NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Edition 24, 2019 – The Contemporary Research Degree

The Australian doctorate is a relative newcomer, the first having been awarded by the University of Melbourne in 1948 … recently it has been through more turbulent times, namely from the ACOLA (Australian Council of Learned Associations) Review of Australia’s Research Training System (2016). The review was not an isolated event, but just another point in a process during which the nature of doctoral education has changed fundamentally, with implications for all disciplines including the creative arts.

In the massified, diversifying and increasingly time-straitened space that has become doctoral education in Australia, it is easy to lose perspective about the level and type of learning that the degree represents. Institutions seek a smooth and efficient passage of candidature … when in fact candidate development presents a range of complex learning challenges – particularly, one might argue, in the creative doctorate, where many modes of thinking and practice exist.

In the mid-1990s I embarked on a doctorate, deploying social research to study the field of artistic production. In the mid-2000s I embarked on a second doctorate, deploying creative writing to study questions of embodiment. The motivation for each project was similar: I wanted to investigate a phenomenon with the intention of finding answers to questions I had, which I thought had value beyond satisfying my own curiosity.

To Higher Degree Research (HDR) students in most disciplines, a paid internship can be a helpful torch to the light their way to the end of the tunnel. The prospect is especially attractive where it fills the scholarship-free period between submission and receipt of examiner reports. For practitioner-researchers … who are often operating as sole-traders working project to project within the creative industries … the shine of such a scheme’s appeal is not quite as bright.

The return on Government investment and graduate career outcomes have been key focus areas of the Australian doctorate in recent years, following similar scrutiny internationally. Propelled in Australia by the 2016 ACOLA Review … there has been significant emphasis on how doctoral candidates can engage with “end users” (the dominant reading of this is “industry”) during their candidature, with a view to seeing this translate into end-user impact.

Why would a creative writer, whose ideas are born in images and dreams, whose expression flows from them first like a spring and then a fabulous waterfall lit up by a rainbow of light, want to be so curtailed, constrained and managed by the shape and journey of a doctoral thesis? Is there a way of re-claiming the space to connect creativity with scholarship?

DDCA Vice President Cat Hope joins Monash University’s Associate Dean Enterprise Jo Lindsay in conversation about the changes in postgraduate research training that have recently taken place.

The research degree in Australia has come under “intense” scrutiny over the past three years, namely as a result of the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) Review of Research Training. I use the word “intense” – with quote marks – purposely.