Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Practice-led PhD: What do the Examiners Expect?

This is a question which has troubled me since I started my PhD in January 2013. I have searched for advice on the subject of What do the Examiners Expect but with little success. I eventually came across an interesting paper by Dally et al, Assessing the exhibition and the exegesis in visual arts higher degrees: perspectives of examiners, which appears to offer fairly succinct advice on the subject (Dally et al., 2004).

The authors interviewed by means of in-depth telephone conversations, 15 Visual Arts examiners from 10 Australian higher education institutions. I get the impression that the authors were somewhat surprised to discovered that their sample of examiners appeared to be relatively consistent in the criteria they employ to judge a Visual Arts doctoral thesis.

There was a consensus that the exhibition was the most important element. Candidates should demonstrate a journey indicating the development and successful resolution of their research question, demonstrating exemplary technical skill as well as an ability to represent and communicate new, fresh, imaginative, innovative ideas. There was some disagreement as to whether these should be original ideas. The exhibition should clarify where the student is and where they have been. When asked what they considered to be an unacceptable standard the examiners where consistent in their opinion that a lack of research basis was one of the most frequent reasons for dissatisfaction.

Examiners felt that “the exegesis would position or contextualise the work within its field, explain the research process and/or clarify the contribution and significance of the project.” Examiners expected “the artwork to 'speak for itself' while at the same time anticipating that the exegesis would continue the conversation.” In conclusion, “examiners expected to see clear evidence of a relationship between the written and practical components, with the artwork primarily seen as the defining element in determining whether or not the degree should be awarded.”

The paper is available under a number of citations and titles, my reading is based on the HTML version, the title of which is quoted above and is available from the link below.


Dally, K., Holbrook, A., Graham, A. & Lawry, M. (2004) The processes and parameters of Fine Art PhD examination. International Journal of Educational Research, 41 (2), pp.136–162.