[iDC] re: "Praxis-based" Ph.Ds

Pamela Jennings pamelaj at andrew.cmu.edu
Sun Jan 14 09:34:12 EST 2007


I have found a couple of the recent threads most interesting.  From issues
of media stimulus overload, to discussion about inclusion and exclusion in
discourse (primarily between a handful of people) to the PhD praxis

Here I will add my observations and queries about the praxis-based PhD. 
For the past six years I have held a joint position between a very
traditional school of art and traditional human computer interaction
institute in a school of computer science at a tier 1 research university
in the United States.  These departments/schools/institutes represent 
vastly different species in the landscape of higher education.  Here are a
few observations.

The student teacher relationship in the MFA is one of mentor to mentee.
The student teacher relationship in computer science is one of

The MFA is situated to assist the student in defining his or her own
creative voice.  Students rarely, if ever, have an interest or bandwidth
to work with faculty as they do in PhD programs. (U.S. based)

The PhD student initial primary role is to work for the good of faculty
research for the first couple of years.  At that point, if they pass
muster, they gain baby wings to complete their thesis based on their own
work.  Which is usually modeled after that of their master teacher's
research.  Here we have an interesting comparison to the master apprentice
model from pre-modern art practices.  This is usually the door opener for
their own careers. Their c.v. not only mentions their thesis topic and
successes in peer reviewed papers, but also carries the branding of the
faculty they apprenticed under.

The PhD student gets a fully paid ride (up to a limit of years around 5 or
6).  The MFA student pays out of their own pocket with a little bit of
scholarship money.  This inequity greatly determines who is likely to
enroll in art schools.

The PhD program (at least in computer science) has funding resources to
support the program, students, and research that are far beyond anything
the arts has ever or will ever see. (At least in the U.S.)

Accessing those fund requires:
The prerequisite of a PhD.  (Although some programs such as Informal
Science  Education at NSF  may look to other professional qualifications)
The mastering of research quality writing.  This is not to place this
style of writing above any other creative writing.  But believe me, it is
very different then writing an artists statement.
Affiliation with a department, school, or institution that has the
administration resources and support to help faculty and researchers
access these resources.

In my observations, the MFA is not going away and will never be obsolete. 
Afterall, digital media is not the only art form.  Nor will all students
studying art desire to dive into the deep end of research.  Rather they
will dive into the deep end of studio practice.  Looking at computer
science as a model to examine, masters and PhD programs live in harmony. 
They attract a different type of student with different end goals for
their education.

I have encountered many students and faculty who could benefit immensly
with a transdisciplinary, research-based program that would give them
"official" access to the research facitilities and minds on campus,
without being forced to declare allegiances that bifurcate their efforts. 
As creative digital media practitioners, we often explore deep questions
that cross the boundaries of science, technology, sociology, critical
theory, etc....  We also often wish to, or find ways to model our working
process from a mash-up of studio practice, collaborative practice, and in
the university master - apprentice practice.

To conclude, I see the purpose of the praxis - based PhD (of which the
arts is not the only praxis-based Ph.D.) as the following:

To close the gap between a type of discipline practice that refuses to
"mind the gap" and dive deep into its crevices.

For programs to gain access to the university power and resources
infrastructure that place emphasis on the PhD model of research and pedagogy.

To work with students in a hybid model that is both mentorship and

To support transdisciplinary scholarship in a hybrid practice that extends
beyond the individual walls of the university into a larger
internationally recognized community of practice.



Pamela Jennings, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Art | Human Computer Interaction Institute
Carnegie Mellon University

phone: 412.268.5273 (office) | 412.867.8166 (cell) |  412.268.7817 (fax)
pamelaj at andrew.cmu.edu | http://studio416.cfa.cmu.edu

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