In other (personal) news...

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
My alma mater accepted my application into their Master of Fine Arts program. They sent me the email a couple of weeks ago and I accepted the offer immediately.

It'll involve a research thesis and also a major practice-based component, culminating in an exhibition that will incorporate both stills documentary photography and the production of a feature-length documentary film.

Anyone here completed a research-based MFA or practice-based PhD before? What was your experience getting through it? I'm due to begin late February.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
Congrats.

My I ask why? The only people I've known to go for a masters in FA has been for teaching or design. But that's in the US and you're not.
Several reasons:

1. Yes teaching is one aspect of it. It would be great if I could teach (I quite enjoy it) and also be able to indulge in photography and filmmaking as part of my day job.

2. My research proposal is far too big to fit within the scope of an MFA and the university knows it. My academic supervisors expect me to use the MFA to conduct some preliminary research and then transfer to a PhD after a year or so, so that I can complete the feature-length documentary film and thesis. So I'm really going for a doctorate from the get-go.

3. The topic of my research project is a potentially sensitive one, I really want to be able to present myself as a MFA/PhD research student from a well known university when I approach interview/documentary/photography subjects and participants. It may also make it easier to open some doors for me if I approach it as an academic rather than as just some random dude with a camera.

4. It's a huge project, I can't do it alone. I will need the support and guidance from my lecturers and research supervisors. It's not like I have a huge production/media organisation like National Geographic or the BBC backing me up. I've known one of my research supervisors for 12 years back when he was my filmmaking lecturer. I respect and trust his experience and guidance (he is an award-winning documentary filmmaker himself), and he also totally gets my project, I know he has my back on this.

5. This project has academic merit, I figured why not earn a PhD while I'm at it.

6. I have a bachelors in science and worked in the biomedical field for years. I was offered a couple of PhD opportunities in that field but walked away to study filmmaking instead (and subsequently earned a Grad Dip in filmmaking). I also have a JD and LLM - I could have pursued a PhD in the law faculty that is related to my day job but dammit I don't know if I really want to do that. If I was going to earn a PhD, I'd much rather do it in a topic that I'm going to enjoy, hence photography and filmmaking.
 

Derek

New Member
Jul 11, 2010
Minneapolis
Congrats, and Happy New Year!

Although my experience is in the area you left (science), I have a couple of thoughts for you.

Several reasons:

...I respect and trust his experience and guidance (he is an award-winning documentary filmmaker himself), and he also totally gets my project, I know he has my back on this.
Good, this is really important. I’m not sure how much leeway you’ll have to select the rest of your PhD committee, but I’d suggest looking for people without egos, insofar as possible. I was fortunate in that my committee consisted of super nice scientists who also happened to do work related to mine, but the fact that they really didn’t feel like they had to prove anything in their interactions with me kept the writing and defense process as pleasant as possible.

...This project has academic merit, I figured why not earn a PhD while I'm at it.
Given your background, you’re clearly not a 22-year-old with limited experience, so you’re likely aware of this, but there are quite a few “why nots.” Since we don’t really know each other, I should mention that I’m not saying this to discourage you from pursuing your PhD! But there are a lot of things to consider when making the decision to get a doctorate. There’s a book I recommend to any of my undergraduate students who tell me they’re considering pursuing a PhD, and I’d recommend it to you, too, even though some of the info it contains will be things you’ve already considered; there is likely enough new in it to still make it worthwhile for you. The book is entitled Getting What You Came For: A Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or PhD, by Robert L Peters.

It’s got a very frank discussion of some of the realities of going after a PhD, including job market considerations post-completion. Given that you’ve completed lots of law school and made it through the voluminous amount of reading entailed therein, you’ll find this book a quick read; you’ll also obviously need to adapt the advice in it to your particular area. Some of the strategies mentioned are already rather archaic (index note cards, anyone?), but easily adaptable to modern research, if you choose to leverage databases and the like in lieu of pen-and-paper.

Additionally, it is a discussion of the typical US-system PhD program, but again, you’ll be able to adapt it to your situation. Lots of good, practical advice. If you get it, I hope you find it helpful. And good luck as you begin your studies!
 

Jock Elliott

Hall of Famer
Jan 3, 2012
Troy, NY
First, congratulations on being accepted. From a generic standpoint (since I don't know your personal situation), I would have two concerns: time and money.

Time. Pursuing still photography with serious intent can chew up enormous amounts of time; even more so documentary film. If you are also attending classes and having to read books at the same time, the time crunch could be substantial. This isn't theoretical on my part; I took still photography and filmmaking courses while taking courses leading to a career in writing, and those two courses nearly ate me alive. Tools and techniques have changed enormously since then, but still . . .

Money. How are you funding this? If you are borrowing money to attend your MFA program, what are the prospects for gainful employment afterwards, and would the salary likely be enough to pay off your loans? Is there any market/interest in your "huge project" that you can't do alone? Right now, you might try preparing a "business plan" for your huge project: what will it cost, how long will it take, what resources are required, and . . . critically important . . . what is the potential market for it when it is completed and how will you market/promote it?

Please, please, please, do not think I am belittling your aspirations. Passion, I think, is an essential ingredient to any successful project. When I taught beginners how to play guitar and banjo, I found the biggest single determinant of whether they would successfully learn to play was the "wanna" factor. Passion to learn drove the process. But at the same time, it would be good to take a clear-eyed look at the potential "dark corner" of your plans. It's the old "plan for the worst and expect the best" adage.

In any case, I wish you the very best.

Cheers, Jock
 

agentlossing

Veteran
Mar 23, 2015
Andrew Lossing
Exactly what @drd1135 said. Most of our reactions have been to evaluate the business sense of the thing, but sometimes we do things as personal milestones, not because they make monetary sense.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
Congrats, and Happy New Year!

Although my experience is in the area you left (science), I have a couple of thoughts for you.



Good, this is really important. I’m not sure how much leeway you’ll have to select the rest of your PhD committee, but I’d suggest looking for people without egos, insofar as possible. I was fortunate in that my committee consisted of super nice scientists who also happened to do work related to mine, but the fact that they really didn’t feel like they had to prove anything in their interactions with me kept the writing and defense process as pleasant as possible.



Given your background, you’re clearly not a 22-year-old with limited experience, so you’re likely aware of this, but there are quite a few “why nots.” Since we don’t really know each other, I should mention that I’m not saying this to discourage you from pursuing your PhD! But there are a lot of things to consider when making the decision to get a doctorate. There’s a book I recommend to any of my undergraduate students who tell me they’re considering pursuing a PhD, and I’d recommend it to you, too, even though some of the info it contains will be things you’ve already considered; there is likely enough new in it to still make it worthwhile for you. The book is entitled Getting What You Came For: A Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or PhD, by Robert L Peters.

It’s got a very frank discussion of some of the realities of going after a PhD, including job market considerations post-completion. Given that you’ve completed lots of law school and made it through the voluminous amount of reading entailed therein, you’ll find this book a quick read; you’ll also obviously need to adapt the advice in it to your particular area. Some of the strategies mentioned are already rather archaic (index note cards, anyone?), but easily adaptable to modern research, if you choose to leverage databases and the like in lieu of pen-and-paper.

Additionally, it is a discussion of the typical US-system PhD program, but again, you’ll be able to adapt it to your situation. Lots of good, practical advice. If you get it, I hope you find it helpful. And good luck as you begin your studies!
Thanks! I've just placed an order for the book based on your recommendation. I should add that when I worked as an academic in the medical research field, I worked very closely with PhD students and their professors so I am very familiar with the academic 'system' which includes all the good and bad (mostly bad). I remain good friends with a number of them who continue to work in the academic field supervising upcoming PhD students themselves. However that's in the biomedical field, I am not as familiar with the creative arts field, particularly the photography side of things.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
First, congratulations on being accepted. From a generic standpoint (since I don't know your personal situation), I would have two concerns: time and money.

Time. Pursuing still photography with serious intent can chew up enormous amounts of time; even more so documentary film. If you are also attending classes and having to read books at the same time, the time crunch could be substantial. This isn't theoretical on my part; I took still photography and filmmaking courses while taking courses leading to a career in writing, and those two courses nearly ate me alive. Tools and techniques have changed enormously since then, but still . . .

Money. How are you funding this? If you are borrowing money to attend your MFA program, what are the prospects for gainful employment afterwards, and would the salary likely be enough to pay off your loans? Is there any market/interest in your "huge project" that you can't do alone? Right now, you might try preparing a "business plan" for your huge project: what will it cost, how long will it take, what resources are required, and . . . critically important . . . what is the potential market for it when it is completed and how will you market/promote it?

Please, please, please, do not think I am belittling your aspirations. Passion, I think, is an essential ingredient to any successful project. When I taught beginners how to play guitar and banjo, I found the biggest single determinant of whether they would successfully learn to play was the "wanna" factor. Passion to learn drove the process. But at the same time, it would be good to take a clear-eyed look at the potential "dark corner" of your plans. It's the old "plan for the worst and expect the best" adage.

In any case, I wish you the very best.

Cheers, Jock
Thanks Jock!

Time: I will be pursuing this part time while working full time. I did the same thing previously when I completed my LLM/JD part time while working full time so I am prepared (somewhat) for what I'm getting myself into. Because this is a pure research degree, the only classes I need to attend are research methodology classes which are taught intensively within the first week. The rest of it is all up to me and my research.

Money: The Australian govt funds research degrees and their candidates under the federal Research Training Program (RTP). I suppose it's kinda like the universal healthcare system in Australia. This does not mean that the project itself will be funded by the govt, but the school fees are covered under the RTP.

As for the potential market - I haven't yet discussed my research topic here but it does involve topic that has significant public interest. I will discuss this with my supervisors but we have already touched on funding and there are a number of avenues I could pursue.

I was hoping to hear some feedback on photography as an academic pursuit - experiences, tips, approaches, strategies.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
Exactly what @drd1135 said. Most of our reactions have been to evaluate the business sense of the thing, but sometimes we do things as personal milestones, not because they make monetary sense.
This would certainly be a personal milestone. There is a business sense to it too but it's 80% a personal milestone. I currently have a decently paid day job that I am happy to stay in, and in fact it is because I am in a stable job that I feel that I am able to pursue this personal milestone. When I first completed my Grad Dip in filmmaking 12 years ago, I told my university supervisor that I wanted to continue my studies there, but I had bills to pay and I can't come back, yet. I can now, and I don't have time to lose.
 

tonyturley

Hall of Famer
Nov 24, 2014
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Tony
I went back to school in my early 50s to earn a MS in Physical and Applied Sciences, emphasizing Remote Sensing and photographic analysis. It was simply something in which I had an interest. I was employed in a completely different field and it took me 3 1/2 years. I quite enjoyed it, even though the workload was at times heavy. I don't regret it a bit, even though I've done nothing with it professionally. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. My hat is off to you for what you are doing.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
I went back to school in my early 50s to earn a MS in Physical and Applied Sciences, emphasizing Remote Sensing and photographic analysis. It was simply something in which I had an interest. I was employed in a completely different field and it took me 3 1/2 years. I quite enjoyed it, even though the workload was at times heavy. I don't regret it a bit, even though I've done nothing with it professionally. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. My hat is off to you for what you are doing.
Nice! Would you want to go into that field eventually, if it is something you enjoy?
 

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