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Starting a creative practice PhD

When I started my first module with Open College of the Arts, I hadn’t even committed to a Undergraduate degree let alone considered the possibilities of going on to study at master’s or PhD level, but here I am! My journey still amazes me.

My time studying with OCA allowed me to start believing in myself giving me the opportunity to fully explore materials and techniques that lead eventually to a very research-based approach to my practice.

Over the last few years my work has explored forensic anthropology and identity after atrocity. During my degree I focused my research around the Bosnian genocide at Srebrenica and continued to explore loss and identity into my MFA at Oxford Brookes University. Having now finished my MFA I still feel that my research in not fully complete and I have also really enjoyed the research aspect of my practice, so I have decided to continue studying with a PhD.

Applying for a PhD can be a daunting process. You need to show clear evidence that your research is new and has not been explored before. A PhD is a self-driven undertaking so you also need to plan and show how you will approach your research including what your sources of information are likely to be and what your methodologies (working processes) are likely to be. I submitted my application in November last year, it was accepted, and I have just started at Oxford Brookes University.

My current working title is:

Can a Creative Practice Methodology be Devised that will Satisfactorily Articulate a Sense of Individuality from Unidentified Human Remains?

My initial research will explore a statement by Interpol that was made in 1996 declaring that “…human beings have the right not to lose their identities after death…”. From a forensic investigation point of view this is not always possible so can artistic practice individualize human remains to give dignity and acknowledgement to their existence? What even is identity within a forensic context? It is not what we think it is on first consideration. Our DNA relies on a comparative sample and so do our fingerprints. Our face relies on others to identify us and we do not always die with identifying documents. 

There are currently 564 unidentified human remains within the UK alone the oldest unsolved case is from 1966. For most of us the idea of dying alone is awful but not for everyone so how does this statistic sit with us?

I will do my PhD part-time along-side working and will be studying for another 6 years. I am daunted but also extremely excited!

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Posted by author: Katie Taylor
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8 thoughts on “Starting a creative practice PhD

  • Good luck Katie. Sounds fascinating. I did a practice based creative writing PhD. If there any writers out there, writing really lends itself to the practice based PhD and I’d be happy to share info on how to go about it.

  • Kate Thats sounds extremely interesting ! I can see why you are gripped. Good luck and thanks for the inspiration. x

  • Good luck Katie. You’ve started for the right reasons: there’s more mileage in previous research, you enjoy research and – judging by your title – you’ve got a topic & strategy already worked out. I failed A levels and so didn’t go to university as planned (finally got tested for dyslexia at the age of 54!). I thought my education was over. At 30 I took 2 A levels at night school and passed them both. Then did a practice led MA in my 40s and a phd in my 50s: it’s never too late. The way people gain and use their knowledge can make learning, research and communication of their passion in a subject easier as they get older (not that I’m implying you are ‘old’ – I’ve no idea). Best of luck, but most of all I’d say follow your instincts in your research trail, keep showing and talking about your work so you get reiterative feedback, and continue to believe in yourself.

    • Hi Derek What a wonderful journey! I totally agree. I also didn’t go to university in the way I had planned and have actually found doing it later in life preferable. Life experience is invaluable as well as also knowing what really interests you is so important. Thank you for your kind post.

  • I am considering embarking on a PhD at the age of 60! Have I lost all my senses? It would have to be a Practice-based PhD though, one that makes a difference from a Fashion sustainability perspective. I currently work full-time as a Lecturer and fairly recently (2018) completed an MA in Creative Pattern cutting, alongside working full-time. Combining work with full-time study was hugely demanding and I wouldn’t really want to do this again! However, I am drawn to make a difference from a Fashion sustainability perspective, to review and take practical steps to halt the relentless rise in textile waste that is ending up on landfill. I would hope to do this through a practice-based approach to create and define wide-spread practices that can be instigated to enable the upcyling of pre-existing textiles into useful, saleable products. Starting to think about a PhD of this nature at 60, seems ridiculous to some degree but completing my MA and achieving a Distinction, really did give me an insight into my love of Creative Practice and I have no real qualms about submitting any required academic written element either.

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