Although students come in thinking they will write essays, the lab’s milieu is that an essay (for example) is a process of “making” with words. Once we recognize it as a making, we can experiment.
Adrian Miles is a senior lecturer in New Media at the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, AU. He is program manager at the Consilience Lab and co-director of the non/fiction lab at RMIT.
What is your lab called and where is it?
It’s called the consilience lab. It is at RMIT University in the School of Media and Communication, Melbourne.
What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work?
Well, I’m sort of cheating perhaps. It is an honours lab. Honours in Australia is often an additional and optional fourth year of study. It builds upon the three year undergraduate degree a student has completed and is a research year where students undertake a substantial project. A 12000 word thesis is a good measure of the sort of thing that would be done. In this lab research is done via thesis or project + exegesis. It is the standard pathway to a PhD (you can apply for a PhD directly after a successful honours year.)
Since we are a school of media and communication, and 70% of the students do it by project, there is often a ‘technological’ focus.
The lab is a degree program so has a curriculum. We have a common research class (methods, etc), and three thematic labs lead by researchers. For the past three years one lab has revolved around media materialism (using Alien Phenomenology as the introductory reading). This is the most tech of the three thematic labs we have offered.
Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
4th year undergraduate students who are, normally, academically orientated, high achieving, and about half of whom want to undertake a PhD. (There are usually around 25 students). The lab is literally a studio style classroom. It also gets used for workshops and seminars on an ad hoc basis.
What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?
Honours research. The main research outcome is sent out for examination internationally to two experts and is often of a very high standard. Some graduates have gone on to Columbia, City University HK, but most continue into PhDs in Australia. We try to share most of this research online too. The school has 12 undergraduate programs and has produced work (a mix of the project and thesis) in cinema studies, cultural studies, philosophy, game studies, documentary, radio, advertising, asian media studies, television studies, interactive documentary, music studies, photography, electronic literature, media studies, public relations, and communication studies.
Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
We currently have two large dedicated rooms. One has 10 reasonably specced iMacs, the other room has fancy tables that can be folded up so the space can be arranged as wanted. Students have access 24/7 and it is just for them. (This is unusually generous.) They also have negotiated access to the usual resources you’d expect in a major media and comms school – edit suites, sound and video production facilities and equipment, photography studies, and so on.
These rooms share a common kitchenette with PhD students and they open onto a larger open plan area that houses some of our PhD candidates.
What kind of financial support does the lab receive?
It’s currently supported by the school in terms of providing the classroom space. Since they are ours we take advantage of this to put up work in progress on the walls, have lockers and boxes for students to leave work and belongings in, and for it to become an open studio space. About half the students use it very actively, the others seem to prefer to work from elsewhere.
What are your major theoretical touchstones?
Speaking only of the themed lab I run, they are speculative realism, vitalism, materialism, and posthumanities (I tend to have a Bergsonian Matter and Memory Deleuze Cinema 1 and 2 perspective on this list.)
More broadly, we foster a commitment to studio practice as a legitimate and important way to undertake media and communication research training and practice (most students come from undergraduate experiences that are closer to traditional humanities models of lectures and tutorials, or film school type workshops of going out and making). The pedagogy makes no distinction between project or thesis based research and approaches research as developing protocols for handling ambiguity, complexity, and messiness (without necessarily removing these qualities). It also tries to make explicit the tacit practices that good researchers have.
What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
Before we moved to this model many students would begin their honours thinking of doing a PhD and deciding not to as a *result* of their honours experience. This was because before we had the lab it was more of a solitary scholarship sort of model (as is the case, traditionally, in the humanities). We’ve transformed that so now approximately 45% of our students decide to undertake a PhD within two years of completing honours.
Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?
It currently costs too much money to run the lab so the most pressing plan is to a) reduce its cost, b) make various arguments demonstrating its value and contribution, and c) develop a revised version, keeping the best bits that tie it in more strongly to the research centres that my school now has. Administrivia, basically.
What makes your lab a lab?
Interesting question. In this case a) a physical location, b) a commitment to the studio ethos of public (in the lab) iterative making and doing, with work shared and critiqued during the process of its emergence, and c) an imperative that knowledge/research needs to be materialized into things to be research (whether writing, other media artefacts, or both). So though students come in thinking they will write essays, the lab’s milieu is that an essay (for example) is a process of “making” with words. Once we recognize it as a making we can experiment.