NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Beyond a Doctorate in Music

By Professor Paul Draper and Professor Scott Harrison Communities of profession, the old academy and the new academy, intimately rub up against each other and while some research may still be considered ‘more equal’ than others for now – this evolving mix can only positively impact on the rise of artistic research, its acceptance in society and its measurement by governments and universities.

By Professor Paul Draper and Professor Scott Harrison

It was not long after the Dawkins reforms that a disenchantment with the pure research PhD model emerged. Commentators began to ask why the preferred model seemed to serve the needs of academia and urged the development of models that were more relevant to the needs of society (Australian Higher Education Council, 1989). Less encumbered by a university-based history and highly focused on practice, the creative arts responded and the sector has since witnessed an exponential uptake in creative arts doctorates.

Yet university understanding of the creative doctorate has remained clouded by traditional expectations for higher degree research. At a time when graduate destination analysis is presumptive of an untrained school-leaver cohort, recent enquiry (cf. Draper & Harrison, 2016) reveals that for those undertaking artistic research in music: most are mature age professionals who take time out to utilise the resources of the university in order to explore, develop and disseminate insights into their practice. Ben Marks (2016) is one such professional musician undertaking a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) at the Queensland Conservatorium:

The Circular Ruins – A composed environment by Benjamin Marks. 

A DMA includes both a written dissertation and a portfolio of creative material and requires that applicants possess at least five years of professional experience relevant to the research topic. In many ways this exceeds the expectation for the PhD model of old in that artistic researchers must be able to defend the work at the highest levels – both intellectually and artistically: to ‘walk and chew gum at the same time’, as the local colloquialism goes.

Doctoral programs deliver benefits to both candidates and supervisors despite practical matters of scope, employment conditions and/or target audiences which may divide the two. Although there are differences between the writing requirements, assessment schema, methods, and outputs that exist for doctoral research projects and academic staff ERA creative outputs, there are feedback phenomena at work in this mix of so-called ‘students’ and ‘teachers’ where the interface between the two is tellingly symbiotic. Far less so than the master-apprentice model of old, the academic artist learns from the professional artist-as-student in terms of community contexts; this then informs a shared understanding of scholarly and artistic design and assists the student with the written exegesis in particular. Conversely, while theses are far wordier than ERA research statements, the principles for method, contributions to peer communities and artistic findings continue to refine academic insights.  

much of this remains in a ‘no man’s land’ of the campus-based research community – certainly desirable as an experimental safe house and as artistic research incubator – but which has not yet bridged the gap between the profession and the academy in terms of widespread acceptance

Nonetheless, much of this remains in a ‘no man’s land’ of the campus-based research community – certainly desirable as an experimental safe house and as artistic research incubator – but which has not yet bridged the gap between the profession and the academy in terms of widespread acceptance. On one hand, there remains a certain distrust of the doctorate as a university self-serving device. Certainly, doctoral qualifications are not yet part of any music-based employment expectations outside of the academy. Conversely, when university managers are asked to consider why there are such large numbers of creative arts doctorates, the common response is ‘lack of income’ and ‘they want a university job’. 

Recent research indicates that these perceptions are largely inaccurate (Draper & Harrison 2016; 2011). While graduates will have achieved recognition for artistic ‘chops’ – the skills developed in executing a dissertation are not usually applied to producing journal articles or securing ARC grants. Instead, the generic attributes developed in systematic research training variously emerge as advocacy, leadership, communication skills and confidence in the profiles of graduates on return to working environments (Draper & Harrison, 2016). DMA graduate and artistic director of the Australian Art Orchestra Dr Peter Knight (2016) provides one example:

Australian Art Orchestra with Nicole Lizée under the direction of Peter Knight. Metropolis New Music Festival 2016.

Communities of profession, the old academy and the new academy, intimately rub up against each other and while some research may still be considered ‘more equal’ than others for now – this evolving mix can only positively impact on the rise of artistic research, its acceptance in society and its measurement by governments and universities.

 While the majority of DMA graduates return to professional music making, that picture is not absolute. As the greying academic population continues to retire, it is being replaced by a new breed of widely recognised performing artists with doctoral qualifications. Here we find a narrowing divide between the idea of writing and the idea of making music (as common in the earlier divisions between so-called ‘research staff’ and ‘performance staff’). Communities of profession, the old academy and the new academy, intimately rub up against each other and while some research may still be considered ‘more equal’ than others for now – this evolving mix can only positively impact on the rise of artistic research, its acceptance in society and its measurement by governments and universities.

We all of course continue follow the ‘career destinations’ and achievements of our graduates, but more centrally for the research cited here, the authors increasingly focus on the contributions that artistic research training makes to the craft of music itself, its professionalisation and its audiences. We hope our colleagues across the creative arts will have more to share about this in the future.

Professor Paul Draper holds the artistic research chair at the Queensland Conservatorium and is program director of the Doctor of Musical Arts. He has designed and led undergraduate and postgraduate programs and is the recipient of numerous awards in these areas. Paul is a jazz musician, composer and record producer who has published widely on practice-based research, music technology and music education.

Professor Scott Harrison is Director of the Queensland Conservatorium, following a career teaching in primary, secondary and tertiary environments. He has over 20 years of experience in performance of opera and music theatre as both singer and musical director. He is the recipient of an Australian Award for University Teaching and a Fellow of the Office for Learning and Teaching, his recent work focusing on pedagogies for higher degree research in music.


Australian Higher Education Council. (1989). Australian graduate studies and higher degrees. Initial Report by the National Board of Employment, Education and Training, Canberra: AGPS.

Draper, P. & Harrison, S. D. (2016, in press). Beyond a doctorate of musical arts: Experiences of its impacts on professional life. The British Journal of Music Education.

Draper, P. & Harrison, S. D. (2011). Through the eye of a needle: The emergence of a practice-led doctorate in music. The British Journal of Music Education, 28 (1), 87–102.

Knight, P. (2016). Peter Knight: composer, trumpeter, sound artist. [personal website]. Available at

Marks, B. (2016). Ben Marks Music. [personal website]. Available at 




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