up at the beginning and talked through.

I’m also suggesting you should agree a “contract” at the outset. You sketch your schedule over the 3 years or the part time equivalent and map when the practice will be undertaken. If someone’s making a film, are they going to show it at the end of the second year? In my model, you spend a year developing the complementary writing and then submit that prior to the viva. No more than a year later in my model. Or at the same time, which is Joram’s

model? But, either way, it needs a sense of the map of how it’s going to pan out.

Availability of resources, I know of cases where there’s been a very unfortunate mismatch between the expectations of the student and the resources the university was able to supply. Be clear what the candidate can supply, what s/he expects from the university – rehearsal space, camera kit, editing suite, personnel etc. If somebody wants to occupy an editing suite for 3 months, can you resource that? If they want to borrow a camera kit, lights and all that, can you resource that? It’s important to be clear at the outset what might be needed for the project and know your resources. I’d go as far to say that it should be written down, and contract is a bit strong, but so you have a clear record and everybody knows what’s happening. Again, these can change. If the practice changes and the needs are different, that’s fine but there needs to be a renegotiation.

Ensure there is no theory/practice split. Reflecting on examining, some of the weakness that have become evident in the poorer practice based PhDs I’ve examined, is when the theory is quite clearly thrown at the practice, like mud, and it’s clearly just about sticking on but really isn’t woven into the practice in any meaningful way at all. That to me is a complete disaster and that is a supervisory disaster because that should have been woven through the whole process. Particularly where the candidate’s experience is primarily in practice, ensure that a programme of critical reading and reflecting is constructed in parallel with the practice. There can be serious misunderstanding particularly from moderately experienced practitioners, professional practitioners, who suddenly learn that there’s such a thing as a practice based PhD or an AVPhD that you can get. They come along and say, “I’d like a PhD, please.” And they don’t have a sense that you’re entering into an academic institution and the rules of the game are different. You may want to make your practice primary, and I’m absolutely committed to that, as I hope will be clear. I’ve been described as a champion of practice-based research, which I quite like. You get people who think they can just come in and continue with their practice and that’s a PhD. For me, the shift they have to make into the academic institution is to recognise that there needs to be a research enquiry. All the things that Ian set up this morning, broadly I’d go along with those except, perhaps, for the scientific, rational approach. There has to be a research enquiry. I strongly believe that good practice is informed by challenging thinking and challenging thinking quite often comes out of reading. It’s important particularly when someone’s out of the habit of critical reading that they get back into it. I’m talking about people who primarily are practitioners. They may or may not be readers and often they are. Often all the things I’m talking about are things practitioners are doing anyway. That’s fine if they are, but if not, it needs to be made clear that this process is part of the overall PhD process. I’d go as far as saying it needs to be built into a timetable of work. The worst thing is if the practical exploration is undertaken and that’s complete before any theoretical dimension is taken forward. That seems to be inappropriate. Avoid the situation where the candidate gets so involved in making the work that sight of the research enquiry is lost. I don’t know if some of these things might be contentious and we can talk about them, but I try to and keep the mind focused on the research enquiry. The practice is the research enquiry, but there’s this sense of how is it a research enquiry in the context of the Academy. So build critical reading and writing and reflection into the schedule. Agree a range of appropriate critical writing, documentation and practices to be explored with an outline time scale. I want to unpack this a bit. What is appropriate critical writing and reading in this context? Somebody mentioned this morning, they talked of a literary review, which is the standard thing you’d do for a PhD and if often the first chapter of a traditional PhD. But my experience is that there are a lot of work that my students and me have been engaged in has been interdisciplinary work and has drawn on very broad frames of reference. What is the field in which they’d conduct their literary review? I actually don’t propose a literary review, which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be doing some reading and that should be reflected in the work. But I’m not sure whether a literary review would be appropriate in this model of work. It depends. They’re different projects, but often they’re interdisciplinary. I have worked with co-supervisors particularly from the Germanic tradition who have wanted to the student to explore in great depth every aspect of their interdisciplinary field of critical enquiry. In other words, in my view, they’re been asking for 5 or 6 PhDs. I have said in these forums before “Avoid doing 2 PhDs. Certainly, avoid doing 5 or 6.” That seems to me part of the supervisory process. We have to help the student understand what’s involved in this complex process.

To me, documentation seems to be crucial. As I said this morning, process emerges [ ] to be a crucial area where the research is undertaken, where the knowledge is developed. So how do you know when you’re embarking on a process what you’re going to need to document? The answer is you don’t. Most practitioners keep some kind of notebook, artist’s notebooks, and very often they’ll serve the purpose. And it might be that they can be extended a bit to include some notes on reading so the whole thing is woven together, as I’d like to see it. You can work out strategies for moments where you might want to document things. So if I can refer to a performance process for a moment, if people are working in the studio, they can’t keep a video document of everything they do. There are practical reasons for that, but also the camera gets in the way of the process to some extent. But most people recognise moments where the process has developed and they might want to record that process. Those moments of what works that we talk about are very hard to define, but there are moments when you think it has really moved on, I like this, this is working. Those are the moments you should video, photograph, sketch whatever.

At the outset I would talk through the range of possible documentation with people. One big area that has been problematic is where people make claims about the impact of their work but have no methodology what so ever for exploring that. Now that might be another PhD, it might be an audience research PhD that you don’t want to get into but there’s simple things you can do with a palm recorder, a lot of artists having showings of their work in process and get feedback from colleagues and so on. If those are documented, this documentation, in the end, if put together and organised and dropped into the thesis or dropped onto the DVD, which is part of the thesis, can be very useful. When I’ve talked about the importance of process, that you need to document that process and work it through, you need to think about these things in advance because otherwise you get to the end and think “If only I’d recorded that rehearsal 2 months ago, then all would be clear.” It’s just getting students to think ahead in the way.

Require writing at agreed specific points. I strongly believe in foregrounding the practice, but I also believe most PhDs will need some complementary writing. How much will depend on the project of the individual concerned. But perhaps let’s say somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words and that might include some documentation process. It’s my experience that people who are primarily practitioners have not always been trained in academic writing traditions. People who have come up through the Humanities and are used to writing essays and so on have all the scholarly framework, referencing, end notes at hand when they come to post graduate study, and that’s fine. But a lot of candidates that I’ve dealt with don’t have that: they’re very good dancers and choreographers, filmmakers or musicians, but they don’t have that. It’s important if they’re going to submit some writing – and we we’re talking about professional standard this morning – but a high level academic standard. You can’t do that overnight, and some people have to develop that from the outset – you know over the three year period. Which is why, I suggest, that you should ask for some kind of writing as part of the supervisory process periodically.

Frequently ask, which goes back to Ian at the start of the day, where the new knowledge is or the substantial new insight lies. Before any student of mine goes into a viva, I want them to be able to articulate to me pretty clearly and we have mock vivas in our place, in a mock viva, what their contribution to knowledge is, what’s the substantial insight is that they’re producing. Because if that’s the PhDness of a PhD, then we need to understand what it is. And because it’s contentious in the sense, that my problem with 100% art practice being submitted is not a principle problem but often practice is so complex that if you’re trying to judge the research bit of it, it’ll be very hard to say what that its. It could be any one of a number of things, which is why the minimum I need is a clue to what the research enquiry was so I can try to make a judgement about the validity of the research enquiry. What I’m saying is not that I doubt the value of practice and that it’s not research worthy, rather the opposite, that often there’s a number of strands of research might have been involved in this and in terms of institutional marking of a PhD, you need to know what kind of research enquiry you’re looking at. I want my students to understand what research enquiry they’re putting forward to the PhDness to the PhD. I ask that question almost from the outset and keep teasing away at it all along so by the time they go into their viva, they’re very clear what that is.

