Postgraduate Research Course

PhD Curating

PhD Curating


The details
October 2024
3 - 4 years
Colchester Campus

The University of Essex is one of few research-intensive universities to offer a practice-based PhD in curating. Like a traditional PhD in art history, this degree allows you to conduct sustained, innovative research about an issue from the field of visual culture, broadly defined. Only instead of resulting in a book-length thesis of roughly 80,000 words, this degree culminates in you curating a major, research-based exhibition and writing a complementary thesis of c. 40,000 words.

The premise underlying this PhD is that exhibitions constitute one of the most important platforms for sharing research – a platform that may be complemented by rigorous written research, but one that reaches audiences and makes arguments not possible through writing alone.

As part of the PhD Curating, you investigate a topic of your choosing. This topic may relate to the history and theory of curating. However, you can also explore other facets of visual culture, opting instead to use curating as the vehicle for presenting your research. Regardless of your topic, you critically assess the impact of your research, both on the history of visual culture and on contemporary discourses concerning the production, distribution and reception of exhibitions.

The practical dimension of this PhD enables you to develop your skills as a curator. To this end, you will conceive of an exhibition from start to finish, with key deliverables that include: preparing a preliminary curatorial plan of your chosen exhibition project; finding a venue; implementing a promotional plan; developing an education programme; preparing the different components of the exhibition; organising shipping; mounting and installing artworks or other objects on display (some or all of which may be loans); and, finally, presenting your exhibition to the public. If needed, you may gain professional art-handling training and further hands-on experience, which we can arrange through our ties to both university-managed and external galleries.

Alongside this practical project, you will also prepare a thesis that serves two ends: first, to explore your research question in greater detail than the exhibition itself would allow; and second, to provide a critical commentary on the process of developing your exhibition. The final degree is awarded based on an assessment of both the exhibition and the thesis.

Why we're great.
  • We have long been recognised for our expertise across a wide range of areas in the history and theory of art, including the Renaissance, nineteenth-century European art, modern and contemporary art, as well as curating and art from Latin America.
  • We are 3rd in the UK for research outputs in art history (Grade Point Average, REF2021)
  • Experience artworks first-hand with our Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) - the largest collection of its kind in Europe

Our expert staff

The support provided by your supervisor is a key feature of your experience as a research student. Your supervisor will guide you through the different stages of your research degree. Initially, your supervisor helps you to develop your research topic and plan; then, you participate in regular one-to-one meetings to comment on drafts, resolve problems and maintain progress on your research.

It is well worth getting in touch with a potential supervisor before applying for your course. The list of academic staff on our website can help you to identify a specialist on your proposed topic.

We are a dynamic group of art historians who investigate the production and reception of images and built environment, across cultures and media, from the late medieval period to the present day.

Our staff's research interests include activist art, modernist art and totalitarianism, the relationship between art and science, the artistic status of body modification, art and the environment, critical heritage, and the visual culture of social problems. We also have significant experience in curation and public engagement. Recent projects include:

  • Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco's UKRI Future Leaders-funded research project, REPLACE
  • Matt Lodder's Painted People: Humanity in 21 Tattoos (HarperCollins, 2022)
  • Diana Bullen Presciutti's Saints, Miracles, and Social Problems in Italian Renaissance Art (Cambridge, 2023)
  • Specialist facilities

    At Essex, you have the best of both worlds: on the one hand, you are part of a tight-knit, campus community with close ties to several small but excellent museums in the nearby town of Colchester; on the other hand, you can travel from campus to London in an hour, which puts the world's best museums and galleries at your fingertips.

    Some facilities on or near campus that allow you to gain curatorial experience include:

    • The Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA), which has one of the UK's most comprehensive collection of Latin American art and features a state-of-the-art teaching and research space
    • Our onsite gallery Art Exchange, which runs an ongoing programme of contemporary art exhibitions, talks and workshops by curators and artists, as well as exhibitions organised by our postgraduate students
    • Colchester's iconic firstsite gallery, which features an exciting programme of contemporary art exhibitions, film screenings and talks, and exhibitions organised by our curatorial students

    Your future

    Most of our successful graduates are now working in academic institutions, in museums or galleries, or in other arts-related professions, both throughout the UK and abroad. Several graduates are now Professors in leading art history departments, such as York and CUNY, while others have worked as curators at high-profile museums such as the Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), or the Royal Academy of Arts (London).

    Entry requirements

    UK entry requirements

    You will need a good Masters degree or equivalent, in a related subject. A well-developed research proposal, normally around 2,000 words is also essential.

    You may be required to attend an interview/Skype interview for acceptance, and acceptance is subject to research expertise in the department.

    International & EU entry requirements

    We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Get in touch with any questions you may have about the qualifications we accept. Remember to tell us about the qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.

    Sorry, the entry requirements for the country that you have selected are not available here. Please contact our Graduate Admissions team at to request the entry requirements for this country.

    English language requirements

    If English is not your first language, then we will require you to have IELTS 7.0 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component.


