A law scholar turned multimedia artist, Dr Miriam Aziz shows us what can be achieved by pursuing one's curiosity and creativity.
PhD in Law
|Year of Graduation||1997|
Your time at the University
As a law student at Manchester University, I studied with Professor Margaret Brazier whose course on “Law, Medicine and Ethics” inspired me to consider doing graduate work. One of the textbooks we used was a book by Alexander McCall Smith and J K Mason (“Law and Medical Ethics”), who were both Professors at Edinburgh Law School. I enjoyed reading their book and found that it provoked further questions which I wanted time to address. And so I applied to Edinburgh, originally to do an MPhil. However, within weeks of having moved to Edinburgh and of auditing McCall Smith and Mason’s classes in Medical Jurisprudence, I decided to transfer to the PhD program.
I arrived in Edinburgh after an intense year spent in London qualifying as a Barrister. I was a little exhausted and remember hearing someone playing the bagpipes as I crossed Waverley station and I wondered what on earth I was doing here, that I didn’t exactly love the bagpipes and I thought, “And I don’t even like whisky” and as this grumpy internal monologue continued I suddenly found myself on Princes Street where my “monologue traffic”, so to speak, came to a standstill. That was it. That was the moment when I knew that I had found the right place and that this was the right time. And of course, within weeks, I lifted the embargo on pipe music and my palate matured to appreciate the occasional good whisky.
I cherish the memory of walking home every evening from the Old College, where I shared an office at the Law School, down the Mound, crossing over to the New Town towards Comely Bank, where I lived. I invariably took the same route, but the light was never the same which transformed that walk home into a sight yet unseen, every time, beneath a sky of colours that I am still unable to name, other than to say that there is an Edinburgh palette, which I learned to appreciate but would never go as far as to say that I was able to capture, that is to say, not entirely.
Finally in 2015, after 23 years in academia and legal practice, I decided to dedicate my time to my career in the arts, which I had begun in earnest in 2005, during a year-long sabbatical, which I was forced to take as I was experiencing debilitating back pain.
Your experiences since leaving the University
After obtaining my PhD, I pursued post-doctoral research in Berlin and in Florence. I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Siena and spent time as a Visiting Professor both in the United States and other European Law Schools.
I also worked as a legal consultant throughout this time. Finally in 2015, after 23 years in academia and legal practice, I decided to dedicate my time to my career in the arts, which I had begun in earnest in 2005, during a year-long sabbatical, which I was forced to take as I was experiencing debilitating back pain.
I discovered dance during this year, which helped me manage my back pain and also gave me the confidence to release my first album on my own record label in 2007. I started committing to daily dance classes as a way to explore creativity and stabilise my back. After one week of ballet classes, I thought that one day, I would dance for Mikhail Baryshnikov. Which I did, many years later at his Center (Baryshnikov Arts Center) in New York where I ended up choreographing my own steps. I was terrified but the challenge also made me reach out beyond the confines of my own imagination because I was surrounded by a community of artists who helped me strive to evolve, very much like the community of scholars at Edinburgh’s Law School.
During my PhD, I had had to take off a year to have back surgery which also left me with chronic back pain. Professor Mason accompanied me to see the surgeon for a post-op visit where we were told that my back would continue to deteriorate. I remember Professor Mason asking me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to finish my PhD, to which he replied, “Yes, but the question is, how are you going to live with this in the long term. We need to think about that. Forget about the PhD for now.” The “we” in that sentence was a continuous source of support. Committing to thinking about how to structure life so as to adapt to living with back problems was again, a challenge that I felt confident to address, not only because I had the support of my doctoral supervisor, my colleagues and friends in Edinburgh but because I realised that it was simply a question of drawing from my own research skills and above all, my curiosity, which is what brought me to Edinburgh in the first place.
I remained in close contact with Professor Mason and often sought out his advice. However, I realised that as well as being a constant source of support and encouragement, he had instilled in me, as had the rest of the Law School community, the appreciation and indeed the discipline of finding the most apt methodology in addressing any issue as part of a collective endeavour.
Beware of adopting habits that are overly sedentary, both physically speaking, intellectually speaking and otherwise. Define your daily routine in such a way so that it is also permeable to change. And when you feel a little stale, do something different or do the same thing differently. Experiment. Explore. And whatever you do, excite and excavate your curiosity as a communal process of life long learning. In other words: move your groove.
Miriam Aziz (external link)