Doctor of Philosophy Program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program constitutes independent research in an aspect of the visual arts. The degree is awarded for the successful completion of an approved program of supervised advanced research, which makes an original contribution to knowledge.

The PhD candidature represents an opportunity to explore a single research topic reflecting a critical exploration of the history, theory and practice of art; the development of new materials or technologies; the relationship between visual art and society, and/or the relationship between visual art and other disciplines. A PhD provides you an opportunity to prepare career and research options beyond that of studio practice.

Duration of the degree is three years (six semesters) to four years (eight semesters) full time or six to eight years part-time. Candidates are expected to study full time in their first year of candidature unless there are exceptional circumstances such as major personal hardship or health problems.

The following chapters will assist you with your study:

Course Structure and Requirements
Supervision
Annual Progress Review
Examination

COURSE STRUCTURE AND REQUIREMENTS

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

  1. a thesis comprising a substantial body of creative work for exhibition plus a written text examining the histories and theoretical underpinnings of creative work, both of which demonstrate an original contribution to knowledge; or
  2. a substantial written thesis that, through a sustained investigation, demonstrates an original contribution to knowledge in the field of the history and theory of contemporary art.

In Option (1), the creative work must represent a significant and coherent solo exhibition. You must obtain a pass for both the written text and creative work for the degree to be awarded.

The length of the written thesis to be agreed through consultation between you, your supervisor and the Director of the Graduate School. Any changes would have to be approved by the supervisor and the Director of the Graduate School. The expectations for Option (1) are in the vicinity of 40,000-50,000 words, and for Thesis Option (2) - in the vicinity of 60,000-80,000 words.

First Year

Probationary period

The Academic Board of the University of Sydney has agreed that a probationary period of twelve months for the PhD should be seen as usual practice. Consequently, the first year of the PhD program at SCA is a probationary year for all new candidates. During your first annual progress review, make a presentation on their work to date (both creative and written work). This 15-minute presentation will be followed by a 15-minute discussion/interview in which your progress is discussed. The review panel is authorised to recommend a change of probationary enrolment to normal candidature. You will sign the progress report to confirm any agreed outcomes at the end of the review period. Unsatisfactory progress or other problems could result in a recommendation that your probationary period be extended, or that you transfer to a Masters by research (if you have not already completed a Masters by research).

At the end of your first year of candidature, we expect you to have achieved the following milestones:

  • you have a clearly articulated research question
  • you have completed a literature review or introduction of 7000 – 10,000 words
  • you have a complete outline of the written component of your thesis, with draft chapter headings, sub-headings and a brief abstract of each chapter
  • you have commenced a small body of studio work within the time you have been enrolled in the degree
  • you have attended the Introductory PhD seminar program and at least 3 of the 4 thesis writing seminars.

PhD Seminar Program

The first-year Seminar Program is compulsory for all first year PhD candidates. The seminars are designed to introduce candidates to

  • the principles of practice-led research and scholarly definitions of knowledge and research
  • structuring and writing a literature review in the field of contemporary art
  • how to structure an 'art practice as research' thesis
  • developing a position from exploratory research

Second and Third Years

Graduate School Forum

All PhD candidates are required to attend the Graduate School Forum once they have completed the first semester of their candidature, and must present a paper each year on the current state of their research. Each presentation session is chaired by a fellow candidate.

Candidates who are unable to attend a presentation must have their supervisor's support and request approval in writing from the Director of SCA Graduate School.

Thesis Submission and Examination

At the end of your final year (the third or fourth year of full time candidature), you must submit for examination:

  • a thesis comprising a substantial body of creative work for exhibition plus a written 40,000 to 50,000 word text examining the histories and theoretical underpinnings of the creative work, both of which demonstrate an original contribution to knowledge; or
  • a substantial 60,000 to 80,000 word written thesis that, through sustained investigation, demonstrates an original contribution to knowledge in the field of the history and theory of contemporary art.

