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PhD Program

Program Overview

The Visual Arts PhD Program, with its two degree paths, encourages experimentation and innovation in scholarly and artistic production. The Program places art objects and practices at the center of inquiry, while encouraging examination of the larger historical, cultural, social, intellectual, and theoretical frameworks within which "art" has been contextualized in the most recent developments in the discipline. The program encompasses the study of both past and present art across a broad range that includes fine arts, media (film, video, photography, new media), performance, public art, design, visual culture, and material culture. PhD students typically engage in their degree process for six years and enjoy close interaction with their mentors. They profit from the rich intersections offered by the program’s situation in a department with faculty in studio art, media, computing, and design. Graduates from the program teach in universities and colleges, or pursue careers in museum and curatorial professions, private galleries and auction houses, and libraries and archives.

 

Program Requirements

  1. Coursework, 88 units
  2. Language Requirement
  3. Qualifying Materials and Exams
  4. Dissertation and Defense
  5. For VA77 Only- Art Practice Project and Exhibition

Full Time Enrollment

In order to remain eligible for financial support all graduate students must be enrolled in 12 units of upper-division (100-199) or graduate level (200 and above) courses each quarter during the regular academic year. Graduate students must also maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 to maintain good academic standing. The majority of students will choose to complete the majority of their academic coursework for a letter grade.

Pre-Candidacy

Coursework should be chosen in consultation with the Advisor and should be taken in preparation for the Qualifying phase. During the first three years in the program, students should aim to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Coursework, 88 units
  • Language Requirement
  • MA en Route Requirements (if interested and eligible)
  • Qualifying Materials and Exams (year 3)

Candidacy

Advancing to candidacy occurs when the student has passed all course, language, and qualifying requirements and is ready to research and write a dissertation. Doctoral candidates, sometimes referred to as “all but dissertation” or ABD, work on their dissertation with Advisor and Committee consultation and feedback for two or more years. During this time, Art Practice candidates additionally produce the required art practice components. Each quarter, most doctoral candidates typically enroll in 8-12 units of VIS 299 and/or 4 units of a 500, in consultation with their Advisor. Candidacy concludes when the candidate completes and successfully defends the dissertation (and, for VA77, the additional Art Practice requirements) and is awarded the doctorate.

Degree Paths

The program consists of two degree paths: Art History, Theory and Criticism (VA76) and Art Practice (VA77), a concentration designed for artists engaged in advanced research who wish to pursue their work in an environment geared to doctoral study, and to produce studio, media, performance or public facing work alongside a written dissertation. See Handbook for further details.

Interdisciplinary Specializations

Students within the PhD program who are interested in the opportunity to undertake specialized research may apply to participate in an interdisciplinary specialization. Students accepted into a specialization program would be expected to complete coursework in addition to those required for their PhD program. The department offers interdisciplinary specializations with the following campus programs.

Course Requirements: VA76 Art History, Theory and Criticism

VA76- 22 courses, 88 units

GENERAL FIELD EMPHASIS

During the first year of study, students declare a general area of study in consultation with their Advisor and with the approval of the Faculty Director. This general field emphasis will be considered as they choose courses and, toward year three, plan their qualifying materials. See the Handbook for general field options.

CORE REQUIREMENTS (8 courses, 32 units)

Required (4 courses, 16 units):

  • VIS 200- Methods and Theories
  • VIS 204- Rethinking Art History
  • VIS 500 (1 course, 4 units)- Apprentice Teaching
  • VIS 502- Graduate Teaching in Visual Arts

Breadth (4 courses, 16 units), choose from 4 different areas with 3 different faculty:

  • Medieval, Renaissance or Early Modern Art- VIS 251, VIS 252
  • Modern and Contemporary Art- VIS 254, VIS 255
  • Media Studies- VIS 256
  • Meso-American Art or North American Indigenous Art- VIS 257, VIS 260
  • Asian Art- VIS 258
  • Latin American Art- VIS 259
  • Material Culture- VIS 261
  • Design Studies- VIS 262

ELECTIVE REQUIREMENTS (14 courses, 56 units), choose from the following options:

  • Art History Seminars (VIS 230-269), a minimum of 6 MUST be taken for the elective area
  • Graduate Research (VIS 299), during 1st year with provisional advisor
  • Professional Practice Seminar (VIS 220)
  • Art Theory/Practice (VIS 206, VIS 210-219), a maximum of 2 may be taken
  • Other Department, a maximum of 3 graduate level courses may be taken 
  • Reading Courses (approved undergrad courses), a maximum of 4 may be taken 
  • Directed Group Study (VIS 298), a maximum of 1 may be taken
  • Individual Studies (VIS 295), a maximum of 12 units may be taken with Advisor

Course Requirements: VA77 Art History, Theory and Criticism- Art Practice

VA77- 22 courses, 88 units

GENERAL FIELD EMPHASIS

During the first year of study, students declare a general area of study in consultation with their Advisor and with the approval of the Faculty Director. This general field emphasis will be considered as they choose courses and, toward year three, plan their qualifying materials. See the Handbook for general field options.

