The degree of Master of Fine Arts is designed to provide visual artists with the opportunity to extend their professional practice through advanced research in one or more discipline area. The MFA is primarily undertaken as a supervised independent study program of written work and studio research. Candidates develop a level of proficiency, self direction and focus through investigating a proposed area of research to produce work of an original and speculative nature.

The course is normally undertaken full-time over four semesters with examination in the final semester. Full-time candidates are expected to devote the equivalent of a 35-hour week to their research.

Research candidates at SCA are required to complete their first year as full-time students, unless there are exceptional circumstances such as major personal hardship or health problems. Part-time study is available from second year for candidates who have established a visual arts practice or are engaged in related employment which limits their study time. Candidates enrolled on a part-time basis may not receive their own studio space as this is subject to availability and priority is given to those enrolled on a full-time basis.

MFA candidates may seek permission to transfer to the Doctor of Philosophy at the end of their first year of study, provided that they have the support of their supervisor. Each candidate wishing to upgrade will make a presentation on the current state of their research alongside the first-year PhD cohort in the probation reviews held in August and October, in order to demonstrate successful completion of work to a standard commensurate with the requirements of the PhD. These upgrading candidates will also need to demonstrate that they have met the first-year PhD milestones.

The following chapters will assist you with your study:

Course Structure and Requirements
Annual Progress Review


At the beginning of your course you are required to nominate one of the following methods of candidature:

  • creative work and research paper, culminating in a substantial exhibition, performance or installation of works in a joint show of candidates at the end of candidature, together with a research paper of 10,000–12,000 words and oral presentation, or
  • thesis of 35,000–50,000 words in the field of art theory, art history, cultural studies or professional studies in visual art.

You must confirm the method of your candidature at the first Annual Progress Review, which will take place towards the end of your first year.

First Year

The emphasis of your first year is on the development of studio work. The first year non-studio work is usually spent investigating and expanding the bibliography submitted with your application and research proposal although other work may be undertaken in consultation with your supervisor. The Seminar program supports work related to the development of your bibliography. Your reading and note taking commences at the beginning of the course and actual writing of your research paper should have commenced by the second year of the course. Early commitment to a coherent and structured working method for your studio work, and regular, meaningful supervision is vital.

MFA Seminar Program

All first year MFA candidates attend the Seminar Program, which aims to to support the proposed research project through extending research and critical skills. You will make presentations on your project and engage in peer group discussion on written and visual aspects of your work, and learn how to shape your research proposal and select appropriate research methods to achieve your project goals. Seminars are held weekly and you must attend no less than 90% of each seminar program. Students with non-satisfactory attendance will have to repeat the required seminars unless there is an evidence of extenuating circumstances or approval from the Director of SCA Graduate School.

Changes in Research Proposal

Towards the middle of the second semester, during the Annual Progress Reviews, you will have an opportunity to revise your initial research proposal in consultation with your supervisor. Any such revision must be signed by your supervisor, and lodged with Student Administration. You should also submit a copy of the revised proposal to your supervisor.

Second Year

Second Year Seminar Program

In the third semester of enrolment MFA candidates attend a weekly seminar program dedicated to contemporary exhibition practices and critical writing. The program is integrated with the Graduate School Gallery curatorial program. Candidates must attend 90% of the program unless there is an evidence of extenuating circumstances or approval from the Director of SCA Graduate School.

Graduate School Forum

MFA candidates who have completed the three seminar programs are then required to attend the Graduate School Forum, which is held every Wednesday during semester time (except public holidays and non-teaching weeks). Students who are unable to attend a presentation must have the support of their supervisor and approval in writing from the Director of SCA Graduate School.

Submission for Examination

At the end of your final year, you must submit for examination:

  • a substantial exhibition, performance or installation of artwork with supporting visual material of work completed during candidature; a presentation addressing the structure and mode of exhibition and developmental process; and a research paper of 10,000 -12,000 words relevant to the work and its development, its cultural and historical or theoretical references; or
  • a thesis of 35,000-50,000 words which is the result of original investigation in the fields of art theory, art history, cultural studies or professional studies in visual arts.

Please refer to the examination timeline below for more information.

You must present your written work in English and identify those components of assessable work which are respectively the your own and that of others.

