Alumni Profile of the Month - November 2016
Alumni Profile – Manrutt Wongkaew
Independent art director, stylist and fashion choreographer
PhD Dance, 2016
What attracted you to choose the University of Surrey and to study for your doctorate here?
I had never wanted to do a PhD, but was born into a family where everybody had obtained a PhD (Dad's in city planning [Germany], mom's in science [US], brother's in civil engineering [US], and sister's in accounting management [UK]). However, by looking back at my career, I have no regret in embarking upon this journey as my research has equipped me with in-depth knowledge, countless transferable skills, and a healthy approach to life.
I came to Surrey because I knew of Surrey’s expertise in vernacular dance and social studies. Moreover, due to the interdisciplinary nature of my research which lies across the field of dance studies, fashion studies, media and advertising, I needed a university with large resources that could support me and my research subjects.
What is your strongest memory of your time at Surrey - what do you picture first when you think of being here?
I remember times with my peers during the Research Week exchanging ideas and supporting one another on critical theories and how to find our 'light at the end of the tunnel'. I enjoyed meeting other research fellows from different faculties during postgraduate and career training. And I remember how I proudly walked in my pink suit, adorned with an ice cream necklace, to receive my doctoral awards. I felt highly moved as I thought 'how did I get from there to here?'
What were the best things about your doctorate?
"Terpsichore in Jimmy Choo: A Visual Reading of the Relationships between Dance and High Fashion Economies" allowed me to connect with myself, become an expert in my field, and make my creative vision a reality.
What do you do now and what do you find most enjoyable about your line of work?
I am an independent art director, stylist and fashion choreographer. I enjoy creating dynamic fashion shoots at the interface between fashion and dance. I also enjoy directing movements for fashion advertising and working collaboratively with other artists and creative professionals. I recently discovered that I found great joy talking about my work and sharing my personal journey wherever possible in order to build a positive community and making fashion a fun, exciting, and inclusive industry for everyone.
How did you decide what career to go into? How did your time at Surrey help you to decide?
I have always wanted to go into the industry. I searched for a way to bridge the gap between dance and fashion and to find my niche in the market. My original research was designed to investigate dance in advertising in general (i.e. TV commercials, music videos and fashion platforms). Through PhD supervision and being true to my heart, I picked fashion as my first subject of research. This subject has then grown to occupy my entire thesis and continues to open up many more chapters in my career.
How did your doctorate help prepare you for your career? What skills did you develop that have supported your career development?
Through my research, I set up a relationship between high fashion bodies, material/fabric and theatre dance choreographies. This has proven to be fruitful to my work as it allowed me to fuse dance and fashion with a socio-political twist and a dark sense of humour. This was the case when I juxtaposed proportion with pattern and vivid colour, deconstructing the body in space to dramatic effect. My doctorate pushed me to critically think outside the box, to look into a wider context, and to be flexible with the given outcomes. It also allowed me to connect with my true self, to discover my strength, to overcome my weaknesses, and to voice my vision.
What are your top tips for students aspiring to work in your profession?
Listen to your heart and go forth.
What advice would you give to current doctoral researchers to help them get the most out of their doctorate?
Choose wisely, find your passion, and know your strength. As a practitioner, I struggled to formulate research questions at the beginning of my research and strongly felt inadequate when dealing with critical theories. However, I know that I can see what others cannot. I understand how bodies move and how fabrics perform. My supervisors asked me to comprise visual materials to be used as case studies and then see what kind of issues or questions emerged from these bodies of work. This was how I began my research. I have learned that there is no conventional way to complete a PhD. There is no right or wrong. Find a way that works for you and serves you well and listen to your gut instinct.
In experiencing these problems and struggles, I have also learned that I do not have to deal with it alone. Surrey has provided much support alongside my PhD journey. I enrolled on many postgraduate research training sessions and seminars especially those run by Dawn Duke and Nigel Biggs. These training sessions helped me towards my PhD completion and prepared me for life after graduation. Make use of these resources. It costs nothing but time and effort and what I have learned is priceless.
What aspects of being connected with the alumni network are most important or of most interest to you and why?
It's always good to connect. Both my PhD and my freelancing career have undergone periods of isolation. It's essential to build up a network of support, to share ideas, to create new doors and to push boundaries. Looking back at my career, I could not have done it alone.