What is a PhD?

Thanks to Mark d’Inverno who authored some of this material.

What is a PhD?

  •   Being able to critique existing work
  •   Contribution to knowledge . This can be modest!

What does a PhD demonstrate?

  •   Demonstrates you are able to later take on independent, long-­term research commitments
  •   A transformation to a professional researcher
  • A pathway to employment within, and outside, academia

Why do you want a PhD?

Important to keep reflecting on this to self-motivate. There are many answers (e.g.) Profession development, Personal development, Artistic development ,Developing self-confidence, Career development. What are your reasons? Write them down.

The Kinds of PhDs

  •     Opens up new area
  •     Provides unifying framework
  •     Resolves long-­‐standing question
  •     Critique existing theory and practice
  •     Understands and provides methodologies for new artistic practices
  •     Thoroughly explores an area
  •     Builds a new methodology for producing a system
  •     Provides new software
  •     Contradicts existing knowledge
  •     Experimentally validates a theory
  •     Derives superior algorithms
  •     Develops a new tool for doing X

And there are others too. Where does yours fit?



Just starting? What to get to know immediately

Thanks to Mark d’Inverno who authored some of this material.

How to organise your PhD

  •     Practice telling your friends about your PhD.
  •     Know the best conferences and journals.
  •     Identify your key annual conference
  •     Keep an annotated bibliography: Add 1 item a day!
  •     Plug into social media to see what is going on
  •     Keep close your favourite examples of papers and PhDs – Revisit them and really know them
  •     Use your supervisors wisely – Come with questions and ideas, not just wanting “help”!
  •     Think about use of different media to demonstrate the originality of your research?
  •     And keep reading and writing, every week
    • Start small with sentences, paragraphs and flow
    • Read back – look for any gaps in your argument or jumps between ideas. Address those to improve flow


Action points for the new Phd researcher

Action points

1. Start writing

Write for  20 minutes every day. Start now. See this article by ProfHacker. It is online here.

2. “The Professor Is In” by Karen Kelsky

I recommend that you purchase this book, sometimes described as, “the definitive career guide for grad students, adjuncts, post-docs and anyone else eager to get tenure or turn their Ph.D.  into their ideal job.”


3. Read up on, and sign up for, Academic Book Writing Month (starts in November) #AcWriMo


I expect you to sign up for this and to use it fully as you write your Draft Literature Review. Make the most of the support and advice, work out what approach to writing is best for you, quickly, during your first year by being an active member of AcWriMo. Post and tweet. This can be a group you return to each year and it can get you moving quickly into writing, which I believe is essential for a less stressful PhD.


Mark d’Inverno

MA MSc (Oxon) PhD (Lond)
Professor of Computer Science
Pro-Warden Research and Enterprise Goldsmiths
EPSRC Peer-review college
Visiting Fellow IIIA and Sony Research Labs

Over a number of years, Mark d’Inverno and I co-supervised PhD researchers  at University of Westminster and Goldsmiths College, London. We are both committed to co-supervision of PhDs and to supporting researchers who work across disciplines and across theory and practice.

The numerous discussions we had together, and continue to engage in, have contributed to the syllabus of this course. They include debate about what constitutes effective supervision, the need for compassionate and rigorous supervision, and the importance of the post-PhD careers of the researchers we work with.

In November 2014, Mark gave a talk to my class and he has generously agreed that I can take these and incorporate them into this course.

David Jenkins

David Jenkins was my PhD supervisor and he taught me how to write for a PhD, using the formal style expected in academia. He did this through discussion and by closely editing my draft documents. Those documents were printed (it was before Microsoft Word) and handed back to me, almost obliterated with red pen. The mistakes I continue to make are all my own!

It was an era when professors had more time available to spend with their PhD researchers, but even so, what he did for me was extraordinarily generous. By doing this, he ‘paid it forward’ and I do the same, most of the time, with the PhD researchers that I supervise, and the junior faculty that I mentor. But I use Word and other online tools for marking up documents.


My PhD experience: reading and writing

I am a first-generation university graduate. Having said that, although my parents never went to college, they provided me with many socio-economic advantages and encouraged me to work out ‘how’ to succeed. I did my PhD at Warwick University following a BA in Fine Art and a Masters in Electronic Media.  In 1990, when I began my PhD research, I was a visual artist with a part-time teaching job at a local Further Education / community college.

