PhD as Existential Crisis

  • On 16th June 2015 ·
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Can you collaborate with 9 PhD researchers and produce 9 short films that show their research in an accessible and engaging way; with no budget, and no sound person? And by the way it’s a competition and you have got 4 weeks to do it …

I expect a lot of people would just say no.

To survive as a freelancer I think you have to have an optimistic rather than realistic view of how the world works – otherwise you would never say yes in the first place. If you don’t have a vision then you would never be motivated to try and achieve it.

I said yes because I felt that it was an opportunity to practice and explore, and perhaps shine a light on something important.

The process

Finding the stories was an organic process in which I helped the researchers to discover something that was uniquely theirs. Initially, I encouraged them to think broadly:

What does this research mean to me?
Why am I doing this?
In what ways are my experiences significant to other people?

Then we looked for moments we could narrow in on: where change had occurred. This gave us the basic external plot:

something happened to someone

The tricky part was persuading them that the story also needed an internal plot, about their (or someone else’s) thoughts and emotions.

It was not easy for this group to allow the lines between their academic and personal lives to blur. I wanted them to share and be in touch with their humanity, so often a secondary consideration for academics. One of the lecturers I know refers to her PhD students as ‘the robots’.

Here are some of the films we came up with:

Speech rehabilitation after stroke: How can we make it better?

No Matter What


Robots and Religion

Several of the researchers who took part in the project, wrote reflections about the process:

Claire Mitchell on the PSRS film competition

Scott Midson: My experience of making a short film


Did it achieve the vision that I had imagined in the first place?

Sort of.

I am still in the process of mulling this over, it has been put into the stockpot with all of the other ideas.


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