The research paper should achieve, via its own internal consistency and nominated methodology, the following objectives:

  • Be a coherent document which illustrates your concerns as a creative work practitioner through words and images
  • Present a clearly sequenced and expressed discussion, including introduction, analysis and conclusion at a level appropriate to a Masters degree
  • Indicate the location of the creative work within the context of contemporary art practice
  • Show evidence of your familiarity with recent literature relevant to general developments in the discipline and to the concerns of your own creative work
  • State your intentions in the development of the exhibited works; and more broadly, the intentions in work developed over the course of study. (Both should relate clearly to the your original research proposal)
  • Included appropriately presented and labelled illustrations to which the text makes specific reference and which represent the your creative work
  • Include all relevant bibliographic and pictorial reference data
  • Observe the required work length
  • Observe all formal presentation requirements (number of copies, binding, etc)

The research paper is seen as a complement to a your creative work. Some candidates wish to extend the creative possibilities of their work into the written component. Should you elect to take this approach, you should indicate this in the Introduction (or Foreword, if there is one) to the research paper, in order to clearly establish expectations of form and scholarship for examiners.


Each research candidate has a supervisor, a member of the SCA academic staff, appointed to take primary responsibility for the conduct and progress of the candidature, and an associate supervisor, a member of academic staff at the Faculty or within the University of Sydney, appointed to provide additional support to the candidate and to cover times when the primary supervisor is not available.

Your primary supervisor:

  • meets regularly with you to provide academic and professional support and guidance
  • is responsible for the administration and progress of your candidature

Your associate supervisor:

  • Meets with the you and your primary supervisor at least once per semester to discuss your project;
  • Meets individually with you at your request, if time permits; and
  • Acts as interim supervisor if and when your primary supervisor is on leave.

Candidates will typically have the same supervisory team for the duration of their candidature. In some cases, as a project develops, it may no longer match your original supervisor’s area of expertise, and either you or your original supervisor may seek an alternative supervisor, without discredit to either party.

Likewise, associate supervisors sometimes find they carry responsibility for the bulk of primary research supervision and wish this to be formally recognised by a change of supervisory arrangements. Such concerns are usually able to be dealt with amicably at the local level.

Requests for changes in supervision should be made by submitting a completed Change of Supervisor form to SCA Student Administration.

It is your responsibility to maintain regular contact with your supervisor. The Graduate School recommends you meet with your supervisor fortnightly for 30 – 40 minutes, relative to your progress in the degree.

If you have any concerns regarding your supervision, you should consult the Director, SCA Graduate School or the Dean.

Annual Progress Review

Each year, the faculty will review your progress in the degree. You will be required to complete an Annual Progress Report and attend an interview. The report will assist in the interview conducted by a review panel. You will be provided with an opportunity within the review session to comment in confidence on your supervision and, if you are a first year candidate, to revise your initial research proposal. You and the panel will sign the progress report to confirm any agreed outcomes at the end of the review session.

A copy of the Annual Progress Report is available on the Forms & Guides page

The composition of the review panel will normally be two members of academic staff who are not on your supervisory team. Provided your progress in the degree is satisfactory, you will be permitted to proceed. If your work is considered unsatisfactory by the panel, the review panel may recommend that you be set a specific program of work to be submitted for assessment by a nominated deadline. If this work is not satisfactory, you will be asked to show cause and your enrolment may be terminated.

If your progress is considered unsatisfactory at any time during the year, you may be subject to the review process as described above.

It is your responsibility to ensure that the Annual Progress Report is completed by all parties before submission to the Student Administration Office. If you fail to complete and return the report, you may be asked to show cause as to why your candidature should not be terminated by reason of unsatisfactory progress. Failure to submit the completed report by the due date may result in the discontinuation of your scholarship, for which the University of Sydney will not be held responsible.


Examination Timeline

Approximately sixteen (16) weeks before your intended date of lodgement of the research paper or thesis, you must submit the Notice of Proposed Higher Degree Research Examination form to your supervisor together with a copy of the research paper or thesis at almost final draft stage.

Fourteen weeks (14) prior to the lodgement date, you meet with your supervisor to discuss the date and place of examination. You may advise the names of people you do not wish to see appointed as examiners, giving your reasons in writing. You may also initiate with your supervisor and/or Director of Graduate School a discussion as to the range of possible examiners. Care will be taken not to jeopardise the integrity and independence of the examination process; therefore, you will not be given the names of the chosen examiners.

