HDR Stories

Creative Industries post graduates share their research, processes and advice for a happy and productive research life.

Grant McLay

DCI – School of Creative Practice, Dance

Following a very successful career working with companies such as Expressions Dance Theatre the Queensland Ballet Company and touring across America and Europe, Grant returned to Australia where he connected with colleagues and decided to continue his teaching career (which he developed in Ireland where he spent the last 12 years) at QUT.  He wanted to further his research but recognised the PhD wasn’t appealing for him.  However, the DCI program could provide what he was looking for. “Coming from industry I hadn’t written for so long. I’d gone from reading the newspaper to academic writing [which] was a huge leap of faith.  I had a lot of support here and going into the DCI – it’s a cohort structure so you have other people to bounce off, people going through the same process of nail biting and hair pulling and to the edge of existence and then back to normality – the rollercoaster ride.”

The cohort structure worked so well that Grant and his fellow DCI students published a paper on narrative as reflective practice in a top ranked (Scimago Q1) journal within their first year, the paper bringing their knowledge together of how their own individual disciplines negotiate narrative and how narrative influences their work.

Grant’s practice-led research uses elements taken from an elite sporting competition, in this case an international Rugby Union match, to develop choreographic tools to create a new contemporary dance work. Data derived from the frame by frame analysis was identified and deconstructed and then converted into set representational, or abstract choreographic tools, which lead to the creation of a non-traditional research output.

“I took a rugby union match – France against Ireland, 2014, Six Nations match where Ireland won – and frame by frame broke the game down into the physical movements, the sequential movements, the timing of the ball, collision time and all that stuff and ended up with a huge data base.  From there I took the data and started to put it into sequences to see if it would make interesting movement or scores to develop into a dance work vocabulary.  I worked with some students at QUT and created a 20 minute work [The Fields of Play]”.

His practice, he explains, is multi-layered across teaching, choreography and performing, but Grant can already see the outcomes of the DCI incorporated into his own practices and his teaching methodology.  “The way I teach is totally different to what it was three years ago.  There’s a much deeper understanding of what my abilities are and where I come from as a mover and an architect of bringing new information to the students.  Taking some of the findings, such as the concept of the decentred logic – the thought that you are never on balance, you are always falling for example.  In rugby it’s a constant battle of either falling forwards or going one way or the other – so I’ve incorporated that thought into my teaching as well.”

Grant goes on to state that one of the huge challenges for him – despite being a performer and having performed to millions of people across the world – standing up in front of his peers and delivering a paper was something he was supremely scared about.  “Having done it a few times now I’ve got a better handle on it and much better at it.  Which is what is happening here – and whether it’s just my own journey or the Doctorate’s journey – is I’m coming up against a lot of challenges and I’m not afraid of the challenges.  I just go ’Okay, I’ve never done this before but let’s see how it goes‘.  If it flops, so what, I’ll learn from it. But if I feel like it’s something to chase or go after I will.”

In the final words from Grant he describes the classic postgraduate feeling of being a fraud – something most postgrad students admit to feeling at some stage.  The feeling of taking a step forward, then two steps backwards then tripping over, but still managing to move forwards.  Some days feeling like you know something and other days you wonder why the faculty even allows you to be here.  But he offers this advice “I know that nobody here can do what I do.  That’s my understanding – even in the dance department.  Nobody here has the same training as me or the same schemas, the same concepts or imagination or creativity.  No one has power over me because no one can do what I can do.”

It is a testament to the program that after graduating, Grant has now taken his own professional knowledge and the invaluable knowledge gained through the DCI process and is applying this to his new position as Course Director of a BA in Performance Arts, majoring in Contemporary Dance, at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

You can read the DCI authored paper and view Grant’s creative works at QUT ePrints.


Jack Williams

PhD Candidate – School of Creative Practice, Music

As music lovers, most of us would automatically turn attention to the artist, songwriter or musician in each song, allowing the immediacy of the lyrics or the music to draw us into the narrative of the piece.  But what about the production – how do the technical aspects of a recording like compression, reverb and EQ add to the piece’s narrative?  Second year PhD candidate and sound engineer Jack Williams has long analysed his role as a producer and weighed this up with his role as a music listener, trying to define how technical traits can extend upon and build  their own narrative elements which may not be explicit in the lyrics.  Working with a series of cover versions, he is using work the audience is familiar with in order to highlight the role of production. “With familiar songs people already know the performance and the production values are the difference, so it’s a lot easier to isolate and bring to focus my role and strengthen the work”.