Joram ten Brink from University of Westminster:

The idea this afternoon is to also to exchange experiences and views about supervision, like we did in the morning about examination. What I’ll do very briefly is highlight 3 points, which I think are important in my experience as a supervisor and running the PhD programme in Art and Design at Westminster. In the same way that Robin started, let’s start at the beginning.

My first point is building the supervision team. It is something that we try to put a lot of effort and energy into it because at the end of the day, it may be one of the crucial reasons why a project is successful or not successful. The supervision team is crucial because the nature of our PhDs is unlike PhDs in Humanities and Sciences. There we find big numbers of students, working in the same area or similar areas; there are often large numbers of supervisors available across the country, even inside the same university dealing with the same subjects around History or Philosophy or English Literature etc. But art and design students who come to us are very much individuals coming with unique project which is very difficult to place in one university, very difficult to place in a department and when they get into the department, who is really capable of supervising them? That’s something that we put a lot of effort into. Can we create a team rather than 1 or 2 separate supervisors; often we go to 3 supervisors. Can we create a team of people who can support the candidate? We should look very carefully what each member of the team can contribute to the student in his or her research?

Defiantly not splitting as follows: “ok you’ll get one practice based supervisor and one theoretician”. I think that’s a wrong way to look at it because of the whole process we’ve talked about today is where practice and theory are intertwined.

The ideal is to find a member of staff who is a kind of thinking artist, a writing artist who is a fantastic practitioner, who also has a PhD and writes books and publishes, and there are, thank god, there are quite a few of those around. The system of PhD by practice in the last 10 years has produced quite a lot of people who are very capable artists but also work in academia and so on. If you don’t get those types of people, there are enough people around and you’ll be surprised if you do a bit of research across the university, across other universities. ‘Theoretician’ only can actually be fantastic supervisor for practice. I was supervised by Professor Roy Armes who never made a film in his life, but he was a fantastic supervisor. He understood what it means to make a movie, what does it mean to be an artist, what does it mean to be depressed, to stop, to start, to stop, to start, not to understand what you’re doing, and although he never made a film in his life, he was fantastic supervisor. There are a lot of people in my department, in other departments across the University who have got the same attitude towards practice. We just need to identify these people and get them into the team and not really accept, what I often hear people say to me “Well, the candidate had theory-man or woman working with them and a painter working with them.” But there was no correlation between the 2 and whatever went between the 3 people, I wouldn’t know. Especially at the beginning, and we had a little conversation in the morning about research questions, when we enrol people at the beginning, we don’t ask them what is your research question. Because we accept that the research question will change through the research. It’s not really defined. We ask: what is your area of research, your area of enquiry, what is the medium you’re likely to use, what are the type of questions you think you’re going to deal with in the next 3 years? Throughout the project, it becomes more and more focused and of course, it may change. But at least it’s a starting point where we can all agree this is the area of research. This also makes it possible to attract supervisors into that area of research instead of trying desperately to find the world’s famous expert in one very particular ‘research question area’. We don’t look for that particular research question on the very first day.

Often, I encourage the candidate to come with suggestions of supervisors.

Especially when we deal often in our case with mature students, mature artists who come back to academia. These people know people on the scene, in other universities, in other countries who might be able to supervise them. If the candidate had a good experience with a certain person, if s/he’s got somebody in mind that s/he would like to bring on the team, then we’ll negotiate with that person, we will have a conversation, a meeting and see, if that person will be very useful as a team member of supervision. We should think about supervision as a team effort rather than as a 1 to 1 relationship. I don’t know how it works in pure theory and film studies, Ian will tell us, but maybe there is much more 1 to 1 than in practice based research, I find it’s very useful to work in a team. My most enjoyable times always are team supervision sessions with other supervisors and the student. That’s often the most enjoyable and the most productive.

Again, quality of the writing – how do we try to resolve it? You do get painters and filmmakers who cannot write, but they’re brilliant filmmakers, we try to encourage them, we ask them to sit in the first year or two in a series of MA modules in film studies or art history or whatever and that will give them the training to write academic essays. They will have to be assessed on those modules as well. For the transfer, they will have to pass 2 or 3 modules in theory within the university, which are assessed, i.e. somebody has read the essays and has corrected them and has given them serious feedback. Of course, other writings will be assessed during the 3 years, but that’s one way of resolving the problem with a candidate who hasn’t got any MA or no experience in academic writing. So this is about building supervision teams.

The second point is much more about the nitty gritty. The supervisor, I find, needs to convince the candidate that it is his or her project, not my project. Especially when students come from other cultures and didn’t go through English Art education. They think that they come to be taught by us. They don’t come to a PhD to be taught. They come to the PhD to conduct their own research, to drive the research; they have to control it, they have to set the agenda; they have to set the parameters. We are supervisors, and that’s where the difficulties come.

What is your relationship with that project, what is you’re relationship with the student? Because s/he is not your student. They are researchers that you supervise, that you help to identify areas of research, to organise, to give some critical reflection on their work. You’re not there to teach them how to do the research other than critically look at their research and offer them some positions to consider. Teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students, is a different type of teaching to what I consider to be supervision of a PhD. It’s this relationship you have to establish with students. Give students the confidence that they own the research, that they lead it, that they ask the questions, that they look for the answers, that they go outside the supervision team and look for answers from other people. They should go and talk to other academics outside your own university, go and talk to other artists. Go and present papers as much as possible in other places, You have to very early on encourage the students to go out and present the work as much as possible to as many people as possible across the country or internationally. That’s the process- it becomes a dialogue between you and the student. The one who drives the process, of course, is the student. When I feel angry, I say, “If you don’t work, I don’t work.” This is a very extreme position to take. “If you don’t progress with your work, then I have nothing to say. If you drive the process and you haven’t progressed, what do you want me to say? Nothing is happening.” This is a very extreme situation I would never take because of course you would try to work with the student to see how we together can drive the process forward, but it has to be that type of a dialogue between the supervisor and the student.

And the third point, which is very important to supervision, is to have the ability to be flexible with the students and to encourage the students to be flexible so if they’re stuck, you can say “This is not the end of the world. This is a cul de sac. Let’s go all the way back to the junction where we were 6 months. Let’s rethink what we were really looking at, what you were looking at. And let’s look at a different methodology, a different approach, a different technique, a different way of writing, and so on. Rather than presenting to the student an image or a process, which seems inflexible or very strict. Students walk into an academic institution, into all the academic ‘stuff’ that was mentioned this morning, with lots of regulations and lots of timetables. Many students misunderstand it to be a very closed system, a very difficult system to negotiate, to be fair, a lot of students walk away from PhDs. PhD’s do not have a very high success rate. Many students break down, cannot deal with it for different reasons, but one of the reasons may be that they’re made to see the whole system to be very closed and very demanding one, and I think one of the main roles of the supervisor is to inject the confidence that the nature of the research is flexibility. It is ok to change your mind; it is ok to change your research question, to change your methodology. It’s often 2 steps forward and 1 step backwards. That’s the nature of research and unless you give that type of feeling to the students so they can deal with it, I think a lot of them will just walk away because they think, “Well, I’m not up to it. I cannot really deal with it. I’ll fail.” And they walk away. Because we know as practitioners, the practice at the end is a process of ups and downs anyway. If the students, sometimes, for a half a year, are hiding depressed, they cannot continue with their work, something has gone wrong with the work. It doesn’t work. What do you do? Sometimes we have a conversation “Ok. Take a break from your work. Go and do some reading a writing now. Take a break from the work for your PhD. Do another type of film in between and then go back to the project.” So that type of flexibility has to be there all along. Now over to Cahal.

