November 10, 2012
“The most important thing about any good doctoral program is that it will address the underlying philosophy of the discipline. That is an important difference between an MFA and a PhD. ”
—Dr Kate Lamere
I received the following quote in an email late last month from Dr Kate Lamere. I got connected to her in a rather roundabout way. While pouring over an article written by my design education hero, Meredith Davis, Dr Lamere commented extensively on the benefits of and need for more Graphic Design PhD programs and in the states and that the profession as a whole have “an empirically supported understanding of its knowledge to move the profession forward.” She was a recent grad of the University of Minnesota’s Design PhD program (what?? PhD in MN? I was a bit shocked in a good way and immediately checked out their website to see if maybe it was yet another programming option for me…not so sure in the end, but I’m glad I “met” Kate through the process) and had many great things to say about design PhDs.
In our email discourse I shared some of my ideas about doing a PhD in something to connect design/distance education, undergraduate theory and program design, etc. She asked me some very good questions about my overall desired outcome from taking part in a higher education program. She did, rightly, point out that I already had one terminal degree so if I were to embark on another I should have a pretty good focus and purpose because, theoretically, I already “have arrived” in the design world.
Basically, an MFA is a terminal degree in studio practice and shows that you have explored the practical application of your chosen creative discipline. A PhD is about digging into the underlying philosophy of a discipline. You ask, probe, explore and in the end you produce a dissertation that adds to the body of knowledge about the subject in which you’ve now gained mastery.
Communicating with her made me realize that I actually don’t want to do a PhD in design itself because ultimately I don’t want to add more to the body of empirical knowledge about graphic design (though I do want to learn lots about said empirical body of knowledge). Instead, I want to add more to the body of empirical knowledge about teaching graphic design in a distance education setting. I want to empower programs to do it better and I want students emerging from these programs to be better prepared no matter what their previous background may be. So…good stuff to learn and good stuff to sort of boil out in my quest to find just what my path might be. Distance education. Graphic design. Bringing creative knowledge to those who otherwise could never learn in a traditional school setting…sounds like a good adventure to me.