At the London College of Communication PhD Open Evening, I was asked to give a brief talk to prospective research students on my PhD experience. It was difficult to compress three years of work into five minutes, but there are four aspects of my experience of graphic design research that really stand out:
Don’t worry if you are not from a typical art and design background
My scientific background brings a different perspective, and provides different insights, to the field of visual communication. It has proven essential in tackling the subject area of my PhD and in forming the collaboration with neuroscientists at King’s College London. Plus, the world of art and design can be something of a bubble at times. Being able to stand outside of that bubble and look in can be an advantage.
Keep an open mind
You spend a minimum of three years working on a PhD – a lot longer if you are part-time. Your research will change, your ideas will change, unexpected things will happen and you will likely end up somewhere that you did not plan. If none of that happens, then you are probably doing it wrong! So be open to different ideas, opinions, and directions and be prepared to change when something more interesting / more engaging / more relevant comes along.
Don’t underestimate the importance of design practice
Even for a theoretical design thesis, practice can be very important as a research method. This is especially true for graphic design research, where visual research methods can provide information and insights that you simply will not get from theoretical research alone. A design PhD is less about reading books in a library and much more about doing, making and physically investigating your research material (although there is no escaping the fact that you do still have to do a lot of reading and writing).
A PhD is just the beginning
Which was a strange thing to say to an audience of people who had not even started a PhD yet. But, at first, a PhD seems like the biggest thing in the world, an Everest-sized pile of research waiting to be tackled and you think that once it has been completed, that will be that. Then, as you progress, you begin to realise that you are actually opening up a myriad of possibilities and opportunities for further research and investigation and your PhD is just scratching the surface of what could be achieved in your area of interest. Which is quite an exciting position to be in and is exactly where I find myself now. It will be interesting to see what happens next …