Twelve (12) weeks prior to the lodgement date you must submit the completed and signed by supervisor Notice of Proposed Higher Degree Research Examination form to the Student Administration Office. This will allow adequate time to arrange the appointment of examiners and to arrange oral examination and exhibition facilities.

Your oral examination must take place during a Degree Show period unless approval for late examination is granted. You must submit three examination copies of your research paper or thesis to the Student Administration Office five weeks before your oral examination date.

When you submit the required number of examination copies to SCA Student Administration, your thesis should be accompanied by the statement from your supervisor stating that the thesis is suitable for examination. We will not accept your thesis unless it is accompanied by this statement.

At the time of submission you will sign a statement (available at SCA Student Administration) regarding the public availability of your thesis after examination, and will receive a receipt acknowledging lodgement. If appropriate, this receipt can then be used to claim thesis preparation expenses. Once your thesis is lodged we will affix a label inside covering copyright in relation to the thesis before it is distributed for examination.

Your work is then forwarded to the examiners.

If you have elected thesis only method and do not require an oral examination you must submit your thesis for examination by your latest completion date.

Research Paper Preparation Guidelines

Download the Research Paper Preparation Guidelines, including instructions on the style and format of examination copies, and information about the University and Faculty policies and binding services.

Late Examination and Candidature Extension

If, during the final semester of your candidature, your work is affected by extreme illness, injury or misadventure, you may need to apply for a late examination.

You must submit your request with supporting documentation (e.g. special consideration application and/or statutory declaration).

Approval for late examination will not be given in the following instances:

  • Brief or minor illness of one or two weeks duration that occurs one week or more before thesis submission or oral examination;
  • Failure to allocate sufficient time to write the thesis and create the studio work, or failure to ascertain what is required in terms of content, style and presentation;
  • Information and communications techology-related problems, except where they could not have been prevented, avoided or minimised by reasonable diligence on the part of candidate.

Should it appear during your last year of candidature that you will not be able to complete the requirements by the latest date, you should apply for an [[/sca/graduate_school/current_students/forms_and_guides.shtml#extend|extension]] of your candidature. Extensions are granted one semester at a time. Your application should explain why you do not expect to be able to meet the deadline and should refer to any difficulties that might have been experienced during the candidature. Evidence of difficulties is expected to be noted in annual progress reports. Your application should also contain a realistic estimate of the time you require to finish.

You cannot assume that an extension will be granted. An aspect of the research training being undertaken is to complete a project within a deadline. Requests for extension must be made in advance and not retrospectively.

Appointment of Examiners

Your supervisor is responsible for recommending the appointment of the examiners and Chair of the oral examination. They must submit the relevant forms approximately ten (10) weeks before the thesis submission date.

Your supervisor must include a copy of a resume for external examiners who have not been employed by the Faculty in the last two years. A street address (not PO Box or Locked/Mail Bag) and phone numbers must also be included for the safe delivery of the examination documents.

In order to reduce delays your supervisor is required to contact examiners in advance of their appointment to see if they are willing and able to act within the time frame expected. The examination date and time must be confirmed at this stage.

In recommending the examiners, your supervisor should note the following specific points:

  • The examiners should be known to be familiar with the supervision and/or examination of research papers. Justification should be provided for examiners who have not had previous experience.
  • Recommendations for examiners who are not persons of obvious academic standing must be supported with justifying statements and documentation.
  • Examiners should normally be still active in research/scholarship thus ensuring that their knowledge of the field is current. Recommendations for the appointment as examiner of someone who has retired should be supported with a justifying statement including how long it has been since the person retired.
  • At least one examiner for MFA must be external to the University.
  • Examiners should be free from bias, for or against the candidate or supervisor.
  • A person should not be nominated as examiner if he/she:
    has had involvement in the student‘s research;
    is a co-author on any part of the work;
    has a close personal relationship with the candidate or supervisor; or
    has had substantial contact with the candidate or supervisor in any other circumstance, which might jeopardise the independence of the examination.

Examination Exhibition

Candidates undertaking the degree by creative work and research paper are expected to develop a body of creative work for examination, which is to be exhibited in the Postgraduate Degree Show closest to the candidate’s latest completion date.