I am a visual thinker, an avid reader and an anxious writer. My mother, Joan, an extremely well-read autodidact, started me reading early. From a young age I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. At breakfast I compulsively read cereal packets, classified ads, motoring magasines and the newspaper. Starting from when I was a small kid, reading under the bedclothes with a torch, I read myself to sleep for an hour each night.  Back then, I secretly raided Mum’s bookshelves aged 10 onwards, reading “The Joy of Sex”, to everything written by James Baldwin, from then-baffling books by Henry Miller to the classics, and I returned, again and again, to the Liverpool poets. You can read more about my family and their influences on my life and my art website, here.

When I was fourteen Mum signed me up for an advanced reading and study course. I learned to speed read, how best to mark up texts, how to make notes to help me revise and summarise texts. It was a blessing and a curse. To this day I struggle to ‘switch off’ my speed reading which is premised on reading a text at least three times. This is no problem when reading papers and academic texts  as this is what most of us do, read repeatedly. However, it’s a curse when I fly through novels, my habitual bedtime reading, but apparently retain almost nothing afterwards and I don’t want to re-read them 3 or 4 times. Having said that,  if I pick the novel up again, even years later, and start reading, the whole story comes back. Nowadays, I love my e-reader because I can store hundreds of texts and speed read chapters and articles multiple times, highlighting sections for quick reference using those study skills from so long ago.

Despite my love of reading, my writing skills were weak when I went into my PhD and I still have to work hard to write an acceptable academic paper, such as these I’ve posted to Academia.edu. My inspirational PhD supervisor, David Jenkins, taught me to research and he honed my reading skills.

Taste, Teaching and the Utah Teapot

Link to Jane Prophet’s PhD thesis, “Taste, Teaching and the Utah Teapot: creative, gender, aesthetic and pedagogical issues surrounding the use of electronic media in art and design education, with particular reference to hypertext applications.”

The following is unedited from the 1994 thesis 
This investigation charts a number of complementary explorations at the site of electronic media in art practice and design and media education. Artists are increasingly using video and computer technology in the production of their work, and these shifts are reflected in the way design and media courses are taught in Higher Education. This study seeks to relate a number of often contentious issues, but complex questions are central to any debate about the use of electronic imaging technologies by artists and the implications for teaching and learning. In this respect, the thesis is informed by my dual role as an artist using electronic media and as a lecturer in video and digital imaging in the Media Department at the University of Westminster.

The study is based on a particular model of action research, and seeks after the manner of Glaser and Strauss (1967) to “ground” theory in the aggregate perceptions, understandings, and artistic or pedagogical orientations of those seeking to bring order to their own experiences in the settings.

The text is arranged in eleven chapters. It begins by introducing the boundaries of the phenomena under study (which is necessarily ragged and untidy and challengingly gritty, since the composite issues have yet to have attracted any clarity of exposition, and the field is in any case characterised by imaginative leaps and cross-fertilisation) and the methodological and idealogical stances adopted. Methodologically the thesis is wide-ranging and eclectic, although also contained within the kind of feminist epistomology proposed by Sandra Harding (1992), Marnier Lazreg (1994) and others. It then moves on to examine a number of focal points and issues related to the use to which electronic media is put by artists. These topics include my own sustained attempts to develop non-linear computer systems for mapping associative thoughts, and a more general and more detailed study of the principles and characteristics of these systems when they are used for holding information about knowledge domains. Following this, there is a chapter dedicated to the application of these principles to a particular knowledge domain, colour theory, with the aim of designing a computer aided learning package. The interconnections between all the topics, issues and themes studied in the text are highlighted in the middle of the thesis before moving on to more specific investigation of the issue of gender in both technological education and creativity, with an emphasis on the use of imaging technologies by women artists. The impact of these technologies in terms of shifting aesthetic values and tastes forms the basis of the final chapter, and a conclusion seeks to offer both a tentative intellectual synopsis and to indicate how the exercise has influenced and affected my work as an artist.

I am aware that to some extent this arrangement challenges both the linear quality of conventional research reportage and academic distrust of promiscuously interpenetrating ideas. I trust that this form of discourse, deliberately chosen, is experienced as working within its own terms.


Annual conferences

This is a list of annual conferences – the places to get your posters and papers into. Attend them whenever possible because these are events where you will meet peers and leaders in your field. Go and do your elevator pitch, network, shake hands and exchange business cards. Some are useful for academics, others for those of you heading into professional life outside academia. *** means useful for non-academic as well as academic networking.

