Studying a Practice-Based PhD

Alyson Agar, a part time Practice-Based PhD Student in her second year of studies, talks about studying at the School of Arts & Creative Industries

My name is Alyson Agar, and I am a second-year PhD student at the School of Arts & Creative Industries at Teesside University. My PhD is practice-based and is situated between fine art and photographic and moving-image practices. My area of research is focused on the experience of landscape, and how we experience our surroundings through photography, specifically the spaces between the photograph and the photographic image.

Alyson Agar, Visual Poems of Place, 2022

As a PhD student at the School of Arts & Creative Industries, I have been able to access some amazing opportunities as part of my studies. I started my PhD in 2020 and joined a wonderful cohort of fellow artists, designers and researchers who are active in the school, as well as working nationally and internationally. We meet regularly to share ideas, experiences and support one another (often over a cup of coffee and the best cakes in town at MIMA café!)

Making connections

As PhD students, we also meet for regular PGR seminars and research study days, led by our fabulous MIMA Professor. In the last year, we have held joint seminars with staff and students at the University of Westminster and the University of Sunderland, where we’ve had the opportunity to share ideas, discuss our work and make connections with other PhD students working in similar fields.

MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art)

As PhD Researchers, we have taken part in Praxis seminars where we have shown our work in MIMA for discussion and critique from MIMA curators, and we’ve also taken part in specialist art theory seminars with invited scholars and writers in our fields. These seminars have inspired events such as research exhibitions and reading groups.

We’re also very lucky to have access to the MIMA collections. I have spent much of this year exploring the MIMA collections as part of my PhD research, in particular, MIMA’s incredible collection of photography and moving image works, which includes photographers who have documented Teesside including Robin Dale and Ian MacDonald, as well the work of John Akromfrah, Sonia Boyce, and Kader Attia, who have been huge influences in the development of my work.


One of the most wonderful aspects of studying for a PhD at the School of Arts & Creative Industries is the ethos of collaboration is at the very heart of the school. Although my practice is rooted in photography, I have been able to access other mediums with ease – from the wonderful printmaking facilities at Parkside to immersive media and technology at Aurora House. I am also incredibly lucky to be able to access such specialist technical support from technicians right across the school, from the initial stages of experimentation to the technical support regarding exhibition installation.

Events for students

The School of Arts & Creative Industries is unique, it is progressive and interdisciplinary and so very welcoming. The ways in which the MIMA gallery, the collection, and the teaching intersect is a constant source of inspiration. This year, postgraduate students in the school have enjoyed a magnificent performance piece in the Collections gallery by artist and theatre-maker, Duncan Evennou, we’ve attended the Championing Creative Education Conference with Professor Simon James, and we’ve been guests at the openings of the Chemical City exhibition, and the inaugural Art + Social No.1 event.

Art + Social is a space for students from the School of Arts & Creative Industries to connect, test ideas, curate pop-up shows, screen experimental film works and showcase new performance pieces within the MIMA gallery spaces, Art + Social is a wonderful way to celebrate the wonderful community we’re part of at the School of Arts & Creative Industries.

Studying here

To sum up, I’ve found the School of Arts & Creative Industries to be a wonderful place to study for a PhD. Experimental, innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to problem-solving, and developing practice through contemporary critical, conceptual and technical approaches, are at the centre of learning and teaching. Professionally, the school has offered valuable research training, with regular training and CPD opportunities offered university-wide, and perhaps most importantly, I feel part of an inspiring, inclusive, supportive community in which discussion, collaboration, and togetherness drives positive and innovative contributions to contemporary arts practice in the region and further afield. Thanks, School of Arts & Creative Industries!

For any further inquiries regarding studying a PhD at the School of Arts & Creative Industries, please do feel free to reach out to me on:

Alyson Agar

Instagram  @alyson_agar_visualartist