The SCA Degree Show Committee manages the Postgraduate Degree show. The Committee allocates exhibition spaces based on the information provided in the ‘Notification of Proposed Higher Degree Examination’ form. Candidates then meet with the responsible Studio & Technical Supervisor, and the Research Supervisor, to complete the ‘Degree Show Technical & Equipment Requirements’ form and a risk assessment. Exhibition specifications are subject to approval by the SCA Work Health & Safety Committee, and the Graduate School will attempt to meet individual requests for space and equipment, but cannot guarantee that all requirements can be accommodated due to the large and complex nature of the exhibition.

Candidates participating in a Degree Show must observe the Degree Show Terms & Conditions and the installation requirements and schedule as circulated by the SCA Degree Show Committee.

Oral Examination Procedure

The oral examination takes place during the Degree Show exhibition period. The objectives of the oral examination are:

  • To test your comprehension of the field of study described by the research paper and presented in the exhibition;
  • To clarify points either of principle or of detail in the research paper and exhibition;
  • To assess your contribution to the content and presentation of the creative work and research paper

The Chair of the examination will meet you about 20 minutes before your oral examination to help your to setup. The Chair will also meet the examiners and introduce them to you.

Your oral examination will run for approximately two hours. It is divided into four sections:

  1. Contextualisation of Your Work. In this section you will talk about the lead-up to your examination work, and the work produced during candidature (themes, issues, any problems etc.) This will provide an opportunity for examiners to ask you background questions.
  2. Examination of Creative Work. You and the examiners will discuss your exhibited work.
  3. Discussion of Research Paper and Related Matters. In this section examiners will ask you any questions about the paper and raise any points for clarification. Towards the end, the candidate can raise points that he/she thinks the examiners might have missed either about the creative or written work.
  4. Examiners Confer. You will be asked to leave the examination room. After about 15 minutes you will be recalled and, if the examiners have come to a mutual conclusion, will be informally advised of the outcome of the examination. You will then sign the Chair‘s Report.

Examination Reports

Approximately four (4) weeks after the oral examination (eight weeks after submission of the thesis for candidates submitting by thesis only) examiners return their reports to Student Administration Office. We will sent you copies of the examination reports and a copy of the Chair‘s Report, which details any changes requested by the examiners, and a letter with the due date for completion of corrections or submission of final permanently bound copies.

Examination Results

Award Without Further Conditions

Your work have fulfilled all of the requirements and are of such quality that no corrections of any sort are required.

You will have four (4) weeks upon receipt of the results notification letter to submit two permanently bound copies before deemed eligible to graduate. A letter of completion will subsequently be sent to confirm eligibility to graduate and date of closest graduation ceremony.

Award Subject To Typographical Corrections

The award of the degree is clearly appropriate but there are several minor errors or omissions in the research paper and/or creative work or thesis, which should be corrected.

You will have four (4) weeks upon receipt of results notification letter to submit corrections. Upon receipt of another letter with approval of corrections, you will have the usual four (4) weeks to submit two (2) permanently bound copies before deemed eligible to graduate. A letter of completion will subsequently be sent to confirm eligibility to graduate and date of closest graduation ceremony.

Award Subject To Conditions and/or Emendations

The examiners acknowledge that in the main your research paper and creative work or thesis are worthy of the award, but there are several changes or additions that need to be made. The changes should not require an additional period of research and should not substantially alter the conclusions of the research paper/thesis.

You will have twelve (12) weeks upon receipt of results notification letter to submit emendations. Upon receipt of another letter with approval of corrections, you will have the usual four (4) weeks to submit two (2) permanently bound copies before deemed eligible to graduate. A letter of completion will subsequently be sent to confirm eligibility to graduate and date of closest graduation ceremony.

Revision and Resubmission

Your research paper and creative work or thesis in its current form is not worthy of being awarded the degree, but has many redeeming features.

You have failed your first examination but are allowed to do major re-writing of your paper or reconsideration of creative work, e.g. re-writing a whole chapter, provide extra data, reinstall the exhibition or produce further work. You will be required to re-enrol in at least one semester, as prescribed by the examiners. During that time you will be required to revise and resubmit your work for examination. If you fail your second examination you will not be allowed to revise and resubmit your work and the following result will apply.


In making the recommendation of non-award, the examiners are of the opinion that your research paper and creative work or thesis is not salvageable, even with a period of further experimental or research work and a complete rewrite of the research paper or thesis. The examiners make this recommendation on the basis that the research was irredeemably flawed in its conception, design and execution, and that the conclusions reached are not valid.