CORE REQUIREMENTS (12 courses, 48 units)

Required (12 courses, 36 units):

  • VIS 200- Methods and Theories
  • VIS 204- Rethinking Art History
  • VIS 206- Seminar in Art Practice Research
  • VIS 207 (repeat 3 times for 12 units)- Working Practice for Art Practice
  • VIS 210-219, 1 course from Art Theory/Practice 
  • VIS 500 (1 course, 4 units)- Apprentice Teaching
  • VIS 502- Graduate Teaching in Visual Arts

Breadth (3 courses, 12 units), choose from 3 different areas with 3 different faculty:

  • Medieval, Renaissance or Early Modern Art- VIS 251, VIS 252
  • Modern and Contemporary Art- VIS 254, VIS 255
  • Media Studies- VIS 256
  • Meso-American Art or North American Indigenous Art- VIS 257, VIS 260
  • Asian Art- VIS 258
  • Latin American Art- VIS 259
  • Material Culture- VIS 261
  • Design Studies- VIS 262

ELECTIVE REQUIREMENTS (10 courses, 40 units), choose from the following options:

  • Art History Seminars (VIS 230-269), a minimum of 3 MUST be taken for the elective area
  • Graduate Research (VIS 299), during 1st year with provisional advisor
  • Professional Practice Seminar (VIS 220)
  • Art Theory/Practice (VIS 210-219), a maximum of 2 may be taken
  • Other Department, a maximum of 3 may be taken 
  • Reading Courses (approved undergrad courses), a maximum of 2 may be taken 
  • Directed Group Study (VIS 298), a maximum of 4 units may be taken
  • Individual Studies (VIS 295), a maximum of 12 units may be taken with Advisor

Language Requirement

For the VA76 PhD students, competency in reading, understanding, and interpreting texts in two languages other than English is required before advancement to candidacy (Qualifying Exam stage), and competency in at least one language is expected at the time of application to the program. Art Practice Concentration students (VA77) will be required to satisfy competency in one language other than English before advancing to PhD candidacy. The student and their Advisor will jointly determine examination languages. 

 

The Program’s language requirement may be met in one of three ways: 

  1. Passing the department’s in-house Language Exam  
  2. Passing one approved graduate-level language course 
  3. Passing two approved upper-division undergraduate language courses 
  4. Passing a two-year sequence of approved undergraduate language courses in a single language  

 

Required Paperwork

For each language exam or course sequence taken to satisfy a language requirement, a Language Requirements Petition must be completed by the student, the proctor/instructor and submitted to the Graduate Program Coordinator in order to receive credit for completion of the language requirement. Submit completed forms to vis-grad@ucsd.edu

In-House Language Exams

In-house Language Exams test ability in reading and comprehension (by translation into English) only, not writing or spoken fluency in the designated language. The exam consists of two short texts, one less difficult to be translated into English without a dictionary, and one more difficult to be translated with a dictionary. The dictionary may be either a printed volume or an on-line resource. One hour is allowed for each section (total test time: 2 hours). The translations may be written on a computer or by hand. Exams are corrected by the faculty member responsible for designing the exam, who also invigilates the test. If adequate reading knowledge is not demonstrated, the student’s Advisor will review with the student and the faculty setting the exam the steps necessary to master the language and a new exam will be scheduled within a reasonable amount of time. 

Students requesting an in-house language examination should consult with faculty responsible for particular languages:

  • Chinese and Japanese: Professor Kuiyi Shen 
  • French: Professors. Jordan Rose and John Welchman 
  • German: Professor Alena Williams 
  • Italian: Professor William Tronzo 
  • Korean: Professor Kyong Park
  • Mayan languages: Professor Elizabeth Newsome 
  • Spanish: Professors Elizabeth Newsome and Mariana Wardwell 
  • Turkish: Professors Memo Akten and Pinar Yoldas

Individual arrangements for determination of competency will be made for those languages that cannot be tested by department faculty

Committee Constitution and Management

About the Committee

This is the group of four faculty who agree to the student’s request for mentorship and evaluation during the qualifying and doctoral years. The Committee is chaired by the Advisor(s). In addition to mentoring and guiding the student’s research, this team serves as the Qualifying Committee and the Doctoral or Dissertation Committee, conducting the Qualifying Exam and the Dissertation Defense. The committee must be formally appointed by Graduate Division in the process outlined below.

