Explore and Create Stories #9: Katy Vigurs

I met Katy a few years ago in Chicago after we had been connected for some time via Twitter and Instagram. The power of social media and networking is so great (as you know I’m an advocate for social media as a powerful learning tool!). We met on a spring day and the tulips were shining. I remember this so well, apart from the fact that I captured it on film, but because the yellow was like a metaphor for Katy – bright, bold, beautiful, refreshing, and just so lovely. I do hope that you enjoy this Explore and Create Story. Katy really does share with us how it is possible to stay true to ones self and be involved in creative projects that inspire those she works with, and indeed herself. Her ability to weave this way of working into her professional and personal life is contagious...I'm a big fan of her everyday photography on Instagram that just ignites many moments of inspiration.


Tell us about yourself

I'm currently an Associate Professor of Education at Staffordshire University in the UK (and soon to be Associate Professor at The International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) which is a research centre specialising in career guidance and development, based at The University of Derby). This means that I balance postgraduate teaching and supervision with applied education research alongside other aspects of academic citizenship (public engagement, peer review, committee membership, academic blogging, etc.). I'm very active on social media as part of my professional role and have worked hard to develop digital doctoral pedagogies for part-time postgraduate students.

Professionally speaking, I'm passionate about issues of equality and equity in all aspects of education (for students and staff). I'm also passionate about being a lifelong learner myself. I very much enjoy curating my own informal development, which is spurred on by professional curiosity and a love of sharing ideas with others in my field of work and beyond. I find professional cross-fertilization very productive and relish opportunities to meet others to discuss their work and approaches. I ask lots of questions. I think being on the receiving end of my questions can sometimes be annoying for others, but I can't help it. I find that asking questions best stimulates learning for me. In the personal realm I'm passionate about 'everyday photography'. I've always enjoyed creating visual archives but today's technologies mean that I can do this easily on a daily basis. I currently have a particular fetish for hand written signs. I'm also a parent of a teenage son who is heavily into playing rugby union, so I enjoy spending most weekends being 'on tour' and supporting his team from the sidelines. I also digitally record most of the matches and then edit and share the videos with the team straight after the match, which I know is highly valued by the players and their families. I enjoy being able to make this kind of voluntary contribution.

I'm currently feeling inspired by the use of comic books and graphic novels to disseminate research findings to a wider audience. I've just had a go a developing a research-informed comic on the back of a project about student debt and the impact on graduate decision-making. You can see the results here. This involved employing four student artists to work with me to translate a traditional written report into visual representations. It's the most exciting process I've been involved with this year. I learned so much from the comic arts students!

What led you to your latest project or focus?

I'd been collecting graphic representations of social research for a couple of years and then at the beginning of this year when analysing 100 students' interview transcripts about how they felt about their levels of student debt and their graduate prospects, I felt compelled to find a way to illustrate these findings in a visual manner to bring the students' stories and experiences to life.

How do you approach creativity in your life?

I hadn't really thought about this before now. I guess it has a lot to do with keeping an open mind and actively seeking out new experiences and perspectives and then delighting in the sparks of creativity and possibility that are created as a result. I think it's as much about attitude and approach as it is about skill.

What defines you in terms of balancing creativity and mindfulness for flow? How do you do this?

I'm not sure I'm very good at this. I often feel like I'm trying to balance hundreds of things at the same time, which can feel stifling of creativity at times. I'm getting better at protecting spaces now though. For example, I've started taking email, Facebook and Twitter off my phone when I'm on holiday. This helps me not to feel 'switched on' all the time and return to slightly slower rhythms. It also helps me 'be present', I think a slower, steadier pace is important for this. Returning to this way of being is important when on holiday with my family. I would like to be able to develop this as part of my working life too.

What’s the biggest challenge you find in approaching your creative endeavours?

