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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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 will increase for each academic year of study.
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:
If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.
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.
Home to 15,000 students from more than 130 countries, our Colchester Campus is the largest of our three sites, making us one of the most internationally diverse campuses on the planet - we like to think of ourselves as the world in one place.
The Campus is set within 200 acres of beautiful parkland, located two miles from the historic town centre of Colchester – England's oldest recorded town. Our Colchester Campus is also easily reached from London and Stansted Airport in under one hour.
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.
Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. Take a look at our list of exhibition dates to see if we’ll be near you in the future.
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.
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