Given the creative latitude afforded our students, the underlying structural foundations of our program are surprisingly firm.Our extraordinarily diverse crop of new students and their initiatives must bubble up through a rather rigorous semester of foundation classes, then a year and a half of elective laboratories and seminars, and finally a semester of Thesis work, culminating in a public, web broadcast presentation of results.
Graduating students whose work is of particular interest or benefit to ITP or the greater community are given the opportunity to stay on as “Research Residents.” During this third year of association with ITP, Research Residents have the opportunity to iterate more advanced prototypes, seek out implementation opportunities and, most importantly from ITP’s point of view, begin to feed their explorations and findings back into our evolving courses and labs.
Alumni whose accomplishments over a period of years in the professional realm have proven particularly substantial or even just novel are often invited back to serve as Adjunct Professors who, for a small honorarium, share their latest developments with us in the form of new courses designed around the fields they have initiated.
So graduation at ITP means pursuing your research in the real world, tending to the new crop of students and projects or, ultimately, both.
Constantly evolving the research agenda at ITP, however, means rarely getting beyond a few prototypes of a new technology before moving on. While graduates are free to take their ideas into the commercial sector for further development (as many, many have) even our Research Residents seldom enjoy the time or resources to iterate towards more robust prototypes, conduct advanced user testing, or explore opportunities for collaboration beyond our own community.
While we will continue to work at the level of prototype instead of product, we currently do recognize a strong desire among our Research Residents and fulltime faculty for the chance to bring their work just a few more iterations forward. After all, our student body has grown from under twenty to over two hundred, as interactive media itself has grown from an experimental niche to a mainstream activity. Now that there is a public to serve with our innovations, we long for partners who can help us reach them, as well as the time to develop our prototypes to levels of robustness appropriate for these encounters.
To this end, we added a new layer of “Research Fellows” to extend the period of a graduate students’ work into a fourth year before having to find commercial or academic work or, in other cases, turning their attention towards our own new crop of students. Were these, our most advanced students, to be partnered with companies or other institutions interested in pursuing the same challenges, their productive capacity would be greatly increased, while their research informed by the expertise of the partner.
We are also in the beginning stages of supporting our own faculty’s research goals with students and Research Residents committed to those areas of inquiry.We are seeking support, space, equipment, and funding for our faculty to continue expanding their own research while feeding into and off of the creative pursuits of their students. Our teachers are not, and must not, be teachers who are inspired by research, but researchers who are inspired by teaching.
Finally, as our international profile continues to rise, we are being approached by a wide variety of people and institutions - from choreographers to doctors, and child psychologists to computer scientists - all hoping to establish relationships with us through which they can work in-house and develop some of their own ideas or, more commonly, engage with ideas that have bubbled up at ITP, already. With the right partners and funding, we could create temporary positions for these prospective collaborators - artists, engineers or programmers in residence - and provide technical and research support for them.
Now is the right time for ITP to begin partnering more deliberately with companies, institutions, and individuals who recognize the delicate nature of our ecosystem, and who share our goals of extending research that might really matter to the people for whom it would. For funders it is an opportunity to interact with some of the brightest and most enthusiastic young researchers in the world, to tap into a unique process for developing new ideas, to scout for future employees, and to benefit from a conversation with our other research partners.
ITP’s sense of enduring mission has already led to a proud history of preparing its students to thrive in an evolving media environment, while keeping that environment as focused on the needs of people rather than the biases of whatever technology they happen to be using.
By finding partners willing to join us in this mission, our work can be brought to the point where it can make a solid contribuition not only to our own students, but the wider research community, the commercial sector, and the public at large.