School or Centre
- 31 Jul 2023
- 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.
Materials research for real world challenges.
The Materials Science Research Centre MPhil/PhD programme focuses on the invention and the experience of materials to address real world challenges, such as environmental sustainability, and human health and wellbeing.
Our research areas include:
- regenerative and circular materials
- programmable biomaterials
- materials systems, such as bio-mimetic approaches to develop and manufacture materials and structures
- digital materials for new typologies of tangible interfaces
- the human experience of materials to gain a deep understanding of perceptual experience (analogue and digital)
Our approach to these areas includes the design and manufacture of materials for different applications at different scales – in the body, on the body, interaction with the body, the body in (a space).
We encourage students to pioneer interdisciplinary research that spans materials science, chemistry and engineering, biology, bioscience, materials design, computer science, human-computer interaction, human-centred design, phenomenology, neuroscience, experimental psychology, and psychophysics.
The concepts of sustainability and creativity underpin research at every level – from the material, through manufacturing, to the use phase.
- 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 November 2022 online Open Day.
Dr Catherine Dormor
Head of Research Programmes
With a background in both maths and Textiles, Catherine is a practising artist and researcher.
Professor Sharon Baurley
Sharon’s research is focused on advanced interdisciplinary human-centred design methods to create new ‘Product Cultures’, as a strategy for post-Industrial Design in the age of the Anthropocene, that de-couple the use of materials resources from human wellbeing and economic development, in the context of the Fab City, where cities are locally productive whilst being globally connected.
Students will work alongside the first lab in the Materials Science Research Centre, the Burberry Material Futures Research Group, whose research fellows and PhD students are taking a socio-technical approach to investigating materials, manufacturing and consumer experience for a circular bio-economy for apparel.
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?
At the RCA we offer both MPhil and PhD research degrees. Research candidates can study in part-time and full-time modes (subject to approval) and their research can be undertaken by project or thesis modes. The mode of research will be discussed in interview, and should be indicated in the application process.
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 six 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 the College:
- School of Architecture
- School of Arts & Humanities
- School of Communication
- Computer Science Research Centre
- School of Design
- Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design
- Intelligent Mobility Design Centre
- Material Futures Research Centre
The RCA 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/Centres, 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.
All students are required to attend our Doctoral Training Weeks in September, February and July (pro-rata attendance by negotiation for part-time students). 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.
Our Research Biennale, held every alternate February, offers a showcase of research to internal and external partners and public. The events include space for testing and experimenting with public facing aspects of research, extending and challenging frameworks and perceptions of what art and design research can be.
We are committed to ensuring that you are well equipped, not only to complete your studies but also to develop your future careers.
All students are allocated supervisors upon registration; your supervisory team will have both subject specialism and experience of supervising to completion. Our of current staff index includes an overview of their research interests, recent research outputs and areas of expertise. These give an idea of the key areas of research that are covered at the RCA.
We are not able to guarantee allocation to a specific supervisor as we need to balance staff capacities and our research strategy. However, if there is a particular supervisor whose research aligns with your research proposal, please join us at one of our Open Days and we can talk with you about the possibilities.
Each student will have six supervisions per year (3 for PT students); these might be with the full supervisory team or with one supervisor. Students are expected to initiate these meetings, set the agenda and provide supervisors with pre-reading or other materials in an agreed timeframe for review.
Annual progress reviews
All research students have Annual Progress Reviews, which they must pass in order to progress into the next year of study. These are vital points where all candidates receive formal feedback not only from their supervisory team, but also from other members of the faculty.
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.
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
Please submit a portfolio with no more than 10 projects that illustrate your practices and capabilities supporting your research proposal (20mb PDF max). These can be drawn from a wide range of project types as some applications may come from diverse disciplines. When submitting group projects, please describe your own role clearly.
You'll also need to submit a brief video recording, explaining your your background and motivation for applying for a research degree in the Research Centre: your expectations of the programme and supervision; how it will help develop your future interests and goals; research expertise area that you require; and the key capabilities, insights and experiences that you bring to the programme. Please also give a very brief ‘elevator pitch’ summary of your research proposal.
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 2023 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.
Home: High residency
Home: Low residency
Overseas and EU: High residency
Overseas and EU: Low residency
New entrants to the College 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.
MPhil/PhD fee bands
The RCA is introducing two separate tuition fee bands for MPhil/PhD students with effect from the academic year 2023/24: Low Residency and High Residency. For more information about what the different fee bands entail, and for frequently asked questions on fee bands, visit:
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.
Change your life and be here in 2023. Applications now open.
The Royal College of Art welcomes applicants from all over the world.