Growing our own (2003)

RUST, C. & FISHER, T. (2003) Growing our own – recruiting high quality research students by stealth Proceedings of 3rd Conference on Doctoral Education in Design, Tsukuba, Japan, October 2003

Growing our own – recruiting high quality research students by stealth

This paper explains how we used the MA Design programme at Sheffield Hallam University as an incubator for research talent. Design is a new research field and doctoral studies are very new so not many design graduates see research as a career option. We structured our MA to introduce students to the experience of research and give them the chance to develop ideas that might form the basis of doctoral projects. The result was a small but steady flow of very good research students, some of whom have gone on to become successful academics.

Full paper in .pdf format at


Most design students assume that their education is preparing them for a career in professional practice. Until recently the idea of working as researchers or studying for a research degree was not an option.

In the early 1990s, the Art and Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University was set up with a focus on “designerly” research. At that time we did not have a ready supply of suitable experienced researchers, and design graduates were not coming forward as candidates for research degrees.

The university’s policy at the time required us to include a substantial research methods element in all postgraduate courses, including the vocationally focused MA Design programme. As a result of adopting this policy in a very whole-hearted way, making research methods central to the MA and framing the creative practice of design as both research-driven and investigative, we have “subverted” a number of postgraduate students who might never have considered a research degree, but are now registered for, or in the process of transferring to, PhD studies.

This paper describes the features of the MA programme that foster an investigative culture and provides some examples of PhD students whose research has grown from opportunities encountered in the MA. It also discusses the relationship between professional practice and research and the ways in which a research-centred education can prepare graduates for professional leadership.


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