As an alternative to the research thesis, Honours students in SAM may undertake a practice-based research project. It is important to note the vital respect in which a practice-based research project and the research thesis are similar: both are research programs and, in undertaking them, the student must demonstrate a capacity to proceed to postgraduate work. That is, the student must show that she or he has mastered the research skills required of a candidate for a higher degree.
Regardless of the discipline in which it is undertaken, a practice-based research project will normally have two components: a written thesis component of between 7,000 and 10,000 words and a practical component. The type of practical component will depend on the discipline and might be, for example, a piece of creative writing, a film, a dance choreography, a performance, a music recital, musical compositions, an animation, a website, a feature article, an advertising campaign or other practical work. The same research question will drive the practical and thesis components of the project. The thesis component should, therefore, be considered a further stage in the research process, rather than a summary, recapitulation or exegesis of the finished practical component.
It is expected that by the time you enrol you will have an idea of the topic you want to investigate through your practice. You should make an early start on your practice-based research project by conducting a search of related creative works and practices and by doing some preliminary reading. Once you commence your Honours year, your topic will be developed into a well-defined practical project with guidance from your supervisor. By the end of your first term you are expected to have completed a full research proposal, have prepared substantial work towards your practical component and have a draft of the introduction to your thesis component.
The practical component may be undertaken in any medium for which facilities are available in the School or the University, and for which supervision can be arranged with the School. You should consult with both your supervisor and the School's technical and production staff to clarify what assistance will be available for you. Resources are limited, so all exercises must be conducted in a minimalist frame of mind. No special credit will be given for practical work enhanced by a large expenditure.
Each candidate needs to be the primary researcher/artist and so must take a lead role in the proposed project. This means, for example, that you will be the performer, director, dramaturge, composer, choreographer, and/or writer. We encourage you to work with other practitioners to realise your work, but you need to ensure that they understand your aims, that they have the skills necessary to best assist your research, and that they are able to offer you sufficient time to undertake your project.
It is crucial to recognise that practical projects at Honours level are investigative. They are research exercises and, as such, are process- rather than product-oriented. In this way, the student is never undertaking practical work for its own sake. Rather, it should always constitute a practical or physical investigation of theoretical issues. Research and background reading, a clear theoretical framework and cogent analysis are essential components in the realisation of the practical component, as well as the thesis component of a practice-based research project.
Length of the Practical Component
The size of the practical component must be negotiated with the supervisor in consultation with the Discipline and Honours conveners before the project is approved. As a general guide, it should aim to match the thesis minimum and constitute the equivalent of 7,000 words.
This guide is not easily translated for those students whose projects are time-based. However, as a maximum, music recitals do not usually exceed 40 minutes, composition portfolios do not exceed 20 minutes, live theatre or dance performances do not exceed 20 minutes, and video or media productions do not exceed 15 minutes. These maximums are not presented as figures to strive for. It is worth emphasising that the value of your practical component does not come from its length but rather from the strength of the research thinking that it represents. The length of each project will vary depending on the complexity of the given medium and the research questions that are being addressed.
Length of the Thesis Component
The thesis component of practice-based research projects will be between 7,000 and 10,000 words, and may be accompanied by supporting material. You should discuss with your supervisor the ideal or required length for your thesis and have this confirmed in writing by the start of your second term of research. This total does not include abstract, footnotes, references or bibliography.
Practice-Based Research Project Examination
In assessing a practice-based research project, both the practical and the thesis components are taken into account. Both components are assessed by two examiners, neither of whom is the supervisor. Each examiner writes a report on the practical component and/or the thesis and a copy of these reports is given to the student.
The thesis component will be examined with the same rigour and at the same level as any research thesis, and the practical component must be of an appropriate level of technical competence, as well as contribute to the intellectual field of the thesis component.
In all disciplines except for Music, the two components are of equal weight, and the student receives a single mark for the whole project.
In Music Honours, the practical component is worth 24 UOC and the written component is worth 12 UOC.
Further Guidelines for Projects in Dance, Film, Media and Theatre and Performance
All students need to meet with the staff of the Creative Practice Lab (CPL) and/or the Technical Resources Centre (TRC) early in Term One to discuss their projects, be advised of available support from the School, and arrange access to suitable resources. The CPL and TRC have substantial resources for performances, screenings, installations and interactive works, but these resources are nevertheless limited, and access to resources will depend on availability and the scope of the project. Practical components are normally presented in one half of the Io Myers Studio or in Studio 1, and normally the works must not remain fixed in the space, but be able to be removed immediately to make way for other works. Other arrangements and locations, including outdoor locations, may on occasion be possible, but requests must be made by Week 10 of Term One, and are subject to the approval of the student's supervisor, the CPL staff, and the Honours Convenor.
