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MRes or MA: Which Art & Design Degree Is Right For You?

MRes or MA: Which Art & Design Degree Is Right For You? main image

Sponsored by Royal College of Art

You’ve decided you want to take your academic career one step further and pursue a postgraduate degree in art, architecture communication or design, but unfortunately you’re stuck at a crossroads and can’t decide whether you should study an MRes (Master of Research) or MA (Master of Art) degree. Does it even matter, you might wonder? Yes, it does.

While they’re both postgraduate degrees, the MRes and MA offer very different learning pathways and opportunities, so visited the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London to find out more.

Master of Art

The Master of Art is a taught master’s and is usually one-to-two years’ long if studied full-time. An MA is good if you want to expand your knowledge and understanding across a wider area of art and design, such as contemporary art practice, painting, photography, print and sculpture. There is generally more contact time with a taught master’s than a research master’s too, through seminars, lectures and workshops.

If you study an MA, you’re usually assessed throughout the year via projects, assessments and sometimes presentations, along with a final project at the end of the year complete with a 10-20,000-word dissertation.

Master of Research

Master of Research art and design project

Image credit: Royal College of Art – Archives of Curiosity

With a much bigger emphasis on research, there are fewer taught modules and thus fewer contact hours with a Master of Research. For those who are interested in pursuing a PhD or a career in research, the MRes is considered an opportunity to experience in a shorter time what it takes to undertake a research degree. For practitioners, the MRes supports professional development or a career change.

Although the Master of Research (MRes) is an internationally recognized degree with many international universities offering them, they are becoming increasingly popular with art and design institutions in the UK, such as the Royal College of Art.

Dr Laura Ferrarello is the Head of Program for the Master of Research at the RCA, and we spoke to her to find out a bit more about the program and what students can expect from it.

What are student expecting when they arrive to study the MRes at the RCA as opposed to the MA? What are the main differences?

The key difference is that while it’s still a master’s level qualification, the emphasis is on research so the articulation of ideas and problematizing something, asking a question, thinking of the gap in knowledge and trying to fill it. While an MA helps you advance your practice, an MRes helps you advance your critical thinking through your practice. It’s interdisciplinary which is unique in the sector - there are no other universities currently offering an interdisciplinary MRes.

And how do the four pathways work together in the MRes?

Well, the way it’s taught is one day a week in the specific pathways and another day of the week they’re all taught together in a unit called ‘Interdisciplinary Research Studio.’

It sounds like a jam-packed MRes! What can students expect to learn in such a short amount of time?

They can expect to develop the practices they already have in a research context. What we do is teach how to carry out work independently. The MRes is still a taught course with more teaching at the beginning and more independent study and research towards the end.

What was the motivation behind the MRes at the Royal College of Art?

We wanted a program that operated across the RCA’s four Schools that would foster a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration. The MRes was created to offer the opportunity to work across the Schools and use the course either as a PhD preparation or as research degree to redevelop and/or challenge ones’ professional career.

More recently, we have introduced a unique MRes Healthcare & Design. This is a part-time program with a focus on tackling healthcare challenges through design research methodologies.

So, it’s still a very valuable qualification whether or not you go on to pursue a PhD or not.

Yes, because the combination of theoretical and practical skills supports academic or professional careers. Some graduates are now PhD candidates or lecturers; others work in R&D departments in public and private organizations or have secured funding to support their individual practice.

How has the MRes program been adapted in response to Covid-19?

We are using digital platforms to run workshops, seminars, tutorials and presentations. To tackle digital fatigue, we reviewed the length of the teaching which became an opportunity for experimentation. For instance, we held a sound workshop which gave the students the time and space to learn, think, reflect and express their voice. We are part of the Design Museum digital agenda with two digital events that the students are developing, and some students brought concepts developed in the group projects to a Covid-19 European Hackathon.

This is one of many ways in which the RCA community have responded to Covid-19.

Lead image credit: Nuria Beneitz Gomez

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Written by Stephanie Lukins
As the Head of Sponsored Content for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Stephanie creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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