Hi Paul, congratulations on passing your viva! How does it feel?!

Well it’s coming up to the three-year anniversary and now it’s something I’m very proud of. At the time though it felt like surviving a car crash.


What was your PhD title?

Unprotected Practice: including process as compositional material


Can you explain in a couple of sentences what your PhD was about?

It was a composition PhD, so it was full of artistic works (performances) which highlighted the visual and performative elements of composition as well as the sonic. In a nut shell the PhD interrogated the decision making process in my work in order to try and understand what is communicated to an audience through performance.


Can you sum up your PhD experience in three words?

Composing, writing, worrying


What was the viva like?

Actually it was not too bad, there was a strange kind of energy in the room something like they got what I wanted to say with the thesis but didn’t quite believe that I had written it. There was a lot of asking questions and smiling and nodding though the answers.


What are your top tips to someone preparing for their viva?

Do a mock-viva it was really useful.

Other than that take it easy, read a novel, go to a gallery, make nice food, do other things you like to do. You’ve spent a huge amount of time preparing the thesis and you know it absolutely inside out. A bit of distance calm and reflection I think is much more useful than reading the thing over and over again. You probably wont learn that much about the detail of it, with some distance you might just gain some useful perspective.


Any advice you’d tell your earlier PhD self now you’ve made it to the other side?

Talking about my own experience here, and this might sound dramatic, but get into therapy straight away. I was really bowled over by the impact that doing a PhD (particularly the last year) had on my mental health, something that until that point I’d not really experienced before. Now having had time to reflect, with support from a therapist I can understand that when I was digging around trying to understand my creative decision making process in art I was getting very close to examining all aspects of my decision making in my life and doing this in an unguided way was not really the best idea. Had I have acknowledged this earlier on and found the right support whilst I still felt well I’m sure I could have avoided a lot of heartache down the line. Remember it’s never to late though. I feel good now and confident in my art making and my research, it just took a little time and some hard work.


What are you up to now and any exciting plans for the future?

I’ve got lots of artistic projects coming up (which are my practice-based research) that are extremely exciting and very varied. The very next one to be performed is a 30 min video piece in November called Everybody Had To Cling To Something in collaboration with Mira Moschallski for the experimental music series Post Paradise, which will take place in Krakow, Poland with a live audience (but no live artists). Since January I’ve also been putting new artistic works (and work-in-progress) on to my website on a weekly basis it’s becoming quite a collection www.paulnormanmusic.com/n-o-v.

Otherwise I’m working as a VT at the conservatoire mostly on the Experimental Performance masters course, which I co-designed with Andy Ingamells and Michael Wolters during my PhD study. I also have a couple of external funding applications that I’m waiting to hear from, a fixed term postdoc at BCU as a research assistant and research fellow and I co-coordinate an AHRC research networking grant.


Please add anything else if you’d like

Don’t forget to talk to other people, learn from them but also share your experience and your knowledge and help everyone you can to get though it (PhD, uni, day to day whatever…) together. There is nothing to be gained from not helping your colleagues however competitive the environment might feel or make you feel.


Thanks so much for your time, we wish you all the best for the future!

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