Academic research should not be the only pursuit during your PhD experience. Tyler Cochran reflects on the value of bringing some creativity into your postgraduate life…

 

Studying a field as diverse as Humanities can be an intimidating process. Although a wealth of knowledge might be at your fingertips, narrowing down these topics to custom fit an educational journey seems overwhelming at times.

After completing my coursework, I have found myself preparing for comprehensive exams and forming a committee that will ultimately assist in the creation of my dissertation. The program at the University of Texas at Dallas is designed to be completed in roughly five years with two years of classes, a year of independent studies leading to the completion of field exams, and then two more years to write the dissertation. The faculty committee which oversees these projects is selected by the student while pursuing a degree in one of three tracks: Aesthetic Studies, History of Ideas, or Studies in Literature.

My time at UT Dallas has allowed me to take creative classes such as poetry, photography and video narrative which could seem to have little connection to my tentative dissertation which will focus on the influence of portraiture in Shakespeare. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the creative works that I have produced through various classes wouldn’t be as meaningful had there not been scholarly research behind them. By studying Shakespeare’s poetry, I could think of new ways to create couplets, quatrains, and sonnets of my own. Examining poetry from a scholarly and creative standpoint have helped me to gather my initial research for my dissertation from multiple perspectives.

What I am really hoping you get out of my experience is this: I cannot stress enough that all doctoral students should set aside ample time for creative projects that complement the scholarly papers that they work on every day whether it be for classes, conferences, or presentations. At the top of my head, I could recommend that you try and write a short screenplay which you could end up submitting to a Film Festival, or you could give playwriting a chance. If you are a visual artist, you could upload your portfolio and find a legitimate venue to display your work. Applying your research to these creative projects will not only expose your work to a larger audience, but will also make your resume look more diverse and appealing to future employers.

Not everything has to be about research as creative classes can help you find balance and introspection in your PhD journey. I took a photography class as a graduate student, and I am happy to report that some of my photographs have been accepted into various galleries throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The images featured in this post, entitled Chaos & Order, are inspired by the everyman in search of purpose. As doctoral students, we are constantly seeking the correct path to take professionally. Hopefully the patience and organization needed to complete this journey are reflected in my photography. My images remind me that with your feet planted firmly on the ground, the path to enlightenment will present itself. Through the occasional feelings of great doubt and confusion during my doctoral studies, I have been able to express myself artistically – a process that I have found to be both cathartic and therapeutic.

So, what does my photography have to do with being an aspiring Shakespearean scholar? I think we can all agree that having the Arts at the forefront of research and conversation is paramount as artistic communities in America have the constant threat of a looming effort to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. By combining academic and creative works, researchers all over the world could further the educational needs of future generations while expanding our horizons through a plethora of artistic channels that connects our findings to a larger audience. Hopefully as a group we can continue to educate, inspire, and succeed. I wish nothing but the best for anyone pursing an academic journey!

Have you found any creative classes that have assisted your research or PhD Life balance? Do you hope to create any artistic projects that could support your research and findings? If so, tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at pgcommunity@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

 

Tyler Cochran is currently pursuing a PhD in Aesthetic Studies from UT Dallas where he is also a Teaching Assistant. He holds an MJ in Journalism from the University of North Texas (UNT) and a BS in Strategic Communication from Texas Christian University (TCU). He previously worked for nonprofits such as the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the Fort Worth Opera, and Amphibian Stage Productions. Tyler is also an Equity Membership Candidate and has performed with Circle Theatre, Shakespeare Dallas, and Stage West among others. Tyler’s short films, which he produced, directed, wrote and performed in, have been screened with the Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase and QCinema, as well as numerous other festivals across Texas. You may contact Tyler on Twitter and share with him your own artistic endeavors and projects.

 

Images: Contributor’s own, taken by Tyler Cochran.