The PhD in Art and Design; To PhD or Not to PhD that is a Question.

Call for Papers

The PhD in Art and Design: A 3-year Leonardo Symposium


The PhD in Art and Design


In 2017 the Leonardo Journal ( )  will celebrate 50 years of publishing art, science, and technology. As part of the celebrations, we are initiating a three-year symposium issues surrounding the development of the PhD in art and design.


Today, universities around the world are debating the issue of the PhD in art and design. While the MFA is a terminal degree for professional practice, the PhD is a research degree, the doctor of philosophy. The debate began in the UK when independent art and design schools were merged into universities or raised to university status. This led to the question of equivalent standards for academic appointment to once-separate programs within now-unified universities. Universities in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America have now joined the conversation with new PhD programs or serious debates on whether – and how – to build them.


The question of the PhD for art and design raises many challenging issues. First among these is the nature of research, research training, and the PhD. This issue may seem obvious to those who have earned a PhD in the natural sciences, social sciences, or liberal arts. It remains a complicated issue to address in understanding the PhD for art and design. What is the PhD in art? What is the PhD in design? What should a PhD be in a field of professional practice? Are there several kinds ofPhDin art and design or one major model? Why pursue such a degree? Whatis the nature of such a PhD with respect to research quality as distinct from the quality of art or design practice? Why are so many programs struggling or going wrong? Why do universities and accrediting authorities permit problematic programs tocontinue? Why, in the past, did artists interested in researchchoose to take a PhD in disciplines outside art? What skills do all researchers require without respect to their discipline? Are there such skills? These are questions to consider, and there are people who have something tosayabout them, including experienced supervisors. We are reaching out to those with solid experience of doctoral education to draw on their skills and wisdom.


The fresh debate on the PhD in art and design begins in North American universities has global implications. This debate makes it imperative to consider different models of doctoral education elsewhere in the world. Is it reasonable to earn a PhD for a practice-based thesis with an artifact or exhibition in place of the thesis, accompanied by an essay of 20,000 words? Should doctoral programs admit students to research training programs without undergraduate experience in such key skills as analysis, rhetoric, logic, or mathematics? Can undergraduate art and design students with a focus on studio skills hope to succeed in doctoral work when they have had little of no experience in the kinds of information seeking or writing that form the basis for earning a research degree? Is it possible to award PhD degrees for skills and capacities completely different to those in any established research field? In North America, an exhibition of artifacts with a short thesis is the basis for awarding an MFA degree; in the UK and Australia and at some European art schools, this is the basis for awarding a PhD: is it possible to merge these two traditions?


The SEAD and STEAM Challenge


One of the specific challenges we face is an international interest in finding new ways to enable collaboration between science and engineering with the arts, design, and the humanities (SEAD). The United States National Science Foundation funded an SEAD study highlighted a number of international developments and best practices that inevitably will influence the question of the PhD. See the study at


One of the areas in this study was the emerging discussion on “STEM to STEAM.”


Call for Papers


We seek several kinds of contributions to a three-year symposium on the PhD in art and design.


First, we seek full-length peer-reviewed articles for publication in the journal Leonardo addressing key issues concerning the PhD in art and design.


Second, we seek significant reports, research studies, and case studies. Since these will be longer than journal articles, we will review them for journal publication as extended abstracts with references, and we will publish the full documents on the Leonardo web site.


Finally, we will welcome Letters to the Editors in response to published articles and to the documents on the web site.


The PhD in art and design has become a significant issue in worldwide university education. As the world’s oldest peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal of arts, sciences, and technology, Leonardo has a responsibility to serve as a forum for the conversation. This symposium is our contribution to the emerging dialogue on this issue in North America and around the world.


Ken Friedman and Jack Ox


Guest Editors


Manuscript proposals and articles submitted for publication consideration should be sent to:


Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS, is Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies at Tongji University; University Distinguished Professor at Swinburne University; and Adjunct Professor at James Cook University.


Jack Ox, MFA, is Research Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico.


Please send questions and correspondence to Prof. Jack Ox at




  1. Bronac Ferran has brought to our attention the development of the PD awarded based on
    previously published work.

    Doest anyone know of PhDs in art or design being offered by prior publication ?

    here is some further info:


    also university of kent…I think others. Is a growing facility.


    the emerald site is interesting because it addresses quality control

    The City university of london appears to award a DMA ( phd in music) by
    prior publication

    PhD by prior publication

    The University may also award the degree of PhD in an approved
    research degree title to candidates who have an existing body of
    publications which make an original and significant contribution to
    knowledge. The PhD by prior publication is open to holders of a degree
    from an approved university who are able to submit evidence of a body
    of published work of a suitable type and quality and who have the
    nomination of a member of City’s professorial staff with whom they
    share a research interest. Please note that not all Schools will
    accept applications for PhD by prior publication – potential
    candidates should make enquiries with the relevant School

    re quality control of PhD by prior publication

    Title:Publish and be doctor-rated: the PhD by published work
    Author(s):Graham Badley, (Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, UK)
    Citation:Graham Badley, (2009) “Publish and be doctor-rated: the PhD
    by published work”, Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 17 Iss: 4,
    pp.331 – 342
    Keywords:Doctorates, Educational tests, Publishing, Quality, Research
    Article type:Conceptual paper
    DOI:10.1108/09684880910992313 (Permanent URL)
    Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited

    Purpose – The purpose of this paper is, first, to provide a brief
    account of the PhD by published work focusing especially on quality
    assurance issues such as eligibility of candidates, the nature of the
    submission itself, supervision and assessment procedures. Second, it
    seeks to offer a discussion of the criteria to be met by candidates in
    writing a critical appraisal as a central feature of the submission.

    Design/methodology/approach – The approach taken is that of an
    analytical, conceptual and discursive essay.

    Findings – There is still a lack of commonality in higher education
    about the nature of the PhD by published work. One way of gaining
    greater commonality would be to strengthen the use of the critical
    appraisal as an academic text which also should be required to meet
    the admittedly problematical standards of publishability.

    Research limitations/implications – The paper’s main limitation is
    that many of its ideas and much of its information are derived from
    sources within the UK’s higher education sector. Nevertheless the
    issues raised should have relevance to practice in other systems.

    Practical implications – A case is made for the usefulness of the PhD
    by published work as an important route for achieving doctorateness
    especially when the critical appraisal is given greater priority and
    supervisory support.

    Originality/value – Papers discussing the use and value of the PhD by
    published work are still relatively rare in academic journals. The
    emphasis on the critical appraisal in this paper is an original
    contribution to the debate.

  2. Dear Roger and Jack,

    PhD by publication is a respected category at many international universities. The tradition is that a PhD candidate must publish three to five articles in serious, respected journals, tying them together with an essay that demonstrates the article to be a related and coherent body of work equivalent to a PhD.

    There are several issues: 1) These must be serious, respected journals with proper peer review. It is often understood (but not necessarily stated) that for the PhD by publication, some or all of the journals must be included in the ISI Web of Knowledge. 2) In many universities that have such a provision, the PhD candidate has a supervisor just as ordinary PhD candidates do.

    I have observed some efforts in art and design to use the route by weakening the standard, either with respect to the quality of the journals, or by permitting the candidate to include articles under submission not yet published. The excuse for the first is that “we” (whoever that “we” is) know the standards of our field and can thus decide what a good journal is. I haven’t heard the putative excuse for the second and cannot imagine what it might be — if the submitted article fails or requires major revisions, this is a prima facie verdict that the version in the thesis does not qualify for PhD by publication.

    This method of earning a PhD is more common in the natural sciences than in the social sciences or humanities. Because there are so few art and design journal in the ISI indexes, it is far less common.

    This is not an honorary PhD. It is a respected route to a real PhD. This is the reason that universities require publication in serious journals, as peer review and publication is generally accepted as the warrant of serious research at or above the level of a PhD. I don’t know how widespread this practice is — it is nearly unknown in North America, fairly common in the rules of some UK and continental universities. It is accepted at some Australian universities. I am not sure what the situation is in Asia.

    Three to five articles in serious journals is a high standard. A colleague who works in scientometrics explains why this is so. According to him, of all people who earn a PhD, 25% never publish a serious peer-reviewed article following the degree, 50% publish once and only once in a full working career, and 25% do all the rest. 3 to 5 articles in serious journals places a researcher in the same league as the best 25% of all researchers following the doctoral award.

    Honorary degrees are something different. With the exception of special degrees awarded for community service, the doctorate honoris causa is awarded on the basis of work at a level that would be the equal or higher than the same degree awarded in an ordinary way. The term “honorary” in this sense reflects an earned honour and a contribution to the field rather than a “political” or “grace and favour” award. Normally speaking, most people who earn an honorary doctorate in a research field already hold a regular PhD. The honorary degree is award for greater contributions to the field since the first degree.

    In North American universities, it is quite common to award honorary doctorates to distinguished artists and musicians, but these are not honorary PhD degrees (Doctor of Philosophy). These are usually special degrees such as Doctor of Arts, Doctor of Arts and Letters, Doctor of Humane Letters, etc. This is fairly similar to the way it is in other places, but again, I am not sure.

    In many universities, the rule is that the honorary award is NEVER a PhD to avoid confusion with an earned award for research. Other universities award only the higher doctorate for research contributions — though the higher doctorates (DSc, DSocSci, LLD, DD) can also be earned. These same universities keep special awards (f.ex., DUniv) for those who contribute to the university or the community in ways other than research. There is apparently no uniform set of customs or rules governing honorary awards.



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