Cahal McLaughlin from University of Ulster

… I’m going to talk about supervision from 3 perspectives. Firstly, I’ve just completed a PhD last year, so I want to talk about supervision from the supervisee’s point of view. Secondly, as a PhD student, I was unable to supervise, but I was able to act as an advisor to a couple of students. So I’ll take out a little case study or example from there. Thirdly, I have acted as an examiner. I wish to raise several points, in some ways to flesh out what’s already been said.

For me, there is a contradiction in that it’s both very complex and very simple, when we approach the subject of the practice PhD. It’s complex because of the newness of the area as has already been referred to in this morning’s session in terms of resistance within certain sections of the Academy, within our own disciplines, and there are also internal debates about the ‘researchness’ of practice. For example, Victor Burgen, in the Journal of Media Practice (Vol 7 No2) questions where there is any ‘researchness’ within practice and I am aware that Des Bell will challenge that assumption in a couple of editions hence. So it’s still and an emerging area and a lot of issues at stake. But it’s also simple because I think we can make it more difficult than it is, in that we have already established concepts and processes to help us (AVPhD and PARIP are examples), and I certainly find those of immense help. The rules or guidelines of supervision that Joram’s been talking about can be applied to any sort of PhD, e.g. the need for a literature review, is something again which is important to reimagine. We can think of it as something else, but the issue of contextualising your research is standard, the methodological appropriateness of what you are doing is important to establish. An awareness of other research in the field comes out of that review. All of those things can be very helpful. For me, there’s a balance between the rules and regulations and the specific relationship you set up with your supervisors. When the University of London’s regulations were changed, and I was part of that process a number of years ago, the soundest piece of advice came from a professor at the London School of Economics, a social psychologist, and he said “Keep your regulations as loose as possible because what you are about to research is going to be unique and it’s going to be negotiated and agreed by the supervisor and the student and, later on, by the examiners and the student”. So while these guidelines are useful, they are there to be interpreted and every PhD will operate within it’s own particular conditions. Referring to my own PhD, completed last year, it ran against the grain of some of the things that have been said about a ‘key’ piece of work. I didn’t have a ‘key’ piece of work. I had 5 films on DVD, about 5 hours of material. I insisted on that. I can explain later if you want to, but for me that was very important. When I started out, it was crucial for me to have someone who was a theory supervisor because I’d been working as a professional practitioner before. Not because I knew everything there was to know, but I knew a lot of the territory including the difference between professional and research practice. The supervisory team is important and mine began with a practice and a theory person. As my research evolved, it became more interdisciplinary, and I think we often make a mistake thinking only of the theory/practice binary. In much of the practice research that I come across, the greater issue is it’s interdisciplinary. Roshini Kempadoo spoke of this at a previous AVPhD symposium, of her negotiations at Goldsmiths with both the Anthropology and Fine Arts Departments at Goldsmiths College. Someone earlier referred to ‘new knowledge for our discipline’ but what is our discipline? Mine included Documentary, Anthropology and Memory Studies. I wish to reinforce Joram’s points about getting the balance of the supervision right.

My PhD took 7 years and I had a total of 5 supervisors, with 2 at any one time. Referring to what you were talking about Robin, the theory supervisor was more important to me in many ways. They were much more challenging and much more curious than my practice supervisor, because they needed more convincing. I was very supported in terms of writing, and I made a choice to do a 50-50 because I wanted to push myself in writing. I knew I was competent in the professional area, the practice area, and I needed some pushing in the writing area. They were extremely helpful in that area, but actually there were probably even more helpful simply in their curiosity and their demanding to know what I was trying to achieve in the practice and what was the relationship between the two. Returning to this morning’s session about examination, the key question for the two external examiners in the viva was the relationship between the two methodologies and the two texts – the written and the practice? For me, they were interlocked. It was crucial that the discussion of themes concerned both together and weren’t separated out.

Dealing now with progression, I want to look at how the supervisors and I negotiated a timetable, e.g. when to film and when to write. In fact, I did start out to make a ‘key’ film, a film about the documenting of a society emerging out of the Troubles. It became more difficult than that, as I started to negotiate with the needs of the people I was working with, the sensitivity of the material and their requirements. There was later the temptation of making a film somewhere else, in South Africa, that also dealt with post conflict, but which opened up other issues to consider. This meant then that I began to develop a portfolio of work.

Over a period of time, I made a film with a particular constituency and then wrote a chapter around that film. I ended up with 5 films and 5 chapters. I later bookended the chapters by contextualising, discussing my methodology and reviewing literature and films, e.g. S21, that were relevant. Most of these chapters were published separately, usually after being presented as conference papers.

I concluded with a summary of my observations and arguments. I also revisited my research question(s), which appeared now less as a question and more as a launch pad to investigate the research territory. My conclusion tried to summarise what the work had been about and because I had set myself a research question, to ask what were the findings? Sometimes it was a negative finding, e.g. did my films contribute towards reconciliation and indeed was I qualified to answer that? I think it was important, given the research questions, to attempt answers, however tentative.

Referring to question of quality in the production work, Joram and I have discussed this before and I find this is one of the most difficult areas for setting ground rules. For example, in the case of one of my films, the quality was less than desirable. It came out of a collaborative project with a small community group that also wanted to be trained in using a camera, which was a single chip palmcorder. Another piece of work was filmed on a PD-170 that looked like broadcast quality. So the quality ranged enormously within the portfolio and I had even considered withdrawing one piece for reasons of quality. But I did include it because of the value of the stories that had been told. The performance of the participants as they remembered something that had happened to them seemed irreplaceable and invaluable. The collaborative aspect was also an important research area that I was investigating.

In terms of access to non linear work, in another of my pieces, I wanted to exhibit on four screens, but the only place that could do was the Digital Gallery at Southbank University, London, where they have directed sound in a multi screen environment, so that you can walk in and out of a sound. In a normal gallery, the sound would bleed and I required the sound to be heard distinctly. We ran it for a couple of weeks, but one of the externals couldn’t make it, because he was on sabbatical out of the country. So he watched it as a several DVDs. That was a compromise. While Joram’s model is very useful, it may not be appropriate to all exhibition requirements.

Finally, I would like to address the issue of the status of the artifact. I think

Robin’s notion of the 50-50 split between written text and artifact, which mine adhered to from the beginning, isn’t always going to be the case for others, either as an aim or as the finished thesis. I am currently supervising a student who is researching the early archive film. His early intention was to write his entire thesis, but has become attracted to the idea of making a documentary, made up of archive and interviews. We are currently asking him why he wants to do that and are discussing the difference between illustrative practice and research practice.

I was recently an examiner for a student who presented her work as 50-50 theory and practice research. The internal examiner and I had to consider whether the practice could carry 50%. We discussed its ‘researchness’, its quality, its claims to self-reflexivity, etc. The writing was exemplary and we proposed that if the student reconsidered the practice status as less than 50%, the balance would better reflect the research value in the work. The discussion in the viva was constructive and helped both the student and the examiners understand the research value of the practice. I shall summarise by suggesting that whatever guidelines are in place in your institution, they should be interpreted according to the needs of the research project as they’re negotiated and agreed by the student and the supervisor.