The thesis should:

  • be a substantially original contribution to the knowledge of the subject concerned,
  • afford evidence of originality by the discovery of new facts, and/or
  • afford evidence of originality by the exercising of independent critical ability,
  • be satisfactory as regards literary presentation, and
  • contain a substantial amount of material which is suitable for publication.

Please refer to the examination timeline below for more information.

SUPERVISION

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 administration and progress of the candidature

Your associate supervisor:

  • meets with 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 one (1) hour, 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. In your first year you will also be required to make a presentation on your work in-progress as a part of your Annual Progress Review interview.

Your annual progress 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.

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 your supervisors and the SCA Graduate School Director or nominee. 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

Examination Timeline

Approximately sixteen (16) weeks before your intended date of lodgement of the thesis, you must submit the Notice of Proposed Higher Degree Research Examination form to your supervisor together with a copy of the 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 persons 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 appoint 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 four examination copies of your 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 option (2), a substantial written thesis that, through a sustained investigation, demonstrates an original contribution to knowledge in the field of the history and theory of contemporary art, and do not require an oral examination you must submit your thesis for examination by your latest completion date.

Thesis Preparation Guidelines

Download the Thesis 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 produce the creative 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 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

If you are undertaking the PhD by the 'Creative work and thesis' mode, you are expected to develop a body of creative work for examination, which is to be exhibited in the annual Postgraduate Degree Show closest to your 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. You will 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

Your 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 thesis and presented in the exhibition;
  • To clarify points either of principle or of detail in the thesis and exhibition;
  • To assess your contribution to the content and presentation of the creative work and thesis


SCA will appoint a Chair to supervise the oral examination. The Chair will:

  • Meet you approximately half hour before examination
  • Meet the examiners and introduce them to the you at the start of proceedings
  • After the introduction, run through the order of the examination process


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

  • Contextualisation of Your Work. In this section you will present the development of your thesis to the examination panel.
  • Discussion of creative component of the thesis at the site of exhibition with candidate.
  • Discussion of written component of the thesis and related matters with candidate.
  • Conclusion. The Chair will advise the examiners of the available recommendations.


The University requires PhD examiners to complete their reports within eight weeks of receipt of the thesis, which is usually three to four weeks after the oral examination. SCA will inform you of the award once all examiner' reports are received.

Examination Results

The candidate be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy without further conditions

Your written text and creative 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 be made subject to minor correction of the thesis to the satisfaction of the University

There are minor errors or omissions in the thesis, such as incorrect citations, omissions, or typographical errors, which must be corrected but which do not alter the conclusions of the thesis.

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 be made subject to the conditions outlined in the examiners’ reports

(a) the making of emendations
Emendations are the correction of errors or the addition or deletion of material in the text, tables, figures, or appendices. Changes should not require an additional period of research and should not result in the conclusions of the thesis being significantly altered. Emendations do not require the thesis to be returned to examiners, but can be adjudicated by the Faculty

(b) the fulfillment of other conditions
You should fulfill other conditions such as substantial changes to the text or some form of further examination. Changes should not require an additional period of research and should not result in the conclusions of the thesis being significantly altered. Fulfillment of these conditions does not require the thesis to be returned to examiners, but can be adjudicated by the Faculty.

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.

The candidate not be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, but be permitted to resubmit a revised thesis for examination following a further period of study

The thesis in its current form does not merit award. There are errors and/or deficiencies that substantially affect the argument or the conclusions of the thesis. Changes may include but are not limited to the provision of extra data or material. You demonstrate sufficient ability that, after an additional mandatory period of study, a thesis of the required standard may be achieved. Following revision and resubmission, the thesis is re-examined.

You will be required to re-enrol in at least one semester or more, as prescribed by the examiners. If you fail your second examination you will not be allowed to revise and resubmit your work and the following result will apply.

The candidate not be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

The thesis does not merit award of the degree and does not demonstrate sufficient ability by the candidate for a resubmitted thesis to achieve this merit. For example, the hypothesis and methods may be fatally flawed, therefore rendering the conclusions completely invalid and not capable of being rectified by an additional period of study.