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Poppy’s Royal Holloway University Profile

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Poppy’s Royal Holloway University Profile

Poppy is currently a PhD candidate at Royal Holloway University of London.

Poppy’s practice-based research looks to move away from the cause and effect narratives that have dominated much performance practice and theory in the region, and consider alternative ways of understanding the value and impact of contemporary performance practice in East Africa.

“I’m currently a PhD candidate with Professor Helen Nicholson and Professor Katie Willis as my supervisors. I’m based within the Drama, Theatre and Dance Department at Royal Holloway, and also work in Geography. My position is supported by Techne, an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Doctoral Training Partnership, which supports students pursuing the ‘craft’ of research through innovative, interdisciplinary and creative approaches across the range of the arts and humanities.”

Choosing Royal Holloway

“I am very lucky to have fantastic supervisors. I knew of Dr Helen Nicholson and her innovative research in performance before I applied, and as soon as we spoke about my practice and ideas I knew she was the right person to work with. After honing my proposal, we approached Katie Willis to join my supervisory team. Katie is a human geographer whose interest in challenging the representation of sites of development in the global south, chimed with my work. And so, although I did apply to a number of different institutions and programs, and was lucky to have a number of choices, Professor Nicholson, Professor Willis and Royal Holloway was the right place for me.”

Interdisciplinary Benefits

“Having different dynamics and two disciplines to feed my research and practice has been brilliant; when I’ve been leaning more towards one area or theory, it’s great to have other places to go and advice to look for. Most projects in my doctoral programme are interdisciplinary, radical, practical and contemporary. And so, whilst I’m one of a handful of drama students, there are people from archaeology, from history, from all sorts of areas often working with another discipline such as poetry, architecture or music.

Life as a PhD at Royal Holloway

“As a PhD student at Royal Holloway you are very independent and so I haven’t spent a huge amount of time there, but I’ve really enjoyed teaching in the department which is a diverse, exciting and very warm environment, with brilliant undergraduate students. Having the opportunity to teach at Royal Holloway got me back to thinking about the other areas of academia that I’d love to pursue. I’m very passionate about teaching and it excites me, so having that opportunity is fantastic, but so, also, is having a lot of freedom and, simultaneously, being pushed by supervisors that are very experienced and can read when you need more attention. Professor Nicholson and Willis have given me structure, along with the freedom to explore my ideas freely.”

“The way each PhD works will depend on the approach of the programme, university and supervision team. Having two points a year to meet other Techne students at the bi-annual congress has been really helpful. And, on average, I have a supervision with my professors once every month. However, if I’m writing something specific or face an immediate challenge, they’re very flexible and I can reach out and talk more regularly if necessary. But in the end, you have to have your own direction over your area of study, otherwise you would end up dying in an existential crisis!”

“As I write, I’m two and a half years into my PhD and aiming to finish in March 2020. I’ve got a string of project ideas and hope to pursue a novel imminently, but for now they will have to wait! In undertaking a PhD you have to be very pragmatic; you have to let go of everything if you want to get it done. You just have to do it, get it finished, you have to not worry too much about the ideas that you can’t fit into this – particular – thesis. So, I’m currently in that process.”

My PhD – East Africa and Challenging Development Frameworks

“The PhD itself is based around my work in East Africa and challenges development frameworks, asking how we can think differently about the value and impact of performance in the region. I argue that considering the production of atmosphere, of emotion, of affect in live performance, can offer an alternative approach to the linear, cause and effect narratives, that have been peddled by the development industry. I believe culture shifts mindsets. Art and performance can open up opportunities, creativity and imagination, offer alternative careers, relationships and connections to pursue, shifting an often-predefined path. In a time of change, when hegemonic perspectives that have dominated social, political and economic thought are revealing their dysfunction, I believe in the power of creatives to push the boundaries of existing frameworks and open up new possibilities.”

My Experience at Royal Holloway

“Everyone has their own unique experience entering academia, but I couldn’t have asked for more from Royal Holloway, my supervisors and doctoral training programme Techne; everyone is supportive, flexible and championing my work and getting me to the finish line. It is so exciting!”


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