"I was looking at music technology programs, and there aren't many, first of all," Lisa says, laughing. "It is a very specific subfield." Being particularly interested in Georgia Tech's Robotic Musicianship Lab, where she is currently studying, the musician found out they were doing a lot of projects that were interdisciplinary, which she thought would be a great fit to meet people from different backgrounds. "When I visited the school I really liked the people, the community, and the fact that it was a larger type of music technology program," Zahray shares, mentioning it would be a good opportunity to focus on what she wanted to pursue but also get to see other fields and talk to people with interests in various disciplines.
The decision to do a PhD came last-minute, the musician remembers. "I was applying for jobs at the end of my master's [degree], but hadn't realized that music technology programs existed," Lisa recalls, admitting she wouldn't want to do a doctorate in any other field. "I did it more for the experience of a PhD itself than kind of furthering my career." This offered her the possibility to work on the projects she truly wanted to do and have the freedom with experimentation.
The first two years of the doctorate program is structured similarly to that of master's. "You take three classes every semester, and classes will usually be a few from the music technology department, but also classes from other departments," Lisa explains. The courses you take can vary, too — last semester, she took all of her classes in the music department: Recording and Mixing, Interactive Music, and Computational Music and Audio Analysis. This past semester, on the other hand, Lisa is taking a Video Game Design class and Theory of Computer Animation. "You have a few requirements — a number of electives, do a minor, and certain classes that you definitely take," she continues. "Then there is a qualifying exam, where you basically take two days and read a bunch of papers, write essays on [those papers], and defend your answers to these questions to a room full of professors." After that, you work on your thesis, which the program is centered around, and defend it.
Discussing her own plans after graduation, Lisa isn't sure what she wants to do. "An interesting thing that's happening right now with the research that I'm doing in my lab is that because it's interdisciplinary, I'm actually getting to see a lot of research fields that I might have not been exposed to otherwise," she tells me. For example, the musician's lab is working on creating gestures for the robot to dance to the music, and as the project develops, she learns about other topics like animation, signal processing, and machine learning.