Afternoon Discussion

Mike Yorke from University College London:

I did anthropology at SOAS, got a PhD in it. I made a film, which nobody would accept for my PhD examination so it’s a completely separate product. I ended up working for the BBC for 25 years for BBC ethnographic filming and I’m working with Alison and ODF training and how to manage cameras and edit.

Gary said something very interesting to me at lunch today. He said it’s as if there is a huge elephant snoring here on the stage, whose presence we’re not admitting to. That elephant would prefer to be on the Masi Mara with its mates. And that elephant is creativity. None of us are acknowledging it’s presence and I believe we can through all the discussions and intellectualisations you’ve been doing today. While I’m teaching students, I run workshops with them for one week or two weeks, they have to produce a proposal for their film before they start. They basically give me an abstract of their thesis, which is totally intellectual, totally analytical and not visual at all. I have to say to compartmentalise your brain; you’ve got to kill your analytical ability in order to visualise. Write me a proposal that is purely what is going to be seen on the screen. A description of pictures. Now, does the exercise of analysing things destroy the ability of a cameraperson to be able intuitive and to respond instantaneously when something is happening in front of their nose, how do I frame this? Do I shoot it high or low angle? Filmmaking, a lot of this stuff, you can’t research it. It’s like jazz; it’s improvisation at the actual moment of creation. And we have to admit to this. And none of us have. How do you admit to it?

You’re all talking about something called originality in research. All research will admit to an initial act of inspiration, an act of intuition, which then gives rise to their subsequent research process. You as a question of that intuition, you explain it, you explore it and you reach some kind of conclusion. Exactly the same process exists in producing visual material. So there is no originality there and that originality is an act of imagination and an act of intuition, which is informed by all your training and all your thinking processes and your intellectualising beforehand. But in the actual act of carrying it out, it has to be separated from that. Because you don’t have the time to think when you’re actually practicing or doing or shooting or editing. And what we’ve got to understand and what we’ve got to examine when we’re examining these people is how that [ ] intuition process is actually worked through.

Robin Nelson from Manchester Metropolitan University:

I absolutely agree that creativity is important, and I wouldn’t say we ignore it all. It’s difficult to pin down. It’s part of the criteria, as far as I’m concerned, in this domain, creativity. When I’m talking about the documentation of process, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. When I’m talking about critical reflection, that’s exactly what I’m taking about. In a model I have for this process, this kind of research, one of the axes of this model is to make the tacit explicit. It seems to me that there is a whole level of knowledge of the kind that we’re trying to uncover in this initiative. It’s making the tacit explicit. Sometimes for me, it’s explicit in the creative artefact, in the film. If you watch the film you say, “Yes, that’s interesting the way they’re using high angle or lighting or whatever.” If it’s self-evident, then the film alone could stand for me as the outcome. But my experience suggests that most PhDs, or any research practice, is not necessarily self-evident. It’s often complex, in the way I described earlier. The different ways it might be brought out, I’m suggesting you utilise different ways. So the artefact is at the centre of the thing, the practice. If it’s evident in there, that’s fine. But in my experience, it usually needs some pointers to draw your attention to, making the intuitive explicit. Make the tacit knowledge more explicit knowledge. And that’s very important. That’s where the creativity is part of the mix.

Patrick Tarrant from Southbank University:

I just wanted to make some very small points and then I wanted to ask a question for the last speaker. When the issue, might have been Robin, the idea of the lit review and having to work across so many fields at the risk of proposing an incredibly naive response to that. Is there not a way you could say three circles that intersect, that the literature review is the point of intersection of all 3. Especially in so far as we think of a lit review being best when it’s a narrative. It’s actually taking you on more of a journey than offering you a survey. The narrative can be describing an intersection of fields that’s not been previously described.

In response to the idea of us offering too much value to the theoretical component, the flip side to that is wanting to insist the practice is the core and I’d be inclined to say that each of us are going to find out our own bias, but I can’t see any reason why we can’t find a spot in between where it’s neither one or the other but both. The idea of such might be the dialectal relation between the theory and the practice.

My question is were there repercussions when you wanted to tell the student that they might refrain the position of the film? Were there repercussions for the word count?

Cahal McLaughlin from University of Ulster:

Talking numbers, no. She had done a PhD, which with a little more work probably could have stood entirely on it’s own. So in terms in the words, she had done between 60 or 70,000 just for her written piece alone. So there were no repercussions there and it was a very interesting, as it should be, as the supervision discussions, the exam, the viva became a very constructive discussion. We were worried before we went in, but she defended it very well, but she didn’t feel in anyway with her back against the wall. She was able to see the point that was being made, take it on board and respond to it, and it evolved into an acceptance, on her part, that she would consider that.

Robin Nelson from Manchester Metropolitan University:

I just want to respond your first question about literary review. I talk about a conceptual framework, that’s to say a framework of ideas in which the work takes place. Any practice that will be operating in this area already has that, but perhaps tacitly: so it’s a matter of bringing it out. If it’s interdisciplinary, you are looking for those intersections of domains. That seems to me what you’re looking for, but some people insist on a literary review. And I was just pressing what would you be reviewing and recounting in interdisciplinary experience? I was working with a co-supervisor who was asking for a literature review of each aspect. But, if one aspect is phenomenology, how far should you be an expert in phenomenology if it’s just an aspect of framing your practice, but not your field of study? Because you could be doing a PhD in phenomenology or any other area and that was my problem with the supervisor. So yes, that’s how I see your sense of whether things join up.

Can I just add a couple of things I have mixed views on? Examination level, when I talked about theory being bolted on, that for me is a problem of superficiality where you sometimes find an idea of Derrida, take it out of context completely and apply it over here and the student’s got no idea about Derrida and it’s a misappropriation. So I’m torn a bit there. I’m not asking the student to be an expert on Derrida, but I do think if you’re going to draw substantially on a key concept of Derrida, you need to know a bit more than just that one sentence you’ve quoted from the book. That’s a bit of a problem area, as it were.

Malcolm Quinn from University of the Arts London:

I had a lunchtime conversation with somebody over there who said quite brilliantly “In our design, we don’t know who the daddy is.” I’d say that Daddy Creativity could be as bad and oppressive as Daddy University. I think one thing all 3 panellists have said is that in the PhD, uniquely, you’re driving the car. Not creativity, not the Art school, not even the discipline, and that’s uncomfortable and glorious and, hopefully, a de-ideological position to put yourself in. By the way just a footnote on fields of enquiry, I have a student who’s coming to the end of his PhD who’s been looking at mobile phone artworks. I said, “What’s the lit?”

And he said, “It’s all done by corporations.” That, in itself, is something you have to say. That is to say, “The lit is grey lit. It’s not proper. It’s not scholarly. It’s corporate.” That’s also an important finding so that has to be in there.

James Walters from University of Birmingham:

I have no background in this so it’s a genuine question and it kind of follows on. Scholarly research, reading, writing, is what you’re asking students to do and it makes absolute sense. Is there a point at which you ask then to watch film, watch television, how does that fit into their background research?


Absolutely, I should have said that I, what I call it, talk about location in a lineage of practices. And that for me may be in place of, or a part of, what some people call a literary review. And the thing there is that if you are, you might not be offering your practice as a new practice as such, but if it’s contributing new knowledge or substantial new insight, then presumably you know the field sufficiently to know that this is a new insight, and that’s the way I would put it to students. So exploring the field of practices in which your working is as important as more traditional critical reading.

