Artful and applied? Reflecting on a doctoral project about rural youth access to mental health care

John Rae, Jessica Houston (Presenter)

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Artful and applied? Reflecting on a doctoral project about rural youth access to mental health care

The teenage years and early twenties are common times for the onset of mental illness (McGorry and Mei, 2018). These are also times when intervention can be most effective (de Girolamo, 2012), yet in Australia access to intervention is limited (Rickwood et al., 2007), especially in rural areas (Boyd et al., 2008). There is an urgent need for a new approach (Segal, 2018).

Presented will be an arts-based doctoral project, utilising documentary film making, that aims to generate novel solutions for improving rural youth access to mental health care. While the goal of this project might align well with that of applied research, it’s arts-based focus does make this alignment uncommon. By drawing on Gaber’s (2012) four points of differentiation between applied and basic research — purpose, context, validity and methods — we will discuss this and use our project to argue that there are in fact ways in which arts-based research can work with applied research, and certainly with the spirit of applied research. First, the purpose of our arts-based project is to create better solutions (Gaber, 2012), the same as for applied research. Second, like applied research, this research has a ‘point of origin at which the project begins’ (Gaber, 2012), or a specific context. For us, that point of origin represents a very pressing need, and one that is associated with media reports like: ‘lives being wasted’ (The Guardian, 2021). Third, because this project involves the creation of a documentary film, it lends itself to knowledge translation, if not transformation, and while different from Gaber’s (2012) emphasis on generalisability, it fits nicely with the ethos of applied research and the desire to create positive change. A more challenging link between arts-based and applied research is that arts-based research does not use methods like multiple data sets or triangulation (Gaber, 2012). Instead, the emphasis is on authenticity and trustworthiness (Amin, Nørgaard, et al., 2020), and on the generation of much-needed novel ideas, which may be reasonable alternatives.

It is useful to also highlight some challenges of arts-based doctoral supervision more generally, such as the tension between becoming doctoral, responding to a bigger picture, and being creative. There is little doubt that creativity is evident in most research projects in terms of problem-solving and insight, or what Glăveanu (2018) refers to as ‘functional creativity’. In arts-based research, though, we are referring to creativity characterised by divergence and spontaneity that is grounded in the ideals of Romanticism (Glăveanu, 2018). How to achieve this this in arts-based doctoral supervision alongside the other, often competing, elements of doctoral study? To answer this question, we will draw on Shaw and Holbrook’s (2018) ‘four-quadrant model’ and discuss its use in informing a more holistic, integrated doctoral supervision.

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The Guardian (2021)

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021
EventSocially Engaged Applied Doctoral Research in Canada - Royal Roads University, Victoria, Canada
Duration: 20 Aug 202121 Aug 2021 (Program) (Proceedings) (Conference website)


ConferenceSocially Engaged Applied Doctoral Research in Canada
OtherDoctoral research is expected to be the source of innovative and impactful research that transforms society and challenges dominant theories and practices. While recognizing the changing landscape of doctoral education, the higher education community continues to emphasize the need to maintain the quality and rigour in doctoral scholarship. Central to this topic is maintaining the rigour of doctoral research design while supporting and encouraging multiple forms of research methodologies.
The Faculty of Management (FoM) and Faculty of Applied and Social Sciences’ College of Interdisciplinary Studies (FSAS) at Royal Roads University is pleased to host a three-day conference that focuses on socially engaged applied doctoral research in Canada. The first day of the conference will be reserved for supervisors and faculty members to discuss applied research at the doctoral level. The two subsequent days of the conference will focus on doctoral research and doctoral students. The conference is funded by SSHRC Connections Grant.
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