Arts and technology

Transmediale is a Berlin-based festival and year-round project that draws out new connections between art, culture and technology. The activities of transmediale aim at fostering a critical understanding of contemporary culture and politics as saturated by media technologies. In the course of its 29 year history, the annual transmediale festival has turned into an essential event in the calendar of media art professionals, artists, activists and students from all over the world. *** Useful for artists
Link that has Call for Papers including special annual PhD workshop.

ISEA International (formerly Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts) is an international non-profit organisation fostering interdisciplinary academic discourse and exchange among culturally diverse organisations and individuals working with art, science and technology. The main activity of ISEA International is the annual International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA). *** Useful for artists



Arts and humanities

The Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) welcomes colleagues in the sciences, engineering, technology, computer science, medicine, the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, and independent scholars and artists. SLSA members share an interest in problems of science and representation, and in the cultural and social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine. Artist-researchers are well-represented at this conference. Conferences in USA, Europe and Australia every year.

The College Art Association (CAA), widely seen in the USA as the preeminent international leadership organization in the visual arts, promotes these arts and their understanding through advocacy, intellectual engagement, and a commitment to the diversity of practices and practitioners. Covers whole range of art history but includes papers by Artist-researchers and those working with new media and technologies.

International Conference Series on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology. Biannual conferences on the history of media art within the interdisciplinary and intercultural contexts of the histories of art.



Computer Science

SIGCHI is the premier international society for professionals, academics and students who are interested in human-technology & human-computer interaction (HCI). Check out the annual workshop programme as well as submitting papers or posters to the main conference.  *** Useful for programmers http://www.sigchi.org/

ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) is the flagship journal of CHI — and a premier journal in all of human-computer interaction.

International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, which is the premier forum for innovations in mobile, portable and personal devices and with the services to which they enable access. *** Useful for programmers

ACM SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia an international community of researchers, artists, developers, filmmakers, scientists, and business professionals who share an interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques. *** Useful for programmers


Places to publish

All the publications below are, in my opinion, useful for PhD researchers to publish in. Thse publications with *** are widely respected, the others are useful resources and gaining in credibility but maybe newer or currently less highly ranked.


*** Leonardo Music Journal. Composers, musicians and researchers are invited to send proposals and papers for publication consideration in Leonardo Music Journal. The calls-for-papers are intended to create an identifiable focus for each issue, but should not be regarded as a limited set of assigned topics or as specific questions to be answered. They should serve instead as springboards for personally relevant writing and are open to individual interpretation. Link.

*** Leonardo, the journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology is what you might call a serious publication. Since 1968 it has been a forum for professional artists to describe and discuss their work, a brief that makes it something of a rarity. Link.

*** Leonardo Transactions
is a section in the print art and technology journal Leonardo that publishes shorter, fully refereed papers in a fast track to disseminating key new results, ideas and developments in practice. Papers are solicited under the stated aims and scope of Leonardo, but are restricted to two pages of published material. A fast referee process is employed in which the result is restricted to “accept” or “reject” a submission. If a submission is rejected, the submission of a revised version will be treated as a new paper. Link.

ARTNODES is an e-journal, the aim of which is to analyse the intersections between art, science and technology. ARTNODES publishes contributions that focus on the reflection and study of the intersections between art, science and technology, from a formal, historical and conceptual point of view. The primary publishing language of Artnodes is Spanish. But you can send papers in English.  At the discretion of the editorial board, some papers may also be translated to Spanish, English or Catalan. Likewise, the title, abstract and keywords of all articles are published in Spanish, English and Catalan. Link.

A Peer Reviewed Journal About (APRJA) is an open-access research journal that addresses the ever-shifting thematic frameworks of digital culture. APRJA stands for “A Peer-Reviewed Journal About” and invites the addition of a research topic to address what is considered to be key aspects of contemporary digital art and culture (and thereby complete the title of each journal issue). We take a particular interest in software studies, media archaeology, platform politics, interface criticism, computational culture and artistic research. Link.

As an open-access research journal, APRJA is freely available without charge to the user and his/her institution. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission to authors or the publisher (under a creative commons license).

The Journal for Artistic Research (JAR) is an inter-national, online, Open Access and peer-reviewed journal for the identification, publication and dissemination of artistic research and its methodologies, from all arts disciplines. With the aim of displaying practice in a manner that respects artists’. Link.