Joram ten Brink from University of Westminster:

Going back to the role of the supervisor. Often the supervisor is the one that can suggest a context and the history. As I said, the supervisor may not be the expert because at the end of the day, the person who successfully finishes the PhD is the expert in the field and should know more than the supervisor. But one of the things a supervisor can bring to the whole process is the context, the history, the relationship of the research to the wider context, which is often a generational thing. Because context, at the end of the day, is an important aspect of the whole process of the PhD.

Joanna Lowry from University College of the Creative Arts:

I want to ask a slightly different kind of question now, which sort of picks up on something that was mentioned this morning, about the role of the supervisor in terms of reporting we see as failing or not managing. There were some things this morning that I agreed with in theory, you know yes, you have these regular stages at which you review student’s work so you’re not encouraging people to carry on when it’s something that’s obviously failing. But that’s slightly at odds with some of the descriptions that we’ve had this afternoon about a process that is quite a bumpy ride and requires lots of periods [ ] and like you said, 6 months where you don’t do anything and you’re stuck and don’t know where you are [ ] you’ve gone up a cul de sac and maybe you are failing, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to. Students are very alone in that situation so quite often, in my experience, I’ve thought, yes, somebody is failing. I’ve been quite alone with the responsibility as well with that. One’s aware that you have to keep encouraging them, because actually in those situation being very discouraging can prevent them from getting over that. So I look back and think, “Why did I encourage that student to carry on?” I should have stopped, but I knew that encouragement, in a way, I had to do because otherwise I was really contributing to the failure. It’s not as straightforward as we theoretically think it is when we set it up these structures. I just wondered how other people coped with that process or the conflict between having to continually realistically evaluate where someone is and make judgements about how well they might be able to succeed in the future and the need to be encouraging and supportive so they can get over [ ] gap.

Joram ten Brink from University of Westminster:

Can I ask Jane to answer? Jane is the Dean of Sciences (at the University of Westminster), a woman with a great deal of experience in supervision and examining, more than all of us put together in this room, I think.

Jane Lewis from University of Westminster:

I don’t know about that, Joram. That’s a very kind introduction, but absolutely, second year blues, as I call it. It’s very difficult to have the right level of enthusiasm for a student and some of that comes from experience. You’re quite right describing it as a conflict. And all I can suggest is that you discuss things with your colleagues. The more you share, the better you come to your own reflection and resolution about a student. And the hardest thing, and I’ve had to do it a number of times, is to tell a student, this is it. We’re not going any further here; you’re not making progress. It’s not helpful. The only thing that comforts me, which comes from experience, is that in all cases, sometime later, they come back and say, “That was the best thing we did, was to stop it. I’m doing this now, and it’s so much better.” That is really difficult and I really value supervisory teams, teams that know and can talk together and support each other with students as well. That has been a very important experience.


I was reflecting on what I do in those situations and I go back to the question about the nature of the new knowledge, what’s this project about? I often read back what I’m seeing in the student’s work. It might be a misreading or it might not be where they’re going but if often helps clarify it or they say “Ya, that’s what I’m doing” or they say, “No, no, I’m not doing that at all.” And they have to go away and think about what they are doing, so that’s something I do.

It’s a bit like what I’ve done directing in the theatre; you give actors feedback. It’s that kind of process for me. It’s operating as an outside eye and saying what you see. And that helps redirect or if they really don’t like what you’re seeing because there’s a mismatch [ ] doing, they can maybe find it again themselves.

Joram ten Brink from University of Westminster:

I think the loneliness is crucial. It is lonely. It is the marathon runner. That’s my view when I see the students in front of me. Here is a marathon runner, on his or her own, absolutely lonely. (laughing) It is very difficult and that’s why a lot of them do stop half way through, like the marathon runners. Because it is a singular occupation, there are no mates, there are no other people who do the same thing, you’re not in a classroom situation, you’re not at work, you don’t have colleagues so of course as supervisors, we try to create forums where students meet each other. We created AVPhD, students meet each other, and we offer as many possibilities for people to present their work, go and meet other people. But at the core of it, you’re absolutely right. It is often a lone pursuit, sitting hours and months and especially when the student drives the project anyway, it is his or her preoccupation for 3 years and they do it completely on their own. I think as a supervisor, you have to be very sensitive to it and in tune and aware of the process. I can only say I can remember how lonely I was. I had nobody to talk to. Of course, you also end up researching into areas that other people are not interested in. There is a degree of shared interest between you and others but at the end of the day, you picked up a subject other people are not necessarily interested in. It is an ordeal for the student and the supervisor has to be in tune with that state of mind. It is the second year blues, or whatever you want to call it, where students find themselves in a difficult situation.

Al Rees from Royal College of Art:

I feel I ought to say something to cheer us up, really. But before I do that, I should just say that the days when I found illustrators or botanists or designers or anyone else lurking in corridors clutching thesis that no one knew about are gone. I don’t know whether that coincides with the current Rector, Christopher Fraithing, riding into town, after all, he wrote the book on Spaghetti Westerns, but I guess he cleaned up the Wild West that I came across years ago. We’ve all found ourselves much more regulated and self-controlled and other-controlled since then.

By brief note of cheer is that on occasions like this, we do focus quite rightly on problems that we share. But I have come across an awful lot of very good examiners, who’ve spent a great deal of time on projects and understood what was going on. I was particularly cheered up when asked the candidate questions, which I have asked in tutorials, and it’s always very comforting to find the examiner honed in on the same problem areas as one might have seen as a supervisor.

Now the question of loneliness, I can’t suggest much too big, but it does strike me as numbers of students have increased doing doctorates, as common themes and clusters emerge, even sometimes centred around the research interests of staff and perhaps even the college itself, the opportunity for more debate, discussion, forums, critical reading groups by research students, has multiplied. One hopes there are some intermediate processes to help them between enrolment at one end and examination at the other.

The other thing that concerns me, has anyone actually ever seen through completely a PhD in 3 years? We do refer to it. Joanna has, other people have, but I’d like to know a little more about those. I haven’t come across in that form, maybe because I’ve come across more part-time students, or students who find it expedient to go part-time when they reach the stages we’ve just been discussing.

One of the reasons I haven’t found people go through that quickly is, in my experience, it takes about a year of editing to produce a thesis that can go out in the form such that we discussed in the first part this morning. It doesn’t come back with notes from the examiners saying “This is illiterate. It’s not footnoted properly.” There’s a lot of preparation time. So how people get it into the 3 years, I’d be delighted to hear experiences of that.

The other question I’d like to raise is whether we feel there should be more elements of training for supervisors. I think we’re assuming the supervisor, because they’re competent teachers, researchers, writer, makers of various kinds, can undertake supervision without some kind of or degree of training.

There’s certainly a very good training program run by the London Institute in this area. We asked Katie D along, but can’t make it on this occasion, you know, who’s in charge of that and certainly some areas are taking up the question of training in more explicit ways than learning on the job.

So a couple of questions, really. How the hell do you do it in 3 years?

And do people have any thoughts on training?

Nick Haeffner from London Metropolitan University:

My institution takes what I imagine is the standard formula of ‘an original contribution to knowledge to the field’ and we talk a great deal about originality and about knowledge, but I think the field is a crucially important idea. Maybe some of the vertigo that students get confronted with, having this entire vast field to survey, has to do with the fact that fields aren’t stable things. Maybe that’s one of the things that they need to reflect on in quite a sustained way. And if the work’s any good, what I feel they should be doing is trying to redraw the boundaries of the field. This is not only a scholarly problem, it’s also political problem because there are antagonisms between different fields as well as within them that are not only about scholarship but also caused by a certain proprietary attitude towards territory.

