PhD transfer

As I am approaching the half-way stage in my project I have recently embarked upon the PhD transfer process which marks the official transfer from MPhil to PhD stage. This involves writing a transfer report of up to 6,000 words outlining the research context, research aims, methodology, the progress made so far and possible thesis structure (it felt very early on in the project still be to outlining a possible thesis structure!) for my project. This, accompanied by a report from my Director of Studies on my progress, then led on to a transfer viva. My transfer viva was undertaken by two staff in my school, the Grenfell-Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Environment. Although their fields of research differ considerably from mine, both had attended my in-school Pictures for Schools research seminar in January 2014 so had some understanding of the project. They admitted this background knowledge helped them, although they also felt the transfer report went over much of the same ground as the seminar (which I did indeed use as the basis for writing my transfer report, as I found that the act of introducing my research to a new audience really helped me to identity and focus on the most important points!).

Due to the transfer viva panel’s differing academic backgrounds, it wasn’t possible for them to ask detailed questions about the content and context of the PhD. Instead, they asked for clarification on a couple of minor points referred to in my transfer report, such as the age range of children visiting the Pictures for Schools exhibitions and filling out questionnaires, as well as whether both state and private schools were clients. They also asked for elaboration on key concepts highlighted in the transfer report, such as the importance of founder Nan Youngman to Pictures for Schools, and the significance of concepts such as ‘good taste’ I had highlighted. This enabled a discussion of the biographical aspect of the project, with Nan Youngman being seen as a central link which provided a way into exploring several different themes, concepts and influences. Although I always find opportunities to talk about my research useful and worthwhile, I found that it was sometimes difficult to answer these kinds of questions in sufficient depth before another question was asked.

Some of the panel’s questions indicated that there were still misconceptions about the way Pictures for Schools was described – for example, I seemed to have given the impression that the Scottish and Welsh exhibitions were less successful than the London shows, whereas my interpretation is that London provided a framework for the scheme to be replicated elsewhere. Also interesting was one panel member’s of the scheme as ‘superficial’, and his opinion that the organisers of Pictures for Schools represented a ‘self-perpetuating elite with their own language’, which I see to be in direct opposition to the aims of the organisers of Pictures for Schools. Other observations included mentioning the need to discuss conflicting pedagogical ideologies in a historical context, repeated references to a ‘deficit model’ of education (I wasn’t sure quite what this meant), and comments that today there seems to be a fashion for museums such as the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester to give children things to do as they go around exhibitions. Another question was raised about how the scheme influenced artists’ perceptions of art as a career, as opposed to being a hobby.

A key message from the transfer interview was that subjective assertions such as those I made in the transfer report need to be backed up by evidence rather than made as statements of fact. It was felt that the research aims and questions in the transfer report were more findings than questions, which led to a discussion about methodology and nature of historical research – I explained that my empirical findings had very much influenced the research aims as it was only after making initial archival findings, and knowing what material I was working with, that the scope of the project could be identified.

Another concern was that the scope of the project may be too wide, although it was pointed out that the transfer report very much represented a work in progress and that the final focus of the project is still open to change.

My two interviewees have submitted a report on my transfer viva to the relevant research committee at the university, and my project is now awaiting official approval.