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Practice-led research: how to bring together artistic practices and science, the example of CY University

The Ecole Universitaire de Recherche (EUR) Humanities, Creation and Heritage offers practitioners in the fields of creation and heritage (architecture, heritage, arts, literary creation, landscape) the opportunity to complete a PhD allowing them to put their own creative process at the heart of their research. Deadline for application: April 30, noon.


The University of Cergy, Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Art de Cergy, Institut National du Patrimoine, Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Versailles and Ecole Nationale Supérieure du Paysage de Versailles have joined forces to create an Ecole Universitaire de Recherche (EUR PSGS HCH) whose aim is to strengthen the link between education and research. Among the EUR's innovative projects is the practice-led PhD. Christelle Ventura, Executive Director of the EUR, tells us about this experience of research through research and the creative process.


What is the practice-led PhD? How did the idea of such a project come about within the EUR?

The EUR Humanities, Creation, Heritage is made up of a university, CY Cergy Paris University, and Grandes Ecoles, which are not intended to deliver the doctorate. Their graduates, if they wish to pursue a doctorate, must integrate disciplinary fields that take them away from their practice, such as landscape or the restoration of cultural property. We wanted to give them the opportunity to put their own practices, their own creative process, back at the heart of their research project.

It is important to underline that the practice-led doctorate is a doctorate in the academic sense of the term: the doctoral candidate is supervised by a research professor, is subject to a public defense before a jury after writing a manuscript, must meet the same scientific and intellectual requirements as a "classical" doctorate, and must also have publication objectives.

To these aspects is added the dimension of practice: the doctoral candidate benefits from a second supervisor who is a recognized practitioner in the field in which the doctorate is carried out, and new places or objects are introduced during the defense. A doctoral candidate could support the opening of the exhibition on which he or she is working, in the space created by an architect or landscape architect, in an artist's residence, etc., in front of a wider audience than the jury alone.

The practice-led doctorate is essentially aimed at professionals in the fields of architecture, heritage (conservation-restoration and heritage studies), landscape, literary creation and the arts.


So what is the difference with action research?

I would define action research as research aimed at impacting the society through deliverables. This is not the case with practice-led research, where the focus is not on the result but on the creative process, on what the PhD candidate does to achieve the result.


How are doctoral candidates funded?

Every year, for the past 2 years, the EUR has been funding 5 doctoral contracts out of the dozen or so candidates admitted for application, but of course wishes to increase the number of these practitioner-researchers. A very large majority of the participants in the programme carry out their doctorate in the framework of their professional activity, such as heritage curators for example.


What kind of support(s) does the EUR offer for doctoral candidates in the programme?

For us, it is important to decompartmentalise science and the arts, to decompartmentalise the different disciplines within the arts themselves. This is why we organise an interdisciplinary seminar twice a year, in order to nourish reflection on their practices. We offer seminars focused on one of the artistic fields, each graduate school being involved in the setting up of the seminar. A plenary session bringing together all the department heads of the different fields, who form the doctoral jury for the project, comes to question the research carried out by the project, to collect the questions of the doctoral candidates and to provide food for thought for everyone, beyond the disciplines.

In addition, doctoral candidates who wish to join the program have already identified their practitioner supervisor. We help them to identify their second academic supervisor from CY Cergy Paris University and we also ensure that we lay the foundations of the supervision, in particular to ensure that one dimension, scientific or practical, does not take precedence over the other. This is why we also make a point of involving as much as possible the pairs of supervisors in the seminars that we organise, so that a dialogue is established and reinforces the understanding between arts and science.

Finally, we ensure regular monitoring of research projects, in particular by carrying out an annual evaluation. Doctoral candidates must send their supervisors a report of about thirty pages, which is a condition for their registration in the following year. But beyond that, this written report is an important step for many doctoral candidates in the program: indeed, the transition from practice to verbalization is not easy. How can we say in words what we do, what we see, what we touch, what we conceive? This enables them to confront the writing work that will be required of them in order to be able to defend their thesis.


What are the application procedures?

This is a very selective program, since only a dozen doctoral students are selected. Candidates must submit their application on a dedicated platform, before April 30 at noon. For each field, two experts from outside the EUR evaluate the applications (novelty and originality of the project, proven practice in the required disciplinary field, feasibility of the research programme, among others) and give their opinion to the EUR Executive Commission, which decides whether or not to hear the candidates.

In 2019, we received around 100 applications, of which around 60 were eligible. Of these 60, 22 passed the audition stage and 12 were finally selected.


Additional information and contact

Application deadline: 30 April 2020, noon

Call for applications (French)

Application form (French)

Platform to submit your application (French)



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