David Smith from Newport School of Art:

We’ve taken that issue up about the training. We’ve been running an AHRC sponsored training events over the last 4 years, which we run as 2 residential things, across the whole creative sector in Wales and around the edges, and we get 20 to 30 people. The next one is coming up in a few weeks time; we’ve got 30 people signed up for it. It’s all mutuality of ignorance. We’re in a field where in the past the career trajectory worked in a different way, just as our colleagues in the US are with the MFAs and the qualification award, and there is a dirth of doctorate qualified people other than those who’ve done big black book theoretical studies, and we also have the problem of we have a new field and it’s defined, for instance, as AVPhD domain, we’re like the Open University in the early days. Very, very few people and there were none at the time who had been through an Open University degree. So there was a certain uncertainty in the way certain things were supported and tutored. And there were issues in examinations, who’s appropriate to examine a practice-centred, practice-based, practice-using doctorate? It’s quite clear when it’s theoretical or theoretical critical. It isn’t so clear in this sort of context. Trying to get people together to discuss and reflect on these issues is where we stared from for the training part of view. Whether you can explicitly train, as some people have done, Wolverhampton has a credit bearing module, which new supervisors must pass. Try that for luck.

Pratap Rughani from University of the Arts London:

I just want to pick up on, did you say try training and see if that works? I feel I ought to say something because…

Dave Smith from Newport School of Art:

Try qualification…

Prata Rughani from University of the Arts London:

Try qualification?

Dave Smith from Newport School of Art:

Obligatory qualification.

Prata Rughani from University of the Arts London:

Well, ok. That’s healthy enough. I just wonder back to Al Rees’ reference to the [ ] the organisation that runs the joint research supervisors course between UAL and the RCA. And what’s really struck me from that, which I found incredibly useful actually, just in some very basic ways that had been mapped out so very well today, and one is that there’s a spectrum of views. There’s the Bergin paper, which was referred to and then the various position around that, but what really struck me was how quickly a number of positions are staked out and clung to in a tribal way or a way that’s not as open to discussion be that in terms of seeing oneself as a practitioner or an artist or seeing oneself as a theoretician. What’s really struck me is the range of cultures that come together just in that training course. For example, a couple of the ceramicists I’ve been talking to… something said about BA level

Joram ten Brink from University of Westminster:

Yes, I think it’s also to do with the talk this morning about examination, about reflecting on the work. What I find very difficult to deal with as an examiner are diaries, which are written on a BA level. There is a real distinction between, ok let’s talk about the process, how I got to this thing, that’s fine. Sadly enough, you get PhDs that are written like diaries, like BA’s diaries because you are told you have to reflect on your process, but there’s no depth to it. There is no theoretical or historical depth to this writing process. But still, sadly enough, there are a lot of students who present PhDs with a diary…

Rachel Garfield from Goldsmiths College:

The prevalent paradigm in Fine Art is for a theory/practice course. At art school, all the way through we teach a critical relationship to the art practice through theoretical and empirical research. We do this at BA and MA level. The fine art PhD is not much different. It is just more ambitious in relation to its scope and depth

Joram ten Brink from University of Westminster:

Exactly, yes. That’s exactly what has to happen. But there are still PhDs put to examination that have got this what you call a BA level of, I call it a diary, an artist diary, rather than a PhD writing. This is something that has to be very clear in the supervision. The students should be aware- by all means, write and reflect about the process, but it cannot be on the level that you have been taught in art colleges in the last 5 years i.e. just write a bit of commentary about your work, which you obviously did in your BA and your MA.

Susanne Buchan from University College for the Creative Arts:

Just very quickly to add to that, because I think methodology, as someone said, is really about process. And if I remember when Robin pointed out earlier for if the research lies anywhere, it lies in process. And the other advantage of methodology is that it asks that other question of why am I using practice? If you can’t articulate why you’re using practice, or rather in the attempt to articulate your practice, that’s where you do it. You do it in your methodology. You describe, and of course, that’s open to change as a research journey does evolve. But I think we shouldn’t loose touch with the importance of our interpretation of what methodology means.

Robin Nelson from Manchester Metropolitan University:

I just remembered when I used “methodology”. It’s kind of interesting because when I was referring to practice as research, I said people made claims about the impact of their work and they had no methodology whatsoever for establishing that. Because, in terms of audience research, I’m moving into an established social science domain where there are methodologies established to cover that. That’s why I used “methodology” in that context.

Two things I’ve been meaning to say while I’ve got the microphone in my hand, about the DVD, coming from this morning and about permanent record of research. But the other one in this context is about dissemination, if something is pre verbal language, how do we disseminate it?

Final Plenary

Tony Dowmunt from Goldsmiths College:

Welcome back, you probably all know by now but this is Gail Pearce from Royal Holloway and Alisa Lebow from Brunell. With that you’ve now met the entire AVPhD steering group on the platform today. We aren’t going to, because we’ve all been here, we’re not going to try and exhaustively repeat everything that’s happened during the day. But we do feel, Alisa, in a moment, will recap and go through some of the points that have been salient for her, but we do think is important to get out of this session, if we can, is some sense of how to progress this debate, to make it more useful and wider. So the mechanism that we’ve thought of for doing that is to try to start here and then subsequently, with the transcript of this event, to put forward a document that will be in the form of a set of recommendations that can go to universities, because we can’t mess with individual university and institution regulations, but we can maybe collectivise what we’ve been thinking here and submit that as recommendations to institutions. Underlying what we’re trying to do here now is to begin that process of forming those recommendations. So we’ll start with Alisa to present the salient points.

Alisa Lebow from Brunel University:

So obviously with this AVPhD supervision and examination, we’ve really opened a can of worms. Yes?

A question asked from far away


Yes, everyone who’s email address we’ve got who’s been here will get a,

in the first instance, a transcript of I think the whole proceedings, right Zem? Nice bedtime reading.

Zemirah Moffat, AVPhD Administrator:

Yes. You’ll get a transcript of the day, and any references to students will

be anonymised. And I won’t send it out until everyone is agreed and checked

what they have said. [other things are said]

Alisa Lebow from Brunel University:

It’s a shame we didn’t say that earlier today, you’re hand would be much more rested. So actually, I’m doing a study on AVPhD supervision and I do have questionnaires, so if people will come to me afterwards or at dinner, it’s brief. It won’t take a long time to complete; I’m collecting a little bit more information about people’s experience as supervisors. I’ve also been questioning students to see what their experiences are and what kind of guidelines they’ve been given and what experience they’re having. I wanted to thank Zemirah Moffat for all the hard work she’s been doing and my fellow AVPhD steering committee members, who have a lot more experience than I do in supervising. I’ve found this session incredibly useful in terms of how people are pursuing these projects and there’s quite a range. One of the things that came up for me today specifically was that there are very different sets of concerns for different types of audio-visual PhDs – for the anthropologists, for the people in film and media studies within liberal arts and humanities institutions and again, quite separately, within the art school context. I think, if we are going to be coming up with any kinds of guidelines or parameters, we’re going to need to take that into account to be as expansive or flexible or at least to give separate sets of guidelines depending on the type of students we’re working with and what they’re needs are. On the simple side, we’re going to have artists sitting in on MA theory classes, we might be in a different situation where we have people who are very adept at academic writing and theoretical research, but are just learning the technical side and we might need to find a way to support them for that. That’s the most basic, but it gets much more complicated as you all well know.