    Course structure

    A research degree doesn't have a taught structure, giving you the chance to investigate your chosen topic in real depth and reach a profound understanding. In communicating that understanding, through a thesis or other means, you have a rare opportunity to generate knowledge. A research degree allows you to develop new high-level skills, enhance your professional development and build new networks. It can open doors to many careers.

    We understand that deciding where and what to study is a very important decision for you. We'll make all reasonable efforts to provide you with the courses, services and facilities as described on our website and in line with your contract with us. However, if we need to make material changes, for example due to significant disruption, we'll let our applicants and students know as soon as possible.

    Components and modules explained


    Components are the blocks of study that make up your course. A component may have a set module which you must study, or a number of modules from which you can choose.

    Each component has a status and carries a certain number of credits towards your qualification.

    Status What this means
    You must take the set module for this component and you must pass. No failure can be permitted.
    Core with Options
    You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component but you must pass. No failure can be permitted.
    You must take the set module for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.
    Compulsory with Options
    You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.
    You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.

    The modules that are available for you to choose for each component will depend on several factors, including which modules you have chosen for other components, which modules you have completed in previous years of your course, and which term the module is taught in.


    Modules are the individual units of study for your course. Each module has its own set of learning outcomes and assessment criteria and also carries a certain number of credits.

    In most cases you will study one module per component, but in some cases you may need to study more than one module. For example, a 30-credit component may comprise of either one 30-credit module, or two 15-credit modules, depending on the options available.

    Modules may be taught at different times of the year and by a different department or school to the one your course is primarily based in. You can find this information from the module code. For example, the module code HR100-4-FY means:

    HR 100  4  FY

    The department or school the module will be taught by.

    In this example, the module would be taught by the Department of History.

    The module number. 

    The UK academic level of the module.

    A standard undergraduate course will comprise of level 4, 5 and 6 modules - increasing as you progress through the course.

    A standard postgraduate taught course will comprise of level 7 modules.

    A postgraduate research degree is a level 8 qualification.

    The term the module will be taught in.

    • AU: Autumn term
    • SP: Spring term
    • SU: Summer term
    • FY: Full year 
    • AP: Autumn and Spring terms
    • PS: Spring and Summer terms
    • AS: Autumn and Summer terms


    Curating Thesis
    (0 CREDITS)

    This module is for PhD students who are completing the research portions of their theses.

    View Curating Thesis on our Module Directory


    Practical Curatorial Project
    (0 CREDITS)

    This module is for PhD students who are completing the research portions of their theses.

    View Practical Curatorial Project on our Module Directory


    Our PhDs are conceived as a structured, three-year programme of advanced study and research. Supervision is by regular individual tutorials, and the award of a research degree depends solely on the merits of your final research output, which consisits of a c. 40,000-word thesis plus a major, research-based exhibition .

    The development of your research project is supported and monitored via Supervisory Boards, which happen twice a year for full-time students. Here, your supervisor and another member of staff discuss your research with you, progress is assessed against milestones, and training or other support needs are identified. We also provide a number of training opportunities and support services, which aid your studies and help prepare you for employment.


    We aim to have all our full-time PhD students submit within four years.

    Fees and funding

    Home/UK fee

    £4,786 per year

    International fee

    £18,750 per year

    What's next

    Open Days

    We hold Open Days for all our applicants throughout the year. Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex, and give you the chance to:

    • tour our campus and accommodation
    • find out answers to your questions about our courses, graduate employability, student support and more
    • talk to our Fees and Funding team about scholarship opportunities
    • meet our students and staff

    If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

    2024 Open Days (Colchester Campus)

    • Saturday 21 September 2024 - September Open Day
    • Saturday 26 October 2024 - October Open Day


    You can apply for this postgraduate course online. Before you apply, please check our information about necessary documents that we'll ask you to provide as part of your application.

    We encourage you to make a preliminary enquiry directly to a potential supervisor or the Graduate Administrator within your chosen Department or School. We encourage the consideration of a brief research proposal prior to the submission of a full application.

    We aim to respond to applications within four weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

    For information on our deadline to apply for this course, please see our ‘how to apply' information.

    A sunny day with banners flying on Colchester Campus Square 4.

    Visit Colchester Campus

    Set within 200 acres of award-winning parkland - Wivenhoe Park and located two miles from the historic city centre of Colchester – England's oldest recorded development. Our Colchester Campus is also easily reached from London and Stansted Airport in under one hour.

    View from Square 2 outside the Rab Butler Building looking towards Square 3

    Virtual tours

    If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.

    At Essex we pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive student community. We offer a wide range of support to individuals and groups of student members who may have specific requirements, interests or responsibilities.

    Find out more

    The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its programme specification is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to courses, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include, but are not limited to: strikes, other industrial action, staff illness, severe weather, fire, civil commotion, riot, invasion, terrorist attack or threat of terrorist attack (whether declared or not), natural disaster, restrictions imposed by government or public authorities, epidemic or pandemic disease, failure of public utilities or transport systems or the withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to courses may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications. The University would inform and engage with you if your course was to be discontinued, and would provide you with options, where appropriate, in line with our Compensation and Refund Policy.

    The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.

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