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- PhD study leads to a range of opportunities. You might become a researcher in industry or government or an academic in an international institution It is an opportunity for you to investigate a research question or issue in depth, enabling you to take a more reflective, more innovative role in design.
A dynamic interplay between theory and practice.
The School provides expert supervision across the spectrum of art and writing practice, art and design history and theory, curating and criticism. We welcome proposals for theoretical and practice-led projects, industrial collaborations and technologically focused research.
Our research interests are wide-ranging and reflect the expertise of our staff, focusing on arts, humanities and material practices, their scholarship and dissemination. The School’s distinctive research culture encompasses a broad range of activities from highly individuated scholarly and creative enquiries to projects that concern public policy and evaluation, collections and archival research, material and technical explorations as well as more speculative arts practice-focused projects. It includes the V&A/RCA PhD in History of Design, a degree offered jointly between the RCA and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Beyond your individual supervision, you’ll be able to participate in research groups, where staff and students cluster around an idea or issue. These change annually and for 2017/18 were Absurdity, Disorder, Documents, Entanglement, Fiction and Politics, whilst for 2018/19 they were Collaboration, Documents, Entanglement, Environment, Me and (Re)Enactment. In 2019/20, they are Archive, Correspondence, Entanglement and Public(s).
Research takes place within an environment that is ambitious to generate new methods and insights. We thrive on interaction across the broad areas of fine and applied arts and the humanities, through School-wide lectures, workshops and tutorials delivered by key contemporary artists, writers, curators and thinkers, many of whom form part of our permanent staff base. The broad base of expertise offered by the School means we can support research interests across a large range of disciplines; moving image and sound, painting, performance, photography, printmaking and sculpture as well as jewellery, metal, ceramics, glass, curating, critical and theoretical writing and design history. The School embraces its cross-disciplinary perspective and celebrates the deployment of diverse and original methods of research and production.
- PhD: 3–4 years (full time), 6–7 years (part time)
- MPhil: 2–3 years (full time), 4–6 years (part time)
Catch the replays from our March 2021 Virtual Day
More details on what you'll study.
Find out what you'll cover in this programme.
What you'll cover
What is a research degree?
A postgraduate research degree challenges you to complete a research project that pushes the boundaries of our understanding.
Unlike a taught degree, a research degree emphasises independence of learning and increased specialisation. You will manage your own research project in order to investigate your topic in depth and to produce new ideas, arguments and solutions.
A research degree will give you the subject matter expertise and transferable skills necessary for a wide range of senior roles in research and academia, as well as in business, industry and the cultural and creative sectors.
A PhD is awarded to students who produce a substantial piece of original research that makes a contribution to research in the field. This can take the form of a thesis (60,000-80,000 words) or by project (a body of work and thesis 25,000-40,000 words). If you’re a PhD candidate you’ll normally registered for three years full-time, with submission within four years, or four to seven years part-time. You must remain registered and pay an appropriate fee until submission.
An MPhil is awarded for original research and submission of a thesis. If you’re an MPhil candidate you’ll normally be registered for two years (full-time) or four years (part-time).
Our postgraduate community
We have more than 250 PhD students pursuing cutting-edge research and undertaking advanced training across all four RCA Schools and Research Centres.
The Royal College of Art is a world-leading postgraduate university and is ranked the most research-intensive university of art and design in the UK since 2014. Both our students and staff are drawn from countries across the globe. Overseas students play a vital role in ensuring that our College community benefits from a diversity of experience and skills.
Doctoral training programme
At the RCA, research students undertake training both at a cross-College level and within their Schools, offering rich and robust preparation and learning opportunities for their research degree progression. Many of these also offer opportunities to build a portfolio of experience for future careers.
First year doctoral students attend compulsory training courses in a range of research methods and methodologies in the first term of study. You’ll attend Doctoral Training Weeks in September, February and July. These are opportunities to participate in the broader research community at the RCA, but also to undertake timely training to support research progression. These intensive weeks include a range of professional development seminars, training and advice in writing, getting published, achieving impact, entering the academic job market and more, and opportunities for you to develop and present your research to your peers and staff.
We are committed to ensuring that you are well equipped, not only to complete your studies but also to develop your future careers.
Annual progress reviews
Research students have Annual Progress Reviews, which they must pass in order to progress into the next year of study.
There is a formal Confirmation Exam that takes place midway through the period of study to ascertain your readiness for PhD submission; if you who do not meet the requirements at this stage then you’ll usually be recommended to submit for MPhil examination.
In addition to supervision from world-leading artists, academics, historians, theorists, curators and critics, the School’s MPhil/PhD community offers a rich and stimulating range of doctoral training, including the College-wide Doctoral Training Programme, the School-based Research Groups (small groups that include seminars, workshops and crit sessions, open to all Arts & Humanities research students) and opportunities for exhibiting and publishing research in student-led group exhibitions and symposia and in Prova (the School’s SoAH annual research journal). New student-led initiatives are encouraged and facilitated by the School. Public engagement is a vital part of our practice and we are keen to support interdisciplinary studies and dynamic and innovative projects that expand the potential for arts and humanities research both within the academic context and the wider cultural community
Beyond their individual supervision, students are able to participate in Research Groups, where staff and students cluster around an idea or issue. You will select a group based on your own research interests and attend weekly sessions led by senior academics and with input from a wide range of research-active staff. These groups are also closely linked to our 'SoAH Research Presents....' series, public events with guest speakers and performers, devised by the Research Groups. Additionally, you can attend twice termly research events examining the platforms for their research and forms of dissemination, as well as having the opportunity to present your research formally within the School. The year includes an exhibition, conference, event or publication. In 2017 this was Daybreak, a project which included Asylum Live and exhibitions at Safehouses 1&2 and Amp. In 2018 we staged Flight Mode and in 2019 we hosted the NAFAE conference, The Urgency of the Arts, as well as staging an exhibition, There’s Something Lurking In The Shadows That May Be Interesting.
What you need to know before you apply
The programme welcomes applications from candidates from across the world and of all ages, including those with academic and professional backgrounds.
Applications are considered in terms of quality of proposal, quality of practice (where appropriate), readiness to undertake a research degree at this level and supervisory capacity.
What's needed from you
Your portfolio is a showcase of your work as an artist or designer and can be made up of images, videos or writing examples. Your portfolio helps us to better understand your application and allows you to show evidence of your ability and motivation to undertake a given programme.
Generally, we’re looking for you to demonstrate your:
- Creativity, imagination and innovation
- Ability to articulate the intentions of the work
- Intellectual engagement in areas relevant to the work
- Technical skills appropriate to the work
- Potential to benefit from the programme
Each programme is looking for different things in a portfolio. Each Head of Programme provides specific advice on portfolio requirements in the online application system. We advise you to consider these requirements carefully before submitting your application.
If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country, MPhil candidates will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic score of 6.5 with a 6.5 in the Test of Written English (TWE). PhD candidates will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic score of 7.0 with a 7.0 in the Test of Written English (TWE).
If you need a Student Visa to study at the RCA, you will also need to meet the Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance.
For this programme
Fees for new students
Fees for September 2021 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.
Channel Islands and Isle of Man
Overseas and EU
New entrants to the College for MA, MRes, MPhil and PhD degrees will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees for the first year of study.
Overseas and EU
Scholarships are awarded for a specific programme and entry point and cannot be deferred without consent from the academic Programme and scholarships panel.
With the Government's introduction of the new Doctoral Loan and the continued support available via the Arts and Humanities Research Council, there are more financial support options than ever before.