How exactly to choose his methodology has been a long process of reshaping and refining ideas for Jack. This process has allowed him to build an approach that is both achievable and creates maximum impact.  However, this difficult process of revisualising the plan has actually enabled him to keep momentum and focus on the fun aspects of his role as researcher.  A critical aspect of understanding your strengths as a researcher is to recognise and work to your own patterns – with Jack reaching his critical productivity zone between midnight and 3 am.  “A typical work day for me would be waking up late, sitting down and reading some papers or a chapter.  There is a lot of listening to music for my research, which is pretty fun – I’m going through the case study selection at the moment so listening to a lot of David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Sufjan Stevens and lots of other stuff I probably wouldn’t have come across organically which is really good”.

Jack combines his odd work hours with some tutoring work and live sound production around Brisbane and appreciates the impact his research has had on his own role as a consumer.  “There is a dichotomy between me as an academic and music consumer and me as a music lover and music consumer – this research has helped me realise there are two different worlds and not everybody straddles both.”  By releasing an EP, Jack’s creative output and findings will be able to reach a wide audience both scholarly and commercially allowing it to be “analysed in this very academic physiological sense but at the same time so that people can enjoy.”

Jack is now in his third year and nearing the end of his PhD.  His EP is scheduled for release in 2018.

Laura Kenny

PhD Candidate – School of Creative Practice, Creative Writing

After recovering from a debilitating illness, Laura Kenny knew she had to do something. Exploring the QUT website when her son went off to do his undergrad degree, she saw the creative writing undergraduate degree listed and decided that could be the thing. She always wanted to be a writer, but was overly critical of her own work, and saw the guidance and validation of lecturers and tutors as a way to overcome these doubts. Enrolled in her undergrad at the same time as both her sons were studying at QUT, Laura discovered that Honours and PhD were available to her and kept studying. She is currently in her seventh year straight of her creative writing journey.

“I’m doing a practice led PhD, so I have written a novel as part of my PhD which is accompanied by an exegesis. The PhD looks at representations of childhood trauma in contemporary Australian realist fiction and explores how childhood trauma affects a character’s relationship with home.”  However, Laura isn’t stopping there; she’s also currently working on a collection of autobiographical poetry and a memoir comprised of personal essays – all of which are intertwined within her creative process.  For example, Laura finds that pieces she’s written six or seven years ago become seeds that now appear in her PhD work.  “Obviously they are very different but the two [personal work and research] are intimately connected. You can’t really pull them apart.”

Her work has been critically received. In the past two years she has had eight poems, five short stories, a reflective essay, and a ficto-critical piece published in literary and academic journals, both online and in print. She has read her work at the QUT Literary Salon, Avid Reader, and the Queensland Poetry Festival, among others. Last year she presented academic and/or creative papers at eight conferences across Australia, and earlier this year she presented a conference paper in New York City. Perhaps her biggest honours have been her shortlisting for the prestigious Josephine Ulrick Literature Award in 2016, and a Varuna Residential Fellowship that she was awarded last year. Her PhD novel is currently entered into the unpublished manuscript category of the Queensland Literary awards.

Unlike a lot of PhD candidates, Laura has studied continuously since her undergrad, not having a break in industry or time away from study, so the challenge of returning to study was not an issue for her.  Instead, she cites the confirmation process as her major stress during her first year of the PhD. “I went to every single confirmation and final seminar that I could go to – even if it wasn’t creative writing […].  It made something that was really scary just a thing you did.  I watched all these people do it and they survived.”   Laura also learned that “there is not necessarily one right way to do it, there are all different ways, which is comforting to someone who likes to try and break all the rules.” Laura successfully completed the confirmation process and is now approaching her final seminar.

So, after many years of study and constant writing, where does she see it leading?  “I’d like to get the book published along with my book of poetry and my book of personal essays as a memoir.” Ideally, she would like to combine a writing career with a career in academia. ‘I would like to keep researching and keep teaching in some capacity… I don’t want the PhD to be done and then that be it.”

You can watch Laura read at the QUT Literary Salon