 

Committee Constitution

The Committee Chair is the student’s Advisor, the PhD faculty selected by Year Two through mutual agreement with the student. The rest of the Committee is constituted through request and consent between the student and other faculty, with the guidance and approval of the Advisor(s), in Year Two. It is finalized no later than mid-Year Three through a form that must be submitted to the Coordinator at least two months before the Qualifying Exam.

Makeup of the committee:

  • 3 Visual Arts Faculty (including the Chair/Co-Chairs), 1 member may be a non-PhD faculty
  • 1 tenured or emeritus faculty from outside the department

For each option, Assistant or Acting-Associate Faculty may serve as a general member or Co-Chair but not as sole Chair. The Graduate Division website has additional information about committees and a Committee Membership Table which may be helpful in determining what role a faculty member may serve on a committee.

 

Submitting Your Committee

After faculty have agreed to serve on the Committee and the Advisor has approved the list, and at least two months before the Qualifying Exam, the student must complete and send this Committee Form to the Graduate Coordinator at vis-grad@ucsd.eduThis form must be approved by the Graduate Division at least 5 weeks before the Qualifying Exam.

 

Changing Your Committee

It may be required to change the membership of your committee after approved. This can occur for a variety of reasons and needs to be discussed with your Committee Chair or Faculty Director. Any changes to your committee need to be formally approved by the Committee Chair and Department Chair, then forwarded for review by the Graduate Division. In this situation, the Committee Reconstitution Request form needs to be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator via email at vis-grad@ucsd.edu. This request should be made at least 5 weeks prior to your Qualifying Exam

 

Committee Management

It is the responsibility of the student, in consultation with their advisor/committee chair, to engage with and request feedback on drafts of written materials and (for VA77) documentation of artwork progress with all committee members during research and writing of their qualifying materials and dissertation. The student also must email final copies of all materials to their Committee prior to their Qualifying Exam and Dissertation Defense. 

Necessary Documents for the Qualifying Exam

  • Report of the Qualifying Exam (routed for signature by the Graduate Coordinator)

Necessary Documents for the Dissertation Defense

  • Final Report (routed for signature by the Graduate Coordinator)

Best Practices for Completing the Report of the Qualifying Exam and Final Report via DocuSign:

  • Ahead of your exam/defense ask faculty to add dse@docusign.net as a “safe sender” so those emails are less likely to go to junk/spam. Although campus IT has taken steps to identify DocuSign as a safe sender, it is still recommended that individual users do so as well.
  • At the end of your Exam/Defense ask your committee members to check their email for the DocuSign email with the link to the form and sign while you're all online together. 
  • If the link is not in their inbox:
    • ask the faculty to check their junk folder, spam quarantine, or other spam folders
    • next, ask them to log into their DocuSign account using their @ucsd.edu email address and SSO credentials to access the form/s directly (https://docusign.ucsd.edu) *some people have personal DocuSign accounts so ask them to ensure they are logging into the UCSD DocuSign account
  • Get verbal confirmation of who has signed and who has not, then follow-up with the Graduate Coordinator to resolve any issues your committee members have with signing the form.
  • Once the appropriate form is submitted to the Graduate Division, the appropriate fee will be charged directly to the student’s financial TritonLink account. 

Qualifying Exam, Advancement to Candidacy

About the Qualifying Process

The Qualifying process occurs throughout Year Three. The student, under the supervision of the Advisor and with the advice of the Committee, prepares two bibliographies (one on the chosen field of emphasis and the second pertaining to the proposed dissertation); writes a qualifying paper and a dissertation prospectus; and takes written and oral examinations pertaining to these documents. The Art Practice PhD additionally requires a practice prospectus and a third bibliography.

 

Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Examination has two parts: A Written Examination in which the student writes two essays over five days in response to questions provided by the Committee; and two weeks later,  a 2- or 2.5-hour Oral Examination led by the Committee, during which the student is asked questions and put in dialog about all of the qualifying materials.

 

Qualifying Timeline

A student must have completed all required course work and passed all language examinations before taking the qualifying examination, which will be held no later than the end of the third year. Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, the student will be advanced to candidacy.

