Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in History of Art and/or Archaeology SOAS University of London
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
While a research degree should be very rewarding personally, it is also a serious and sometimes intense undertaking. Under the current system, a full-time doctoral student has three years to complete a full draft of her or his thesis and then a further one year for writing up (known as a 3+1 degree). There are always solitary moments when carrying out individual research, even if a department has a strong collegiate atmosphere, as ours does. Research degrees are generally undertaken by individuals who aim to become professionals in the field of art history and/or archaeology, whether as academics who carry out research and teach in universities or as curators or educators in museums, libraries or archives, or in any number of other related areas such as academic publishing or even the commercial art world.
It is generally a good idea to have some experience of work outside university before applying to a doctoral programme, for example, in some role in a museum or gallery. Embarking on a research degree is not just about the qualification but also about developing as a person and a professional so as to be able to contribute to national and international discourses in, and perhaps also far beyond, the history of art and archaeology.
Why at SOAS?
Beyond the distinctive intellectual environment of SOAS, doctoral researchers are generally drawn to work with an individual supervisor who is a renowned expert in a particular field or else is known for a particular critical approach. Many of our current students completed MA degrees at SOAS during which time they took courses with and got to know members of academic staff in the department, experiences that encouraged them to consider a research degree. Prospective applicants may wish to browse through the staff webpages where updated biographies and publications of individual staff members may be found. Some supervisors prefer their research students to have trained under them at MA level even if they have an MA in art history or archaeology from elsewhere. Our department generally makes about 10-20 offers each year. One reason why an offer-holder might choose the Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, apart from wanting to work under the supervision of a particular scholar at SOAS, is that our programme has one of the highest completion rates at SOAS and indeed in the sector: we graduate about 0.7 doctorates each year, within the 3+1 year framework, per full-time member of staff.
The year-by-year requirements for full-time MPhil and PhD research students are as follows:
During Year 1, the student refines the research proposal and decides in conjunction with his/her Supervisory Committee whether the research project should be directed towards the goal of an MPhil or a PhD degree. Students who wish to work towards the PhD must pass the process of upgrading registration from MPhil to PhD candidacy. They must provide the following to the Supervisory Committee by the May deadline (the exact date is set each year by SOAS Registry):
- Written work for the HAA Research Skills (15 PAR H061) Term 1 obligatory course (5,000 words).
- Draft chapter(s) (15,000 words).
- A chapter outline and a time plan for each chapter’s completion.
- A year 2 fieldwork and research plan.
- A bibliography of relevant sources.
- A regional research seminar presentation.
The student undertakes fieldwork or data collection. Regular reports must be submitted to their supervisor, via email or in person. A second chapter will normally be completed.
Students complete a full draft of their thesis. They are required to undertake the following:
- Term 1: Required informal presentation in HAA Research Skills seminar on the outcome of fieldwork and its impact on their research project.
- Term 2: Required presentation in HAA Department 3rd-year PhD students’ fieldwork research seminar in March.
- Term 3: Submission of the draft thesis by 15 September, along with a Completed Approval Form. If the Supervisory Committee is satisfied that the draft thesis can be developed into a thesis of a quality worthy for submission for examination in the subsequent academic year, the student will be allowed to register on Extension of Writing-up (Continuation) Status in Year 4.
Students complete and submit their thesis. At the viva (thesis examination), the examiners aim to confirm that:
- They have satisfied themselves that the thesis is genuinely the work of the candidate.
- The thesis forms a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and affords evidence of originality by (i) the discovery of new facts and/or (ii) the exercise of independent critical power.
- The thesis is satisfactory as regards literary presentation.
- The thesis is of a standard to merit publication in whole or in part or in a revised form.
The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session.
What have our recent graduates gone on to do?
Our graduates have gone on to a range of different roles, mainly in academia and the museum world. Quite often, after completing a doctorate, there is a transitional stage during which an early career researcher will work as a postdoctoral researcher, sometimes with a fellowship, before securing a teaching post. Some graduates do go straight into teaching positions in universities around the world. Many of our graduates have ended up working in museums, galleries and libraries, or else they carried out their degrees part-time while working in one of these, and remained working there on completion. Changes to the way research are carried out and disseminated through forms of publishing, brought on by the arrival of the digital age, would suggest that many new types of professional career will open up in the near future which can only be guessed at now.
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