How can my creative mind keep track of a 3-4 year academic journey?

How can my creative mind keep track of a 3-4 year academic journey? With a visual! I’m not really a linear thinker. I prefer to start where it feels best, not necessarily reading and writing in any particular order, but choosing to stop and start, sometimes randomly. If you’re like me, then a visual of the degree journey might help you too!

From a discarded, broken and faded picture frame on the side of the road came my PhD calendar which turned into a multi-layered art work. I started by sponge and brush painting the frame into a green camouflaged look to signify less obvious streams of consciousness in my PhD.

Creating a nature scene - PhD

Next, using strategically torn, hand-made Korean hanji (mulberry bark) paper, an indigenous worldview set the first layer of the visual covering the original plywood picture. The previously framed and faded farm scene set in fields afar made way for a simple nature scene of mountains, ocean, and sun, contrasted by many hues of Sky father – Ranginui and complimented by various green brown tones representing Papatuanuku – Earth mother.

Hanji paper - PhD journey

3-4 year PhD journey

The third layer represents the big picture and navigating a long journey ahead, based on Dr Frances Kelly’s (2003) design of Visualising the Degree: A PhD Calendar. This design was based on the PhD Calendar by Stella Clark and Richard James, from The University of Melbourne (2002) and resembles a game board designed like a snake or race track. It covers the PhD journey over 3-4 years through the start, mid, and final phases. My friend Kewana Duncan picked up that the side way “S” shape resembled the white koru shapes on a tino rangatiratanga flag. With these shapes in mind I typed all the stages of the journey up, cut and glued them onto the hanji. This visual in particular not only represents the PhD journey but the basis of the research itself.

Step 1-3 of PhD visual complete

The final stage of the art work captured the details. Different coloured envelopes represent each chapter, from the introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis, discussion and conclusion. The envelopes are secured by pegs adorned with little manu (representing manu korero, manu kura, and various forms of knowledge) which are able to be moved, replaced and discarded. Post it notes capture further detail such as themes and section titles. Smaller post it notes are used to mark what has been completed.
Pegs and manu - PhD journey

This artwork at any given time shows instantly where I’m at, what I’ve covered and where I’m going. It allows me the freedom to start at various chapters or sections without fear of veering off on a tangent.

If a large “Visualising the Degree” art work helps your creative mind stay on track – best of luck to you! Ha ha but don’t get so into creating the art work that you forget to do the basics – read and write every day!


  1. Dara Kelly

    I love this Abi! It’s such a great way to capture the creativity of your work and I can’t wait to hear how it speaks to you throughout the journey as each piece reveals new ideas. Thanks for sharing your taonga with us!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kiri.Dell

    Just goes to show how everyone’s process is so different! I feel most comfortable with linear steps to reaching my goals and ticking off boxes….which seems so boring in light of what you have produced!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amber Nicholson

    I love your visual framework. It is so innovative and creative and much more interesting to look at than words on a page. But I hope that eventually this sorts of “outside the box” thinking becomes more prevalent and normalised. I know may of us have had experiences of being stuck within the rigid frames of academia and it would be great to all be able to express our own creativity freely!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gladys Henderson

    This is so beautiful Abigail. As I read your korero I was instantly drawn into a cascade of water flowing over you cleansing your mind, relaxing your thoughts, emerging into your true self covered in light. I can’t wait to read more.


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