Qualifying Exam Administrative Checklist 

 

Qualifying Exam Failure

Should a student fail the examination, the Faculty Committee will clarify the weaknesses in the exam, so that the student can prepare to take it a second time. If a second oral examination is warranted, they will have to re-take and pass the exam prior to the end of the Pre-Candidacy Time Limit (or they need an extension approved to continue). They can always take a leave and return but if the PCTL is expired, they will have to advance before returning or an exception to extend the time would be need to be approved prior to retuning. If the student fails the oral examination a second time, their graduate studies in the department will be terminated.

 

 


MA en Route

An MA may also be awarded to continuing Ph.D. students (who do not already have an MA in Art History or closely related fields). To receive the Art History MA, students must have successfully passed one language exam, and passed at least 12 four-unit courses, including: 
  • Five Art History seminars 
  • VIS 200 Methods and Theories
  • VIS 204 Re-Thinking Art History 
  • One Theory/Practice seminar (chosen from VIS 210-219)
  • Four breadth courses, from four different breadth areas
The MA is not automatically awarded; students must apply in advance to receive the degree. 

We do not offer an MA with an Art Practice concentration. Therefore, Art Practice concentration students must make a formal change in their degree aim to designate Art History, Theory, and Criticism (VA76). This change must take place at least two quarters prior to the Qualifying Exam. 

Note: Students who wish to receive an MA as part of the Ph.D. program must apply for master’s degree candidacy by the end of the second week of the quarter in which they expect to receive the degree. Please see the Graduate Coordinator regarding this process.


 

Necessary Documents for the Qualifying Exam

  • Report of the Qualifying Exam

Necessary Documents for the MA on the Way

  • Application for MA (due week two) 
  • Final Report for MA 

Best Practices for Completing the Report of the Qualifying Exam and Final Report via DocuSign:

  • Ahead of your exam/defense ask faculty to add dse@docusign.net as a “safe sender” so those emails are less likely to go to junk/spam. Although campus IT has taken steps to identify DocuSign as a safe sender, it is still recommended that individual users do so as well.
  • At the end of your Exam/Defense ask your committee members to check their email for the DocuSign email with the link to the form and sign while you're all online together. 
  • If the link is not in their inbox:
    • ask the faculty to check their junk folder, spam quarantine, or other spam folders
    • next, ask them to log into their DocuSign account using their @ucsd.edu email address and SSO credentials to access the form/s directly (https://docusign.ucsd.edu) *some people have personal DocuSign accounts so ask them to ensure they are logging into the UCSD DocuSign account
  • Get verbal confirmation of who has signed and who has not, then follow-up with the Graduate Coordinator to resolve any issues your committee members have with signing the form.
  • Once the appropriate form is submitted to the Graduate Division, the appropriate fee will be charged directly to the student’s financial TritonLink account. 

Dissertation and Defense

About the Dissertation

Following successful completion of the qualifying examinations, the candidate will research and write a doctoral dissertation under the supervision of their Advisor and with the input of the Committee. Students in the art practice concentration (VA77) will submit a written dissertation that observes the same regulations and conventions as VA 76, except that the length requirement is slightly shorter and there must be one additional chapter devoted to discussion of the art practice. In addition, Art Practice candidates will additionally produce and exhibit a visual component. See the Handbook for details. 

 

About the Defense

After the committee has reviewed the finished dissertation (and art practice components, for VA 77), the candidate will orally defend their dissertation (and art practice work and exhibition), responding to questions from the Committee in a meeting that may be public (the student may invite visitors), as per university policy. The Dissertation Defense is the culmination of all of your work within the Ph.D. program. Please read all of the information on the Graduate Division's website about "Preparing to Graduate" and make an appointment to speak with the Graduate Coordinator one year prior to when you plan to defend.

Roles and Responsibilities for the Defense

Student will:

  1. Schedule the Dissertation Defense with their committee. This is normally scheduled for three hours. (You are responsible for reserving a room or scheduling the zoom meeting). 
  2. Notify the Graduate Coordinator of the date and time of the defense and please include the following information: 
    1. your name as you would like it to appear on your degree
    2. the title of your dissertation as you would like it to appear on all university records (including the announcement of your defense)
  3. Follow-up with your committee, the Graduate Division, and the Graduate Coordinator about any issues surrounding the completion of your degree.

Faculty Advisor will:

  1. Ensure the policy appropriate participation of all members of the committee at the Dissertation Defense. It is also helpful to remind all committee members to sign the forms by checking their inboxes for the DocuSign request to sign the forms. These sometimes end up in a person's spam folder.

