Before lockdown, in a small classroom on the second floor of the Cardiff Met main building 12 people are gathered around a table. This is a seminar meeting. Every single person in this room is here to pursue a vastly different research topic. But not everyone who should be in this room is physically here.
In fact, I’m witnessing my peers through a little webcam on top of the TV. We all discuss the directions in which our projects are going and the fact that I’m physically distanced plays no role in the modern age.
This approach is something that makes the MRes rather unique. It is a Masters’ degree that has allowed me to pursue my research and artistic practice abroad, without having an impact on my academic progress.
I was more than a Masters student. I was a research-student, a researcher with a support group of peers who all had the same privilege of moving around liberally to pursue whatever was in the best interests of their project.
So as opposed to meeting multiple times a week, our group met once, whether digitally or physically, and it was less a structured lesson and more a group session with guidance to help us stay on track with our progress.
This set up is what makes the MRes more like a PhD instead of a taught Masters. It offers the opportunity to pursue and test a research question before committing to a full PhD contract.
This focus on independent research is also what makes the MRes so suitable for distance learning. It allowed my research and practice to interact and combine in unexpected ways as I scoured Alchemical archives all over Europe, rejoining my group and supervisor via Skype.
The remote aspect also didn’t hinder the creation of a close-knit support group between my peers and me. The more the year moved on, the more of us separated off to pursue our hunches and teach down the pathways of our projects. Physical interaction in one room became less and less necessary – we talked whenever we needed each other, wherever we were.
By the time Lockdown restrictions were put in place due to Covid-19, we were all in separate locations, already used to meeting in Microsoft Teams.
I would argue the distance learning aspect of the MRes in Art and Design is more than just a feature that can be used in special cases or emergencies. It is a unique tool that allows participants to engage more closely with their own research, wherever it may take them, without fear of being tied down to a physical location. I think any research project would benefit from this limitation being lifted.