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Is your university moving towards requiring tertiary educators to have a PhD within their discipline? is it encouraged? 

In the United States (and a few other countries) the MFA / MDes has long been considered the “terminal” degree for postgraduate study. 

Overseas, this is not so. Many parts of the world now have clear standards of levelling between masters and PhD study in art and design. They encourage or expect design educators at the tertiary level to hold a PhD. This partly reflects the maturing of design research, but is also a response to the need for institutions to beef up their research quota.

What are your thoughts on the PhD within art and design disciplines? Both in terms of traditional scholarship and creative-practice PhDs?  

PhD study has very different goals from MFA/MDes study. What are the implications, at the faculty level, of these changing expectations?

Have you ever found not having a PhD a limitation (for promotion / tenure / or in practice?)

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Two examples: At my former institution in the United States we, at one time, offered dedicated courses such as Graphic Design History. These courses were classified as "academic studies" focused (using NASAD terms) and were long taught by skilled and knowedable studio faculty with MFAs. Policy was eventually changed so that all such history / critical study courses had to be taught by faculty with PhDs. Finding such a person proved impossible, which led to us to either not deliver discipline-specific academic studies courses or to move this content into studio-based courses.

I recently ran two international faculty searches, one for Communication Design and one for Spatial Design. In terms of the candidates, I do not recall any of the Communication Design candidates having PhDs. In contrast, nearly half of the Spatial Design candidates held a PhD. 

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This maybe a little off topic but last I checked (this was some 10 years ago), there where only like 3-4 PHDs in Visual Arts/Design area. Has this changed a lot since then? 

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12 hours ago, Mitchell Eismont said:

This maybe a little off topic but last I checked (this was some 10 years ago), there where only like 3-4 PHDs in Visual Arts/Design area. Has this changed a lot since then? 

Overseas, yes. PhDs in the Visual Arts / Design are big business across the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, it helps that in most of those countries you cannot teach at a tertiary level without a PhD in your discipline!

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When I first fell into teaching a decade ago, the idea of a PhD program for graphic design seemed quite nonsensical. I truly believed that graphic design/communication design was solely a professional degree where we were tasked to educate students for industry... My opinion continues to change.

Initially my definition of communication design was an activity that required a client—that it couldn't stand alone, and that there was some sort of goal or challenge that needed to be solved and executed professionally. But then our college raised the bar and moved the goalposts, and they no longer recognized commercial design work as a scholarly activity in our field. So three-quarters of the way through my tenure track, I had to quickly reassess and refocus.

There are may articles found that showcase tech founders who's beginnings were in design:

https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/tech-founders-began-as-designers/
https://www.webpagefx.com/blog/web-design/startups-founded-by-designers/
https://www.forbes.com/sites/ilyapozin/2016/01/12/the-designers-turned-founders-behind-5-successful-startups/#73f9ef33619d

This made me rethink the notion that communication design activity required a client.

As such, the notion of a PhD program in communication design became understandable with these type of research investigations and outcomes as potential goals.

I still think at this point requiring a PhD for a tenured position is a stretch, because at this point in history, industry is the cutting edge in our field more so than research in the academy. That could change in the future. But 10+ years in industry is just as rigorous as pursuing a PhD in design.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/1/2018 at 2:32 AM, Brian Lucid said:

What are your thoughts on the PhD within art and design disciplines? Both in terms of traditional scholarship and creative-practice PhDs?  

PhD study has very different goals from MFA/MDes study. What are the implications, at the faculty level, of these changing expectations?

Have you ever found not having a PhD a limitation (for promotion / tenure / or in practice?)

4

PhD and MFA/MDes degrees are both valuable and yes, each track of study has a different goal. Some PhD programs are more practice-based than others. MFA programs also exist in extremes and everywhere in between. Some MFA programs are heavily geared toward design research, and others follow the fine arts model of graduate study in design.  When we run a faculty search, we just require that applicants have a terminal degree. There is no reason a faculty member holding an MFA/MDes degree can't pursue publication in a peer-reviewed journal, or that a PhD scholar can't practice design and "make stuff" – once a faculty member is hired, the degree itself should not be an issue for promotion/tenure. Full disclosure: I have an MFA... and I do research, publish, and make stuff, too! :-)

Side story, but related: When I co-edited an issue of Visible Language a couple years ago, my collaborator and I ran into the matter of author titles to accompany articles and use the table of contents. There were PhDs beginning their names with "Dr." on their manuscripts, some included MFA after their name, and there was an MA in the group too. It didn't seem right to include "Dr." with some names, because would we then use "Mr." or "Ms." for the others?! No way! To resolve this, we talked to a few of the authors and got their blessing to eliminate titles and degrees (but left them in author bios). This minimized the degree hierarchy and focused attention on people and their contributions. I guess that reflects how I feel about the PhD/MFA issue... it's about the scholarly work – whatever shape it takes – not the degree.

 

Edited by Jessica Barness

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On 3/15/2018 at 3:08 AM, Dan Wong said:

I still think at this point requiring a PhD for a tenured position is a stretch, because at this point in history, industry is the cutting edge in our field more so than research in the academy. That could change in the future. But 10+ years in industry is just as rigorous as pursuing a PhD in design.

 

I very much appreciate your comment Dan, and your openmindedness towards the changing educational landscape!

Is industry truly the cutting edge in the design fields? I feel if that were true, programmes would not need to support creative practice research, as all of the researchers would be funded by industry. I have found, however, that research has to be disseminated before industry picks it up. An example would be an industrial designer who's work is shown at places like the Milan Furniture Fair in an effort to get picked up by a commercial distributor. Golan Levin gives a powerful presentation that shows how many interactive agency's "R+D" is actually the work of media art practitioners who's work is appropriated for marketing purposes.

In terms of your last sentence, I would argue that while both are "rigorous" they have very different ends. Industry practice, in my personal experience, creates breadth. PhD study is focused upon depth (often to a pedantic degree).  

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8 hours ago, Brian Lucid said:

Is industry truly the cutting edge in the design fields?

When I say this, I think about the investment Google and Facebook are making in AR, Google in self-driving cars, Elon Musk is making in SpaceX. I think about how Google had, LinkedIn with its InCubator, and others, have adopted the time investment in employee-driven projects.

https://venturebeat.com/2017/05/13/can-googles-20-time-really-work-for-your-startup/

While no doubt this Design Research work is being done at universities everywhere, my sense is that as a whole, private industry appears to be making a more meaningful investment in it, and they bring it to market in faster directly for consumers. This is a good panel discussion?!

I would agree that industry and the academy have different goals.

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@Dan Wong Yes, this would be a great panel discussion. Industry is moving far more rapidly than academia; we should be leading the way, but given the nature of academia in general, we're somewhat stuck. I'm currently working with a colleague on a project related to this, and one of the things we're looking at are the shortcomings of traditional academic research methods. This likely comes down to faculty time/energy/interest as well as insitutional investment. Currently, design students are learning flexible processes and frameworks so that they can address any new problem, but the gap between academic vs industy design research keeps getting wider. Practice-based graduate research (in any terminal degree: MFA, MDes, MGD, PhD, etc) is what may help to move forward both academic design research and teaching. 

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