Graduate Coordinator will:

  1. Fill out the appropriate form via DocuSign and route the form the morning of the exam/defense for signature to all committee members, the department chair, the student, and the Graduate Division.
  2. Follow-up with committee members regarding signatures on the final report and general petition (if needed) forms
  3. Send out the announcement of the defense to department faculty and graduate students.

 

Additional Information and Tasks

Preliminary Dissertation Appointments with the Graduate Division: Students will schedule their preliminary and final appointments with Graduate Division Academic Affairs Advisors utilizing the online calendaring system they have in place: https://gradforms.ucsd.edu/calendar/index.php

Committee Management: If you need to make any changes to your doctoral committee please follow the instructions above in the "Committee Management" drawer. 

Embargo Your Dissertation: Talk to your faculty advisor about embargoing your dissertation. You may want to embargo your dissertation if you are planning to turn it into a book. The embargo will delay the university's publication of your dissertation and prevent other academics from using your research. https://grad.ucsd.edu/_files/academics/DissertThesisReleaseTemplate.pdf

Necessary Documents for the Dissertation Defense

  • Final Report (routed for signature by the Graduate Coordinator)

Best Practices for Completing the Final Report via DocuSign:

  • Ahead of your exam/defense ask faculty to add dse@docusign.net as a “safe sender” so those emails are less likely to go to junk/spam. Although campus IT has taken steps to identify DocuSign as a safe sender, it is still recommended that individual users do so as well.
  • At the end of your Defense ask your committee members to check their email for the DocuSign email with the link to the form and sign while you're all online together. 
  • If the link is not in their inbox:
    • ask the faculty to check their junk folder, spam quarantine, or other spam folders
    • next, ask them to log into their DocuSign account using their @ucsd.edu email address and SSO credentials to access the form/s directly (https://docusign.ucsd.edu) *some people have personal DocuSign accounts so ask them to ensure they are logging into the UCSD DocuSign account
  • Get verbal confirmation of who has signed and who has not, then follow up with the Graduate Coordinator to resolve any issues your committee members have with signing the form.
  • Once the appropriate form is submitted to the Graduate Division, the appropriate fee will be charged directly to the student’s financial TritonLink account. 

Paying Associated Fees: For students who will need to pay fees (advancement to candidacy, thesis submission fee, filing fee, re-admit fee), they will be charged on the financial TritonLink account once the form is received by the Graduate Division. There is no need for students to go to the cashier’s office.

Grades and Evaluations

Grades

Only courses in which a student received grades of A, B, or S are allowed toward satisfaction of the requirements for the degree. Note that a “C” is generally regarded as unsatisfactory within this department. In satisfaction of all program requirements and electives, A, A-, and B+ are regarded as acceptable grades for seminars and courses. Grades of B, B- indicate weaknesses and are cause for concern. Grades of C+ or below are regarded as unsatisfactory and may lead to academic probation. University policy states that any student with more than 8 units of “U” and/or “F” grades is barred from future registration including the next available quarter. It is not recommended that VIS 295/298/299 are taken for a letter grade.

 

Grade Point Average

A graduate student must maintain a minimum grade point average of at least 3.0 (B average) to continue in good standing. A student is subject to dismissal if the overall grade point average falls below 3.0 at any time.

 

Spring Evaluation

Every Spring quarter, Advisors (in the first year Provisional Advisors) will submit an evaluation of their advisee’s progress to Graduate Division. Students are expected to submit a summary of the past academic year to their advisor. These evaluations serve as an important tool for students and advisors in assessing student progress, while also providing suggestions and goals for students’ successful completion of their projects.   

The Graduate Division will review the evaluations when student/departments are making specific requests for exceptions

Time Limit

The duration of the Ph.D. program is five to eight years. University and departmental regulations stipulate that the maximum tenure of graduate study at UC San Diego or Total Registered Time Limit (TRTL) is eight years; while seven years is the limit for receiving any type of university financial support or a student's Support Time Limit (SUTL). For the Department of Visual Arts, the "normative" time to degree is 6 years. Students are expected to pass their qualifying exam and advance to candidacy in year three, but no later than year four which is the university's Pre-candidacy time limit (PCTL).

 

To learn more about time limits please visit the Graduate Division website.

Time Limits: https://grad.ucsd.edu/academics/progress-to-degree/time-to-doctorate-policy.html

 

You can check your time limit by logging into the Graduate Student Portal.

Graduate Student Portal: https://gradforms.ucsd.edu/portal/student/

PhD Current Students

You may view student profiles here

PhD Handbook

The department website and catalog are great resources for students to learn generally about the PhD program and progress towards their degree. There are detailed instructions and robust program information available in the full PhD Handbook. Each student should refer to this resource throughout their academic career.