USEUM and I, a few weeks ago we upgraded! That means that my PhD project (USEUM) and the research associated with it, passed the upgrade phase, which makes me now a Doctorate Candidate at UCL! It required amongst other things, a lot of writing and a 50′ examination-like presentation (see photo). In a nutshell, the essence of the “Case for Upgrade” is for the academic institution to see whether your PhD is worth continuing. For full-time PhD students the upgrade takes place 1 year after they started, however since I am part-time I had to do my upgrade only a couple of months ago i.e. 2 years since I started. The research I have done so far for my PhD focuses on crowdsourcing; its origins and how it has been utilised in various projects, focusing on those ones that deal with the accessibility of art.
Studying crowdsourcing proved challenging, mainly because I was frequently coming across contradicting literature. For example, although the phenomenon has been out there for years, 1 prominent definition for it, has yet to emerge. The paper Towards an Integrated Crowdsourcing Definition by Estellés-Arolas and González-Ladrón-de-Guevara brought to life 40 (!) original definitions for crowdsourcing. Thankfully it was not the first time I was doing research on a phenomenon that lacks a definition widely accepted by the academic community; that was no other than games! I have covered the (large) debate around what a game is, in my MFA Thesis.
However if there is one reason I enjoy doing research in leading edge subjects is for the very fact that the literature is very young – and yes there may be contradicting bibliography and little given data that you can rely on, but the way I see it and how I have experienced it firsthand, is that my work achieves bigger impact. I was impressed to see one day, that a document on Augmented Reality (AR) I had published online, which I would consider of minor importance, had reached thousands of views, without me promoting it whatsoever. Why? Because there is not much out there for AR despite its high demand.
In my mind, this is quite similar to what is happening nowadays in tech entrepreneurship: it may be a tough environment to be in, but it offers countless opportunities. In this booming industry it is indeed harder for a project to stand out, because of the global competition and as a friend told me the other day on the subject “For people your age it is much harder to make your first million, than it was for us back then (i.e. 90’s)“. But on the other hand, because the industry is growing so fast, everyday there are more and more opportunities to take advantage of. As Larry Page puts it in an interview he gave to Wired “there are all these opportunities to make people’s lives better. Tech companies are attacking 1 percent of them. That leaves 99 percent virgin territory”. So it is always a give and take.
The abstract of my PhD has come to be the following:
Crowdsourcing refers to the process during which a task is outsourced to the crowd, whilst augmented reality is the technology that superimposes computer-generated imagery on a user’s view of the real world, so that it appears to the user that virtual and real objects co-exist in space. Despite the wealth of literature and practice around both of these phenomena, there is only a limited number of research projects involving both of them. USEUM is one of these projects, utilising crowdsourcing and augmented reality in an attempt to make art more accessible, not only on the digital domain, but also in the physical space by taking advantage of mobile augmented reality. USEUM as a platform (http://useum.org) is defined as The World’s Museum of Art, featuring today nearly 10,000 artworks by hundreds of artists from 90+ countries worldwide.
In terms of juggling a part-time PhD and a start-up venture it is tricky at times but it is certainly possible. As of now at least, so far so good.