The practical component will be judged on its
- significance and innovation of form with respect to the work's chosen research parameters;
- evidence of thoughtful experimentation with stated research questions within the creative work;
- demonstrated awareness (i.e. through formal strategy, dramaturgical decisions, design, etc.) of theoretical, historical and practical contexts that may inform the work;
- evidence of thoughtful and appropriate consideration of production components and design, as appropriate to the stated research aims and within budgetary guidelines.
The written component should be a clearly and coherently structured document with advanced academic standards of writing and presentation. It should demonstrate
- an understanding of, and innovation in, the conceptual and aesthetic basis for the creative work, with respect to the work's chosen research questions;
- an awareness of connections between theoretical, historical and practical contexts as appropriate to the stated aims of the work;
- an evaluation of the effectiveness of the creative work, and its practical methodology, with respect to its relevant disciplinary context and research aims;
- a clearly and coherently structured exegesis;
- advanced academic standards of writing and presentation (correct grammar, punctuation, referencing, bibliography).
Further Guidelines for a Creative Writing Project
A Creative Writing project will comprise two parts: the creative project and the critical component. It is expected that the two will be linked so as to constitute a single thesis. Alternatively, the student can produce a single fictocritical piece.
The creative project will be a complete and finished piece of creative writing. It may take the form of prose fiction, poetry, a script or screenplay, writing for performance, or a multi-genre hybrid. It may be conceived as a single piece, such as an extended short story, or as a coherent collection of poems or a series of interrelated microfictions, etc.
Apart from displaying a professional standard of presentation (i.e. proof-read for syntactical, grammatical and spelling errors, with the appropriate layout), the creative project should demonstrate a high level of competence in literary technique and structure appropriate to the genre it is working with.
The concept of 'publishable quality' is not applied at Honours level, but the creative project should be able to sustain critical scrutiny. In other words, the project should demonstrate a productive attempt to explore, subvert or expand upon the genre, style or discursive regime in which it is working.
The critical component should demonstrate a critical awareness of the genre in which the creative project is working, of the discursive or cultural field in which the creative project is situated, or of the theories which inform the project. It may historicize and critically examine the genre, movement or tradition that the creative project is engaging with (such as lyric poetry, or feminist writing, etc); it may theorise the genre or conventions being employed, and the student's mobilisation or reworking of them (such as the gothic, or unreliable narration, etc); and it may investigate an area of literary or cultural theory which relates to the creative writing project.
The critical component and the creative project should be read as two complementary elements of the overall Honours submission. However, there should not be a hierarchical relationship between primary creative text and secondary critical explanation. The essay should be more than a supplementary justification or explanation of the creative dissertation.
The relationship between these two components can take a variety of forms at the discretion of the student and supervisor. This relationship should be envisaged in dialogic rather than hermeneutic terms.
The same scholarly expectations for academic dissertations (relating to referencing, footnoting, bibliographies and critical insight) should apply to the critical component.
The thesis may consist of one component only if the methodology is fictocritical and incorporates an investigation of theoretical issues within the creative project. Such theses may make use of non-essayistic conventions, authorial modes, narrative and poetic devices and linguistic registers. The student will need to provide adequate explanation or signposting of their methodology.
Further Guidelines for Projects in Music
All students need to meet with the staff of the Creative Practice Lab (CPL) and/or the Technical Resources Centre (TRC) early in Term 1 to discuss their projects, be advised of available support from the School and arrange access to suitable resources. The CPL and TRC have substantial resources for performances and recitals, but these resources are nevertheless limited, and access to resources will depend on availability and the scope of the project. Music performances and recitals are normally presented in Io Myers Studio, Clancy Auditorium, or Robert Webster 334. Other arrangements and locations, including outdoor locations, may on occasion be possible, but requests must be made by Week 10 of Term 1, and are subject to the approval of the student's supervisor, the CPL staff and the Honours Convenor.
The practical component (usually in performance or composition) should demonstrate high-level technical and stylistic competence and awareness (through musical decision and execution) of theoretical, historical and practical contexts that inform the work. Performances should demonstrate evidence of appropriate consideration of performance-production requirements and appropriate skill in performance presentation.
The written component, a thesis of 7,000 to 10,000 words, should follow the requirements for a research thesis outlined above.
An Honours project in composition will demonstrate the student's awareness of compositional techniques, and their ability to create a portfolio of compositions that represent the student's own personal musical style (or at least the beginnings of a development of a personal musical style).
The Composition portfolio for Honours projects can be comprised of any number of works, although the total duration of the portfolio should be approximately 20 minutes. It is expected that the student will organise a recital performance of the original works in the portfolio.
The Honours thesis can be linked to the Honours project in that students could complete an analytical paper examining selected works of a particular composer, detailing the methods and techniques used by that composer. Subjects (composers) and works to be analysed must be discussed with the student's supervisor.