NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

My Life IS my PhD Research

BY JENNY HICKINBOTHAM – Life didn’t GET IN to my PhD research, my life IS my PhD research.

I’m not very good at including myself in my plans. I live with various identities, the example of my condition, which I feel many people may know or be able to find is THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957). My research started back when I was a teenager, and started to ask questions about certain events, people, time, and illogical happenings that disturbed my conscious lived experience. At first, I thought I could write my stories, but this wasn’t possible, because they were stuck inside as memories belonging to other alters, and I didn’t know my alters at all well. I went to work in mental health as a consumer consultant, peer support worker, and community house coordinator. I became unwell and took three months off work; I attended the local community centre to study painting. I spent three months making art, and finished with an exhibition in a local café, where one piece was sold, so I packed it all away and went back to mental health work. Ten years later I saw an advertisement in the local paper for classes in Botanical Art and I attended. From there I went to classes in an art school in Footscray for a further ten years; I became addicted and learned many different styles of painting, collage, ink, pastel, etching, and printing. 

One night I got a phone call from Open University Australia asking if I wanted to study a BA: ‘Of course’, I said. ‘In what discipline?’ they asked. ‘Fine art’, I affirmed. That year I drove to Darwin with my dogs and a tent and studied, making art as I went along. That September I decided I loved art enough to donate my life to its study, so I applied to RMIT, was accepted, and travelled back to settle in Melbourne for the following seven years. Now I’m in the middle of a PhD at RMIT, and last year I finally cashed in all I owned to buy a caravan which has been my home for over twelve months.

I spoke at the 2023 Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne where I was included in two events: one was a panel with Caroline Bowditch CEO of Arts Access called ‘Into the Hybrid: conversations about new works.’ I showed my song/videos created on a trip from Gisborne to Fremantle called ‘Song of Dust’ and ‘Nulla Abors’; I received a great response from the audience who found my works to be interesting, challenging, unique, and powerful. My second performance was with Miriam Webster’s panel ‘Distraction and it’s (dis)contents’. I sang one poem and spoke one poem and received an incredibly powerful audience response. In early December I put on a workshop: ‘Making Connection: Is Access an Issue of Ethics’ with Associate Professor Linda Knight under the umbrella of ‘Mapping Future Imaginaries’. 

I love study! I love researching myself! It makes me feel stronger and more adept at getting on top of my issues/problems. I love making songs, videos, paintings, poems, and stories. In August last year I trial-sang four songs to my music mentor—online from Melbourne—and had to explain that I write songs about myself all the time, and discard most of them, it’s too indulgent and sounds wrong to sing about my problems and my past. This is another way life gets into my work. Dale, my mentor, said keep all those songs, and I do, but reading back over them is sad. When I travel, I have three dogs to consider, and I have lovely friends who care for them, but we need to plan. And it’s a jumble, but then that’s how Life Gets In.


Jenny Hickinbotham is an artist encompassing writing, video, sculpture, and songs. Hickinbotham inhabits multiple voices, perspectives, and temporalities as she explores the epigenetic impacts of trauma, and the narratives of individuals swept up by the forces of history, institutions, and the places in which they live. Laced with humour, pathos, searing critique, and a powerful imagistic capacity, the songs are profoundly informed by the artist’s own childhood experiences, which resulted in diagnoses of developmental trauma, complex post-traumatic stress culminating in the schizophrenia label in early adulthood. Jenny has ‘heard voices’ for most of her life and her work explores her ongoing struggle to challenge the institutional pathologising of these experiences. Understanding these internal voices, listening, giving meaning to them, singing them, and considering their relation to the ghosts of the past and present, is a preoccupation of Hickinbotham’s work. Jenny is a PhD candidate at RMIT, Fine Art.

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BY Carina Böhm, Didem Caia, Clare Carlin, Emilie Collyer, Ruth Fogarty
BY JOSHUA IP – The interrogation of practice is a common task faced by practice-based researchers. As a PhD candidate the Practice Research Symposium programme in the School of Media and Communications at RMIT, focusing on the discipline of Creative Writing, I have attempted to interrogate my wide-ranging practice as poet, editor and literary organiser for the past six years.
BY ANNE M. CARSON – Disrupting, interrupting and sometimes derailing study in both welcome and unwelcome ways; life gets into PhD projects in a plethora of ways, so much so that there often seems to be no hard boundary between them. This essay uses the example of synchronicity as one way that ‘life gets in’.
BY PATRICIA AMORIM — In my Palimpsest Series, I explore cultural identity from a feminist perspective through self-portraiture, drawing inspiration from the concept of a palimpsest and the work of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta.
BY JENNY HEDLEY – In this reflective essay, a time-poor single mother and PhD candidate accidentally takes on the role of basketball coach as she seeks to achieve balance between scholastics and life.
BY MICHAEL DONEMAN – Between is a reflection on loss and renewal. It interweaves personal, cultural, and environmental stories near the country where I live, by a waterway at the edge of the Boondall Wetlands called Cabbage Tree Creek.
BY CLAIRE WELLESLEY-SMITH – The use of textile as a creative recording method alongside my PhD (2023, The Open University) extended a practice I began in 2013. Stitch Journal is a long length of linen cloth, pieces added in sections.
BY SUSIE CAMPBELL – Before an unexpected brush with serious illness, the journey of my PhD research project seemed clear. I set out to engage with the avant-garde Modernist poetry of Gertrude Stein in order to draw on her experimental approach to language for my own processual model of poetic practice.
BY EMILY WOTHERSPOON – This piece is a reflection on how life, research, and creative practice become blurred and intertwined through the process of undertaking PhD creative writing practice research.
BY DANI NETHERCLIFT – This work, in alignment with the topic of my creative arts PhD regarding the elegiac lyric essay, is written with the conventions of the lyric essay, utilising white space, non-linearity, image, archive, fragment, association and braiding.
BY INDYANA HOROBIN – This is a short experimental article that engages with how life subsists within PhD study. It is styled as an interview with the self and is punctuated by interactions between the interviewers which descend into hostile conversations.
BY KENDREA RHODES – This work is an audiovisual expression of the messiness of being me. A visual artist, a writer, doctoral researcher, and a psychiatric survivor.
BY ISABELLA G. MEAD – This creative response to ‘How Life Gets In’ details my experience maintaining a creative practice while also being a PhD candidate and a parent to young children.
BY LAINIE ANDERSON – Life didn’t get in the way of my PhD. Death did. Or more specifically, it was South Australia’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill (2020).
BY DANTE DeBONO – ‘Degrees of separation’ is a reflective consideration of the ways in which creators navigate the complexity of their internal writing processes as unique configurations of their lived experiences.