So just like all PhD students I fretted about Upgrade. When you embark on your PhD it seems a long way off and a monumental milestone to reach in the behemoth that is THE PhD. As you sweat over the minutiae of your application wording, wondering by the end if this is really something you want to do, you cannot imagine yourself standing up in front of a panel of experienced academics talking with authority about your work. But by the time you get there, certainly by the time you leave the room of your oral examination, you find yourself wondering again. But this time it’s: Why was I fretting about this so much? Sure, these academic know their stuff but it’s not your stuff, and in fact you know quite a bit about your stuff and what you have to say about it isn’t too shabby either.
And this, my friends, is how to win at academia. Know your little corner of the universe and know it well. Whereas in life we must all be generalists, skilled at many things – parent, friend, child, employee, etc. in academia we must be specialists. Even as creative practitioners, who tend to like to pull the world into their orbits of [re]production and [re]telling, certainly writers do [and certainly this writer], this is not how to win at academia.
I am pleased to report that I passed fairly resoundingly, no doubts as to my ability to conduct PhD level research whispered anywhere by the panel, in person or in the report. In fact the feedback was unilaterally positive, praising the clarity of my statements of research purpose, the conceptualisation of my aesthetic intentions and practice, my focussed writing methodology and ability to discuss the work. It was overall a resoundingly good experience. Something I know it is not for everybody. For a plethora of reasons.
If you can make Upgrade a good experience it is extremely worth it. Not just because you can tick that particular assessment hoop off your to do list [a nice feeling BTW] but because then you will embark on the final push to PhD completion with confidence and renewed energy. This is kind of where i feel I am now. The process of Upgrade validated some of the approaches I have been exploring and allowed me to see how I could/should foreground certain aspects of my work and minimize, or cut completely, others. It’s been a really useful experience, one that has deepened my understanding of just what creative practice research is.
My advice to anyone reading this who might be approaching Upgrade or even thinking of it as a distant mountain to climb, is don’t fret. Be diligent, be clear on your line of research inquiry, especially perhaps with creative practice research. it’s easy for your panel, if not practitioners themselves, to see a lack clarity of research purpose where you see creative exploration. Foreground your research questions in the presentation and stick to responding to the answers and issues those questions provoke.
Oh yes. And…