Before I came to the Royal College of Art, I studied History of Art at the University of York. I’d completed specialised modules in Italian Renaissance art history and was unsure where to go next with my education. All the Master’s degrees I’d looked into had a very traditional art historical approach and nothing quite excited me the way I had hoped. By chance, I came across the V&A/RCA History of Design programme. I’d never heard of it before, so I asked my undergraduate tutors and they told me the programme had a great reputation.
I’m one of very few people in my year who came from a direct art history background; many others studied history or practice-based disciplines – sometimes entirely unrelated to the field. What History of Design offered was a different slant on a historical period that I was really interested in, that wasn’t focused only on history or only on art, but that presented a multi-disciplinary perspective I hadn’t explored before – and one which I hoped was translatable into the wider, working world.
It was reassuring to know that I was studying somewhere that has such a fantastic reputation. The association with the V&A was also a massive draw, because it added to that transition from pure academia to the museum world and, I hoped, to a future working position in that field. It was clear that the RCA was reaching out to other institutions and had substantial ties with international networks.
The first few weeks were intense, with lots of inductions, which set the tone and paved the way for the next two years. Knowing we’d be focusing on our chosen area of specialist interest, we were really excited by the prospect of honing our academic skill-set towards our, at first intimidating, 30,000 word thesis. It was a huge step up from undergraduate level and there were times I worried if I was cut out for it, but it all worked out in the end, and you really feel yourself develop as a scholar and broaden your approach.
The course was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was great that it was a two-year programme, which gave me the time to really engage with the discipline and the topics I chose. The first year sets the groundwork that enables you to go onto doing something very in-depth in the second year, and that has the potential to develop into a PhD or research project, which many people go on to do. The length allows for that process of maturing.
The passion of the tutors cannot be understated; it was a privilege to spend time with people who really care about their subject areas. You’re offered access to that knowledge as well as access to the V&A collections, and you’re also put in contact with people all over the world that enrich your research. While the workload can sometimes be overwhelming, these things help you gain a better understanding of what you want to do in the future, and they give you some access to a world that’s very difficult to break into.
During my second year, I volunteered in the sculpture department at the V&A. Through that, I also interned for a contemporary Mexican and Austrian design gallery, and both of those experiences were fantastic ways of making the most of the resources available on the programme. But it is something you have to very actively pursue.
Towards the end, we produced our entry to the RCA Graduate Show, the publication and symposium. I worked on the Show with a great team, which was a really fun experience, and the skills I started to develop then have fed in really well to the job that I’m now doing. We tacked everything from raising funds and coming up with a concept, through to being on-site, in the middle of the night, painting the walls, putting up shelving and making iPad apps. To get your hands dirty and make something happen out of nothing, was a thrilling experience. We’re incredibly proud of what we accomplished.
I have since pursued a career in contemporary design, where I work as the Project Manager for Exhibitions and Creative at Tom Dixon. We create exhibitions across Europe and still have a fairly do-it-yourself approach to those builds; having the skills from RCA days has served me incredibly well, and the installs are among my fondest memories.
"The passion of the tutors cannot be understated; it was a privilege to spend time with people who really care about their subject areas. You’re offered access to that knowledge as well as access to the V&A collections, and you’re also put in contact with people all over the world that enrich your research."