Considering the range of different students, the different context in which they’re pursuing the PhD, the different purposes of that PhD, its different aims and objectives, far beyond the research question, or whether there even is one.

But then we have to talk about guidelines nonetheless. I think that’s something that really has been clear and although Robin Nelson was very modest about the guidelines he had published in 2003, and perhaps they could do with some updating, they’re nonetheless incredibly useful. However, I don’t think they’re well known enough. We need to find a way to make this information more accessible for those in need of it, I’m proposing that the AVPhD website, once it’s up and running, become a clearing house for that kind of information. Where people can go, and I agree the PARIP website is really useful, but it isn’t specific to audiovisual and isn’t nearly specific enough for the type of issues that come up for the students we’re supervising.

So a negotiated set of parameters that are flexible, broad enough and inclusive enough so that we consider the different range of students we might be supervising and examining. Specifically with the student, and here I’m going to be summarising and grabbing from the different presentations over the day. For a supervisor upon intake, we should probably be recommending that we do institute interviews across the board and that we set the criteria for those interviews, broadly speaking, with a consideration of the different types of students we might be encountering. Once accepted, perhaps we do suggest or recommend the MPhil stage, not skipping that and then within that stage the contract. Setting out clear requirements and expectations, choosing the supervisory team, Joram was talking about how important it is to be working within a team. I think that’s useful. Determining what percentage, practice to theory seems to be really crucial. I had spoken to Joram at the break, and he said, “No, we always do 50-50.” But I understand that different institutions are doing it differently and even within institutions, depending on the student’s project, that seems to be negotiated, but I think that has to be set up really clearly upfront even if it’s renegotiated at some stage.

The question of how the practice is to be presented, again, suggesting that that be made explicit upfront even if it does change as the work goes along. So are we working toward a discreet film or a 40,000 word written essay? Will there be shorts? Is it a website? Is it interactive? Is it a multi channel installation? To have some sense of the type of practical work that’s being done and as the point was made earlier, it’s absolutely critical, the integration of the theory and the practice. Who was it that suggested that sometimes theory is thrown at the practice like mud? That was very nice. And then the writing of the proposal that will then signify the movement towards acceptance into the PhD.

And then again, suggestions included having an annual review, deadlines for practice and writing that are set up in advance, documentation of a process and it’s methodology. I like the idea of mock vivas, which I’m sure not all of us are doing. If we even start there and then start teasing out what all of those stages are, we’re already going to be way ahead of the game, as a group, because I think individual institutions are more or less organised in this manner. But I think to try and bring together the collective wisdom that is in this room would be really maximising this effort. I’m not going to go into this, maybe Tony or Gail will, but I think similarly we need to somehow streamline the set of practices in terms of communicating with the examiners, the role of the supervisor as mediator with examiners, making sure they understand the university regulations, and the type of examination practices. I think Joram’s model of the dual vivas is very interesting. It may not be very practical in all cases, but to set these things in motion, I think the best thing we could do is to discuss different models and to suggest that different models work depending on the project. I’ll leave it here for now.

Gail Pearce from University of London:

Ok, so we’re building on the fact that this is a well-established group with a lot of knowledge. It would be helpful if you can cast your minds back to this morning, this afternoon and any other parts of the day that have been particularly valuable. I just keep thinking of my own institution, which can be difficult to deal with as a body, and anything that means that we’re presenting a set of information that they will take seriously because we are a serious group, will help. So that’s what I can take to my institution and say, “Look, it’s proper.”

Tony Dowmunt, Goldsmiths College:

(far away in the beginning) So we’ll open it to the floor. Shall we say a little bit about these headings? … Consolidating existing rules and regulations is really what I was saying before about trying to get on paper the gist of the kind of things we’ve talked about today. Aggregate information, in particular, it’s a shame our website isn’t fully functional at the moment, but it will be within 3 or 4 weeks, I think, I hope. At that point, the basic idea of the website is or one of it’s more important functions apart from supplying information is that we’re building a database which, if we all from our institutions and all of our students feed into, will give a pretty much an overview of the field, but in this country and outside this country, so that if you were a student who’s interested in doing an AVPhD, you could go there to find an institution and possibly find a supervisor, even an examiner for a project you want to do. But also you’d be able to view all the different regulations in the different universities who are offering AVPhDs. I’m putting in a plea now for people, everyone here, when we email you, to log onto that and register your information in the database. Because it’ll only work if everybody or lots of people do it.

Gail Pearce from University of London:

Can I just go back to the consolidating existing rules and regulations, which also come to Ian mentioning the British Academy trying to get their little power trip in there, and if we are going to negotiate something that they shouldn’t [ ] making their very rigid system and that we keep our breadth and wealth of resources open.

One of the things that came out for me, this afternoon was the isolation that all of us in this game can feel at times. And that sometimes that works against us because it means as an isolated being, you’re not seen as a professional. You’re seen as someone who contributes, but [ ] your job. If we can present the fact that yes, it’s a good idea to pay your examiners perhaps, as Rosie mentioned. Or to make us seem more threatening, maybe? That might


[Unfortunately, microphone failed to pick up rest of conversation here]

Tony Dowmunt, Goldsmiths College:

We should maybe be getting onto specific outputs, as they say. We are doing an issue of the Journal of Media Practice later this year that will come out at the same time as a show of PhD work we’re putting on in London, hopefully quite a large show. I should probably say a little bit about where AVPhD is at as an organisation. Our current funding runs out in September or October this year, so there’s no guarantee that we’ll have any money by the end of this year. So we have put in a grant application to run a research network, an AHRC application. We won’t know the results of that until May, around May. So best case scenario, we carry on in this format, being able to put on events. Worst case scenario, we go out with a bang in this festival. But I think one of the things we would certainly do if we got the research money is look at ways of publishing more stuff. I think we should, as a minimum, be aggregating this information we’ve been getting today and putting it out in some form or another. Either on the website or as a publication and we’d welcome suggestions about how to do that.

Rosie Thomas from University of Westminster:

Money. If the money runs out, I think this is extremely useful, valuable to us here and we are one of anywhere between 10 and 30 people at an institution. We’re in a new area of post-graduate study. Our institution should pay for this.

Zemirah Moffat, AVPhD Administrator:

May I talk on behalf of the AVPhD committee? One of our ideas was to start a subscription service either to the website or to something but it’s a question of access. And that was one of our ideas for sustainability.


Just a very small point following on from Al’s point about supervisors sitting in on exams or potential supervisors sitting in watching the exam. I think one of the most useful things in our institution has been the transfer committee and having enough people at the transfer. Because you really get a sense of when PhDs are going wrong. You see it at a stage where the supervisor has a crucial role and just being exposed to a wide range of very different PhDs that are going on has been very useful. It’s brought a lot of people on in that way, and isn’t the same scary thing of having lots of people in the final viva.


Is there going to de a database?

Zemirah Moffat, AVPhD Administrator:

Yes, the idea is, which is currently being stalled by internet problems I have no clue about, but we’re having a researcher database where people can input their own details about their AVPhD project. Supervisors and examiners can also do that. So for example, you’ll godown Joe Blog, supervised by so and so and you can click on so and so’s name and go intotheir profile. And also have a list of key words of interest and also what people would be open to supervising and examining. So it’d be quite an interactive site where you can quickly flick through different research interests, different people, different completed outcomes and projects. That’s what we’re currently building and hopefully it will articulate the critical mass of AVPhDs that are coming out and then we can get a fair picture of what is there. If people have other suggestions for the website that they think would be good, then please do bring them up.

