Art of Research

Four PhD students (Fern Mitchell, Maddy Nicholson, Emma Preece, and Andrea Cooper) signed up for an afternoon of creativity at Regent St. campus for the Art of Research session, joined by a group of artists. Amongst the artists were Masters’ students Carys Hughes (MA in Art Interdisciplinary Practice) and Lorna Lea (MA in Design Interdisciplinary Practice), and staff members Dr Sue Liggett, Dr Heliana Pacheco, Dr Karen Heald, and Dr Paul Jones. The aim of the session was to immerse the early career researchers in an exercise that would encourage them to think and work in a different way, opening new avenues. 

Sue began the training by discussing some posters on the wall about the Research Journey. Sue helped the attendees to consider all aspects of their work and to think about many research-related questions: Have you explored the landscape, purpose, the ‘what’? Is your research idea viable? Why is it needed? How can you confirm the needs? What evidence is there to support this? What is the terrain like? Who are the collaborators and competitors? How will you cross the terrain? What data do you have or need? Where are you at the moment and what is your original contribution? How can you engage the wider public?

Next, the PhD students spent three minutes explaining their research to each of the artists, and with each new explanation, it got easier to formulate into coherent ideas and phrases. Whilst these conversations were happening, Dr Heliana Pacheco walked around the room listening in to each conversation, writing key words on post-it notes for each pair. Heliana gave the pile of post-it notes back to the researchers for them to discard the ones that didn’t resonate with them, and to use the relevant words to help shape their creative journeys on the blank canvas. 

The students were paired with an artist to start filling up their blank canvas with ideas. Some researchers let their artist tackle the paint and pencils, whereas others got stuck in and exercised their creative muscles! At 4 o’clock, the teams had plenty of opportunity to cover their canvas with ideas. These were then stuck on the wall and fed back to the group. 

Madeliene Nicholson, PhD student and Senior Lecturer in Physiotherapy, said: 

“I found the Art of Research invaluable in helping to build confidence in clarifying my research approach. Describing my research in words and through art provided a way of processing thoughts and moving towards clarity”.

Dr Sue Liggett said:

“My experience of supervising PhD students is that they can easily get lost in the detail of their study and find themselves disorientated. When this happens they sometimes lose sight of the simplicity of what they set out to do. This exercise gets them to recount their research  journey to a lay person (an artist) who helps them to reconnect with the important and relevant aspect of their study through making a piece of artwork. The  emphasis is on the process not the quality of the finished piece although the end results were very impressive.”

Everyone left feeling energised and positive about the activity that had enabled the exploration of their research topics and to view things from different perspectives. A fun afternoon was had by all! Keep your eyes peeled for next year’s Art of Research session.

AoR Transcript March 2023.