Saying 'yes' to too many opportunities and depleting time and space for consolidation of ideas, deep thought and reflection. When things get like this, I quickly feel run down and this is not good for creating the conditions that spark creativity. I am learning to control this better now though, albeit not consistently.

How do you find your zen?

Walking by myself in a natural environment, preferably by water. Or singing loudly in my car. Or sitting reading a book with a cup of tea and cat on my lap.


When you experience flow, what is the impact on your productivity?

This is when I am fully focussed on one thing and find myself completely absorbed in the thinking and the doing at the same time. I am not distracted by other things. I am not procrastinating. Although, I find it increasingly difficult to achieve a sense of flow on a regular basis, which feels frustrating at times.




Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing creative/mindful work?

This is very difficult. There are so many people to choose from.

1. My friend and colleague, Dr Alke Groppel-Wegener - Alke is the epitome of an academic who authentically combines the creative and the scholarly as if it were meant to be. Deeply inspiring and impressive. And she creates the most wonderful handmade books. These are some of my favourite possessions.

2. One of my professional doctorate students, Darren Raven, a graphic design educator, who never fails to inspire me with his creative and lateral thinking. He's shown me how to take risks and to step outside accepted norms of thinking and behaviour from time to time. His approach to academic thinking and development is challenging and refreshing.

3. My friend, Dr Helen Kara, the most diligent and productive academic I know. She is an expert in developing creative research methods, she is also an accomplished creative writer across many genres and is a brilliantly open and transparent academic writer too. Her academic writing workshops are particularly stimulating as she draws on her creative writing experience to make the development of academic writing exciting and fun. PhD Haiku, anyone?

 How would you rate your level of happiness about your creative endeavours at the moment? (1 being sad, 10 being love it/awesome/BEST EVER.)


Tell me, who are you clicking on at the moment?  Why?  Insights?

My sister @lindseyvigurs on Instagram and Twitter. She's a freelance illustrator and sees the world in interesting, colourful ways.

Tell me, who are you listening to at the moment?  Why?  Insights?

My son has recently discovered the band Nirvana so we've been listening to a lot of their songs in the car. It's been brilliant to rediscover their music. As an adult, I'm listening to the music differently. We also watched the Nirvana documentary 'Montage of Heck' together recently, which has a lot to say about the development of Kurt Cobain's creativity (and depression), and is told through mixed media.

Tell me, who are you talking to at the moment?  Why?  Insights?

I've been taking part in an asynchronous Goggle Docs interview over the last month with Ernesto Priego from City University in London. Ernesto is a researcher affiliated to the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. He co-founded The Comics Grid Journal of Comics Scholarship, which is a pioneering open access 'academic rapid publication project'. He specialises in online publishing for impact and widening participation. He came across the research-informed comic I've recently been involved with on Twitter and made contact to see if I'd take part in an online interview which would form the basis of a research paper. It's been a brilliant process and the resulting paper was published in December 2016 (Priego, 2016). You can have a look at the paper here.

Tell me, who are you are reading at the moment?  Why?  Insights?

Kayleigh Garthwaite's book 'Hunger Pains: Life inside foodbank Britain' (2016). A sobering critical ethnography of structural inequalities which will ignite your inner social activist. It makes you feel uneasy and restless.

What’s some advice you would offer to someone who is struggling to find their creative spark? or What advice would you give to someone who thinks they aren’t creative?

Think about what excites you, inspires you. What makes you angry? What makes you laugh? These might be ways into finding a creative spark or idea. Meet people. Talk with people. Ask questions. Challenge yourself. Challenge others. Remain curious and restless.

What’s the best ever quote you have seen in terms of creativity or mindfulness or flow?

"Collaborate with those you can learn from." Pharrell Williams



Priego, E. (2016) Comics as Research, Comics for Impact: The Case of Higher Fees, Higher Debts, The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 6 (1), 1-15, DOI: 10.16995/cg.101


You can continue to connect with Katy at:

Instagram: @drkatyvigurs
Twitter: @drkatyvigurs