Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Get Ready for PhD: The Musical

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Get Ready for PhD: The Musical

Article excerpt

With students now presenting findings in the form of cabaret or video, is it time to ditch the thesis and viva? asks Jack Grove

The PhD viva is notorious for being a nerve-racking experience, but imagine the butterflies if you had to deliver your doctoral defence in the form of song and dance.

That may seem like a far-fetched - and, frankly, terrifying - proposition, but the days when all doctoral students simply handed over a sheaf of spiral-bound paper ahead of their viva are long gone.

With practitioners from a wide range of artistic and creative professional backgrounds now seeking doctoral qualifications, many research supervisors are asking whether the traditional model of PhD assessment still fits academia in the 21st century.

Geof Hill, reader in education at Birmingham City University, who performs Stephen Sondheim musical songs in class, believes that doctoral supervisors - particularly in artistic fields - should consider whether their students should present their work in more innovative ways that are aligned with their subject.

So could a cabaret performance really count as a PhD? Dr Hill believes so.

Indeed, he used song and dance when taking his own doctoral degree in 2002, despite it causing a "ruckus" at the time.

"Someone working in a conservatoire with an opera background might traditionally be asked to present their doctoral research in a written format, but highly creative people used to making things fun might want to think about a different research methodology," said Dr Hill, one of the speakers at the UK Council for Graduate Education's annual conference in Liverpool, which takes place on 4-5 July.

"Throughout history, the idea of research has changed - it used to concern experiments on human bodies and then work done in laboratories, but performance is now counted as research," he explained.

Doctoral students might also present their work in the form of a video documentary that explores aspects of their research subject, thereby making the issues discussed far more accessible to a wider audience than a traditional PhD thesis wedged on a dusty library shelf, Dr Hill said.

"You might have a potter who would explain the certain choices made in the firing process - the different chemicals or methods used - which is a different way of thinking about research," he said. …

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