Pete Cole from University of East London:

We run a professional doctorate in Fine Art, which is practice based, and

I’d like to check that where it says PhD it could equally say post-graduate research degree. That is, we very much enjoyed the discussion. We’d like to submit stuff for the exhibition, but it’s a professional doctorate.


Interesting point. Does anyone else in the group want to field that? I mean I think the issue came up before about professional doctorates vs. PhDs and that has been something that we have discussed within these groups in the past and I think that for partly tactical reasons, we decided, I think I’m right in remembering the discussion, that we shouldn’t, that it was more important to win the debate within the Academy about practice research PhDs and not to go for professional doctorates. But I don’t think that means you’re in any sense excluded from AVPhD as a group, and I can’t imagine that anybody’d want to not include your work in the exhibition. Am I right about that, comrades? Yes.

Joram ten Brink from University of Westminster:

As I understand, you’re the only one who offers the D- Fine Art, which is unusual. Like Robin said before, music has done it for years, but in our role, we deal with institutions, with students who want a PhD rather than D qualifications, but I think it would be great, if institutions are looking into doing something like you do. So maybe just give it a bit more exposure. There is a pressure from different quarters in universities to have more and more of these qualifications rather than just concentrate on PhDs.

Mike King from London Metropolitan University:

This is reminding me of a thought I’ve had throughout the day that if you go back to the sciences and consider the trajectory from BSE, MSE to PhD. The PhD in that trajectory is what follows naturally after doing the Masters. What you naturally do in science at that point is research. So I think the emphasis on research has come out of that, but if you follow the trajectory BA, MA something, PhD or Dart, it seems to me that in a way, what we’re all looking for, regardless of the discipline, is what’s the next step from Masters? Somebody wants to go deeper, broader, whether it’s into practice per say or theory, it seems to me irrelevant. The point is to do something beyond Masters. I think the emphasis on research is a historical accident, something to do with the science trajectory.

In the day, we’ve had different opinions – research has to be absolutely central or it doesn’t. And I think if you look at it in that sense, people wanting to do further study at a university after a Masters degree, then I don’t think we should get too hung up on what a doctorate or a DArt is. It’s that further period of study that takes them deeper. It doesn’t matter is we have slightly different ways of doing it, different names, I think what counts is the discipline you’re in, as I think Joram said, the key thing you’re getting the student to do is to really understand the field because then you know what kind of question you can ask in it or whether it is even a question you’re asking. You’re going deeper. So I’d like the idea that perhaps we could consider going back to the idea that it’s what you do after a Masters because people want to do something after that period. The only thing they’ve ever heard of is PhD. Why not other things?

Robin Nelson from Manchester Metropolitan University:

Going back to database and suggest that we need a database of student completions [ ] to get the students to talk about the processes they’ve been through. We sometimes can’t do that, but we can invite the students to do that. I don’t know if we’ve considered that yet.

Zemirah Moffat, AVPhD Administrator:

That should be incorporated into the website of completed projects. Interestingly, having sent out the call for today, I had a lot of students writing and asking if they could come. I had to screen out all of them. There is a big interest among students too. They’re very interested in the supervising and the examining. I did say we’d try and organise something if possible. And the other thing is in terms of the exhibition, that’ll happen in the autumn. That will be a big showcase of a critical mass, which will be a starting point. And a big party.

Al Rees, Royal College of Art:

Just to add one small point that our fee for examinations has just gone up

to £250, so I hope to meet some of you professionally.

Suzanne Buchan, University for the Creative Arts:

I think the idea for the website’s fantastic. I just know that our marketing department, and I don’t think I’m talking only about ours, and our research office and our supervisors will probably have something to say about that. Because a lot’s being invested in the websites, there are issues of ownership, pride of completions, what gets written on there. We’re currently writing a research prospectus and its taking us months to get it right, to get that tone, so I don’t want to throw a spanner in the works, but I think this is something that has to be discussed at the levels of the institutions. If you’re going to, and I’ve nothing against everything being centralised, I think there’s going to be a discussion that’ll come up with the institutions saying, “If you’ve got a supervisor described there, we’ve described him differently.” Are we doubling up? I think it might be an issue of a central database that might not be really reflecting on the kind of development that has gone into institutional databases.

Gail Pearce from University of London:

But it might be quite useful for the institutions to see how they each compare to the others, so ya.

[glitch in the tape]

Zemirah Moffat, AVPhD Administrator:

I think the way that we’re intending the website to be is that people input their own information and then we’ll literally just check that it’s ok, but basically we won’t author it in any way. So the onus is on the individual researcher to put, I don’t know if that would get us around any of it?

[mic is failing]

Tony Dowmunt, Goldsmiths College:

I don’t want to prolong this if people are tired and want to get off. I would like to, has anybody got anything burning they want to add to the, no?

Just to summarise where I think we’ve gotten, people should chip in if I’ve got it wrong. I think what we’ve decided is we’ll attempt to, in terms of what you’ll get immediately from this is a transcript of the day. If we don’t hear back from you, which Zem will specify, we’ll assume that you’re happy for whatever you said to be available wider, we would then make those transcripts available wider.

We will also use that plus this discussion today to draw up a draft series of recommendations that will be flexible, but nevertheless, will be a summary of the discussions we’ve had today. Obviously, we’re going to develop the website, develop the database. We’d really like people to keep in touch with the website and put their details in when that’s up. And also to make suggestions about other things we should have on it, other publications. Yes?

Michael Yorke from OADF:

People talked before about if you have material, one of the most important ways of judging the material is having an audience see the material or a gallery in which to display the material. It might be useful, I know in the case of film, to on the database to have a list of organisations that screen to the public work in progress. There’s Pocket Vision, there are a whole bundle of things like that.

The RAI has a function in which they can do that. So that if students are looking for an audience or they [ ] material, there is a database of places whereby they can put their work on display in whatever medium it may be. I know of 3 places where I could have put on the database that could do just that. And I found them very useful. Whenever I make a film, I have a work in progress screening through one of these organisations.

Robin Nelson from Manchester Metropolitan University:

The Professional Association of Drama Departments called SCUDD has just conducted another investigation into practice as research. I’m sure they’d be prepared to share their findings with us, Tony, so we could cross-refer those in drawing up a set of recommendations.

Suzanne Buchan from University for the Creative Arts:

Just following on from these other things, I’m just wondering, thinking these issues are not just in the hegemony of English speaking institutions, but also in other countries, I’m sure this isn’t the only group of people doing this. And I don’t know if there are any volunteers, but there must be some kind of association or organisation, even at grass roots like it’s happening here, that’s also doing this. Because the practice based PhD is an issue for a lot of different people. I don’t know if I could volunteer, but I’m thinking about, for instance, how supervision is done in a German speaking world? How are they dealing with this? It’s really hitting them in the face because they haven’t done this before. And if there’s any kind of information, so that we’re not doubling up and doing a lot of ground work that may have been done somewhere else and then have those links on the site, for instance. This is such an amazing thing, it’s going to be, but I’m sure, this isn’t the only group that’s thinking about it. And it might also open up new ideas that we can’t even articulate yet to get on that page. So maybe that could be an appeal that could go out to people here. Can they take that hour or two if they’re doing stuff anyways to find out and send it to you to decide? A page of links.

[Microphone finally dies]


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