Digital scholarship blog

29 September 2016

Multimedia PhD Research and Non-text Theses Case Studies

This is a guest post by Coral Manton, PhD research Student with i-DAT at the University of Plymouth funded through the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training

As part of my placement with EThOS researching multimedia and non-text research outputs in PhD theses, see previous blog post. I travelled all over the UK to universities to meet doctoral researchers from a diverse range of disciplines. I was amazed by the variety of innovative work being produced and how important it is that we find ways to record it. I have written a series of online case studies. I met researchers from fields as diverse as architecture, neuroscience, digital writing and stem cell biology.

One of the first things I noticed was the cross-disciplinary approach researchers were taking and how many were learning skills outside their own field. For example a PhD candidate trained in psychology spending the first year of her PhD programming virtual reality avatars and a researcher looking at how people with coeliac disease self-manage their autoimmune disease developed apps to gather data and share information helping others with the condition.

Screenshots from Spoonie Living App Developed by Doctoral Researcher Sam Martin

Many researchers felt libraries should provide training in how to prepare theses for online archiving. Two researchers I met found out too late that they would not be able to include images of their own work integral to their research in they way they wanted and their theses have been seriously compromised as a result.

Katherina Manolessou with her two volume thesis and published picture book Zoom Zoom Zoom. Katherina approached he thesis in the same way as developing her picture book. Her thesis has two volumes one text and one images. When the thesis was to go online her library told her to redact almost all of the images seriously damaging her thesis.

I was amazed that most researchers interviewed had not had discussions with their libraries about storing their data and did not wish to rely on them to archive it seeing that as their responsibility. Researchers had developed methods for maintaining web pages and apps ready for future hardware and software advances. They had considered security and future access to their data storing it in multiple locations and various file formats. For some researchers working with human participants it was unethical to store data that could identify participants, such as audio or video, and they had destroyed all of their multimedia outputs at the end of their PhD. Others discovered using motion capture was a way of keeping completely anonymous human data.

Joanna Hale, UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, developed a programmable Avatar for her PhD to better understand mimicry

Not storing and making accessible some scientific data impedes future research progression and in doing so wastes value resources by researchers repeating experiments. Through dissatisfaction at the lack of progresson sharing scientific data Mark Hahnel founded Figshare –I am pleased to say he is going to talk about his experiences at the workshop I am running for PhD students producing multimedia research this week. I will be reporting on this workshop in the next blog post.

A multimodal approach to the PhD including multimedia work has the potential to open PhD research to new, non-academic, audiences. Through exhibition and public engagement research can be shared widely and be of social benefit. I was pleased to note that all researchers interviewed thought that, when ethical, open access to data is fundamental and were keen to share their research.

Today I am running an academic workshop for doctoral researchers producing multimedia work and my next blog post will report our findings. There is also a public Digital Conversations event happening this evening (Thursday 29 September) celebrating innovative multimedia PhD research. Sign up for this free event here: