Cardiff School of Art & Design>Research Degrees>What makes a good application

What makes a good application?

When we read your application form we are looking at four things:

1. The nature of your research proposal: This is arguably the most important part of your application, and it is covered in more detail below under the heading ‘What we look for in your research proposal’.
2. Qualifications: For a PhD this will normally mean a Masters qualification; for MPhil it will mean a good undergraduate degree or equivalent. Applicants who wish to study for a PhD but who do not have a Master’s degree may register for an MPhil, with the possibility of transfer to PhD, subject to satisfactory completion of a probationary period (usually one year full-time or two years part-time).
3. Other relevant experience: Work or other experience can be taken into account as will we primarily be looking for sufficient evidence of your ability to sustain independent study at an advanced level.
4. English language: You should be able to demonstrate a good standard of English, either through a GCSE in English Language or through demonstrable competence in written work.

What we look for in a research proposal

A good research proposal essentially does five things:

1. It tells us why you have applied to Cardiff School of Art and Design. It will almost certainly be because there is someone or a group of people here whose research connects with your own interest, and who you would like to have as a supervisor or supervisors (you can have up to three). Your supervisors will have an influence on the direction your research takes, so before you submit your formal proposal, we recommend you approach the person or people you have in mind informally to discuss your ideas and to gauge their interest. Make it clear in your formal proposal how this discussion has guided your thinking. A list of our supervisors, with links to their contact details, can be found here;
2. It demonstrates to a non-specialist reader that there is a question to be addressed within a subject;
3. It shows that your question is populated, that is to say, it’s not a question which has come from out of the blue but is one which draws or touches upon other people’s work within the subject, where these people’s work is vital to shaping or informing your research question;
4. It indicates how your question can be addressed, and gives a brief account of the methods to be used; and
5. It tries to anticipate how the results will benefit or contribute to the general body of knowledge in the subject.

Aspects (2) and (3) are linked: in order to show that your proposal asks a question in relation to a subject, you need some knowledge of the practitioners and authors who populate it. A subject never exists as mere information; it is made and interpreted by individuals who hold a view about it, and converse with one another about it, where those conversations can be supportive or challenging. Your proposal should give an indication that you are familiar with some (not all – we don’t expect exhuastive knowledge) of the theory and practice relevant to your interest. It is this familiarity which allows you to demonstrate to your reader that there is a question to be answered, a gap in the field, a possibility that hasn’t yet been explored, a ‘research cliffhanger’, if you like.

All forms of art and design practice can be located and explored in terms of these ‘knowledge conversations’. It may not always seem that way, especially if one dwells on notions of art existing purely for itself. But this is still a conversation, one which happens to focus on what it means to be self-referential or pure (and this conversation has many, many contributors; just try googling ‘Clement Greenberg’). It is through your theory or practice participating in and having an impact upon your selected conversations that you make a contribution to knowledge.

If you are not sure what your question is or who your conversation partners might be, then write your proposal in your own terms. We can give some advice as to the directions of enquiry in which you might want to proceed. The likeliest route in this situation is to consider an MPhil degree. Arguably the main job of an MPhil is to allow you to become familiar with a territory and to acquire the research skills necessary for you to formulate a PhD research question.

If you are in any doubt about the relevance of your qualifications or experience, or for any other queries relating to studying for a research degree with us, please contact Dr. Stephen Thompson, Head of Research Degrees, on +44 (0)29 2041 6680 or