Research course

School of Design

Royal College of Art · School of Design

Entry requirements

Applicants must normally have obtained a good relevant undergraduate degree or an equivalent qualification.

Months of entry

January, December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February

Course content

As a research student in the School of Design, you will be a self-motivated candidate with a strong creative initiative matched by a keen drive to uncover fundamental new insights. The majority of PhD research students combine a significant practical project (or series of related projects) with a 40,000 word dissertation. You are welcome instead to submit a dissertation of 80,000 words. This latter option does not preclude undertaking practical work; it simply means that the work is not assessed in its own right.

We welcome inter-disciplinary as well as highly focused research – the approach required varies from programme to programme. Please look at the description of these distinctive approaches on the programme research pages. It is not essential for you to have a design background; innovative design research is often undertaken by those from other disciplines. If in doubt about the suitability of your previous experience, please discuss your questions with the research studies leader of your preferred programme.

As a research student in the School of Design, you may be designing an innovative object or system, or your research may prioritise the conceptual or historical. Research topics range from those which are strongly needs-focused – such as designing new forms of medical equipment – to those which are more speculative – such as considering the philosophy of computer games. The research methods you adopt will be attuned to your subject: you may use established methods or develop your own.

PhD study leads to a range of opportunities: it enables you to become a researcher in industry, within government and official organisations or in a university; it opens academic careers to you internationally; it is an opportunity for you to investigate a research question or issue in depth, enabling you to take a more reflective, more innovative role in design and related fields.

All research students attend the cross-college Research Methods Course in their first year. This is supplemented by research methods provision within your chosen programme. Unlike PhD study in some countries, research at the RCA is primarily led by your personal inquiry, not by taught courses.

Research students normally enrol as MPhil candidates and then proceed to PhD. Occasionally, applicants may be admitted directly as candidates for PhD, especially where a particular funding scheme requires it. In either case, the programme extends over three years full-time, and a minimum of five years part-time.

Fees and funding

All the PhD programmes in the School of Design are eligible for LDOC scholarships, paying your fees and a stipend, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A small number of these scholarships are available each year on a competitive basis.

Qualification and course duration


part time
60+ months
full time
36+ months

Course contact details