When I started the Whisperer I was hoping it would become a collaborative affair. If you read the ‘about’ page you will see I put a list of, for lack of a better way of describing it, ‘editorial guidelines’ to suggest ways others might contribute. In particular I was hoping that PhD students would write in and reflect on their experiences for the benefit of others.

I’m happy to say I have my first PhD student piece to present this week. @TheMarquise is doing a PhD by creative project in Fine Arts within an Australian University. Project based PhDs usually involve making things which count as ‘words’, so the text work is generally less. However I think it’s fair to say this does not make their job much easier.

The difficulty with doing a PhD by creative project largely stems from the fact that it is a relatively new model of research. Artists, architects, fashion designers and such people never used to bother doing a PhD because, well, they didn’t need to. They could easily make art, draw buildings and design clothes without one. Used to be they could teach people to do these things without one, but, as competition for jobs in the university sector becomes more intense, a PhD has become an entry ticket into academia.

@TheMarquise, like many other students working in creative disciplines with an evolving research culture, is finding that knowing what constitutes a Project based PhD in fine art- and finding out the best way to go about doing one – can be difficult. Again, like many PhD students, @TheMarquise is past her mid 30s and has left a successful professional life prior to her recent return to study.

In this short post she reflects on working solo and wonders: does her life as a professional help with her thesis – or not?


Jun 29, 2010

How am I REALLY feeling about this PhD by project, so far?

unsure of myself
old and tired

I say ‘proud’ because I believe it is pride that is currently keeping me in the running. I kind of feel as if I’m in a reality TV show where I don’t know who the other contestants are, who has been voted off, or even how contestants behaved last season. So, my basic recourse of action is to be proud, to use pride to keep me going. Whatever the circumstances, I shall persevere.

God dammit.

I also feel an immense sense of ‘unworthiness’. I feel surrounded by exceedingly talented people and can’t believe that I would be considered one  of their peers. Why was I chosen for this opportunity? Is my work good  enough? Will I ever feel like I’m on par?

Reminding myself that I am only 3.5 months in doesn’t help. My ‘professional brain’ that has been in action for the last 10 years keeps screaming ‘Common! This project is way over schedule! I’ll have to give it to another  project manager. We have a major exhibition to open in 3 years people. Work the problem!’

And if anything, I believe it is my ‘professional brain’ that will pull me through this period of wilderness. I know I am capable of working to excruciating deadlines, of being creative under pressure, of thinking logically and laterally, of making regular reports, of being accountable, of working in a team . . .  oh, that would be it.

It’s just me.

I’d always thought that the ‘just me’ bit would be immensely liberating. And it quite possibly is. I just haven’t experienced it yet. It’s pretty telling that ‘isolated’ was the first word on my list. In small ways, I’ve made contact with my fellow PhDers, but given that the majority of us are aged over 30 years and have jobs, partners, children, or other commitments to manage, we don’t see a lot of each other. It’s difficult to maintain a sense
of scholarly, or artistic, identity when you feel so isolated.

So for now, pride and my ‘professional brain’ will keep me going. I hope the creative and scholarly sides of myself find their groove soon, but I guess  I’ll have to go easy on them.

For now.



We’d love to hear about others facing the challenge of becoming a student again after a full professional life.

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