Freelance creative director, producer and teaching artist, Janet Robertson, is in her first year of a Professional Doctorate in Cultural Leadership at Queen Margaret University. Here she explains why she chose QMU, how she balances her professional and academic responsibilities, and what advice she would give to other professionals considering undertaking a 'Prof Doc'.


Name: Janet Helen Robertson

What sector do you work in? The arts and education

Hometown: I work and live between Cambridge, and Kirkcaldy in Fife.

Year of course at QMU: First year Professional Doctorate in Cultural Leadership


Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a freelance creative director, producer and teaching artist based in Fife and Cambridge working on projects, events and productions in the UK and elsewhere.  

I am married to composer, Kenny Forrest, with two grown up children who are both currently studying to be opera singers. My son is 24 and part of the Opera School at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and my daughter is 21 and in her third year of an undergraduate degree in Vocal Studies BMus at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.


Why did you decide to undertake a Professional Doctorate?

It’s either a kind of madness, or a serendipitous happening… I’m not quite sure which!

Repeated curiosities around areas of my practice surfaced in different contexts and over several years, which eventually crystalized into questions. Those questions persisted and when I found myself personally and professionally able to address them, the opportunity to take the time and space to do so arrived in the form of the QMU Prof Doc in Cultural Leadership.

I jumped in.


Why did you choose Queen Margaret University (QMU) to undertake your Professional Doctorate?

Dr David Stevenson. His expertise and approach aren’t to be found anywhere else and the opportunity to work remotely with great support and in a community striving collectively were all factors.

Easy access for times I do need to be in the building was important and the learning scaffolding and direct application of the research of the Prof Doc as opposed to the more traditional PhD were very appealing.

The additional READ qualification [Researcher Enhancement and Development] running alongside the programme is a wonderful addition and makes the course even more attractive.


Are you studying full-time or part-time, and what is the commitment?

Currently full-time and just about managing it.

It’s hard to define the commitment. It’s been quite overwhelming in some ways because I find myself constantly in Doctoral mode but in other ways it doesn’t feel like working because I’m so motived. Reading at all hours of the day and night is pleasurable, it’s such a treat to have time just to do it.

Coming from a full-time business owner and self-employed freelancer with lots of family commitments it’s a wonderful thing which feels like a perfect, but productive, indulgence.


How have you managed to balance your professional role with your studies? Have you had to make any adjustments to either area to allow you to carry out both roles?

I made the decision to join the course quite late, so although I am on the full-time programme I have had a few professional commitments to complete over this first term. That has been quite a juggle to get through and I am currently considering whether I should opt for the part time route. 

With a freelance career it is concerning to step away completely for three or more years and, as ever, opportunities have arrived that I will have to think carefully about turning down. Balancing is the real skill of the moment.


Do you feel the course is helping you with your current role?

All the reading, guidance, discussion and debate I have experienced has had direct relevance to my professional practice. Building my online portfolio has also supported my reflective practice, and skills in concept planning and mapping have advanced my project planning and delivery. So, already in term 1, yes, it has had a positive impact.


What kind of support have you had from QMU staff? Are there any particular university services or individuals that you’ve called on to support you?

From matriculation to changing passwords and getting my online work set up, all the support has been very good and very easy to access.


To any senior professionals reading this who are considering undertaking a Professional Doctorate, what advice would you offer them?

The journey for me has not been at all what I anticipated. I had imagined a very gentle beginning starting to gather information and opinions from wider research and slowly building up to consider and focus arguments. This did not happen.

The first few months have been a fast and hard journey into my own understanding of assumption and bias, challenging my beliefs and my focus across a range of subjects. It’s very exciting and very dynamic. 

At the moment, I believe I may be able to say that I am just beginning to perceive the scope of what I don’t understand. It’s a start. For me, quite an exhilarating start, but not the start I’d imagined at all.  

Being part of the community of QMU is very worthwhile. It’s small and it’s personal in a way that other institutions I’ve studied at have not been. There are real people to help and to support you and the Prof Doc Cultural Leadership group I am lucky enough to belong to offers challenge, direction, discussion and friendship from others who get what you are doing. On offer from the institution are world-class staff and facilities in a setting that is easy to access virtually and actually.

From an arts and culture perspective, I do not know of a parallel offer anywhere else. If you think you might be interested in a Professional Doctorate in Cultural Leadership please come and talk to the team and/or talk to the current cohort. We would all be very happy to chat.

To anyone who might be interested in pursuing a Professional Doctorate I would offer the same advice I’ve offered to people expecting a baby for the first time. Whatever you think it might be, it probably isn’t but…it’s an amazing adventure that will change you forever.


[Published January 2019]

"[QMU is] small and it’s personal in a way that other institutions I’ve studied at have not been. There are real people to help and to support you, and the Prof Doc Cultural Leadership group I am lucky enough to belong to offers challenge, direction, discussion and friendship from others who get what you are doing."
Janet Robertson, Professional Doctorate in Cultural Leadership

Graduate School and Doctoral Research

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