May 24, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2017-2018 
Rensselaer Catalog 2017-2018 [Archived Catalog]

Electronic Arts Ph.D.

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The Ph.D. in Electronic Arts is an interdisciplinary arts degree that integrates arts practice with theoretical and historical research. The program features an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to the arts with a focus on the use of electronic media in artistic creation and performance. The core of the curriculum focuses on the student’s personal creative practice, informed by theoretical and creative coursework, individual attention from advisers, and culminates in a dissertation and the creation of a practice-based presentation (e.g., a gallery show, performance). One of the first programs of its kind, this Ph.D. program expands traditions of arts pedagogy through interdisciplinary research in contemporary media theory, practice, and production.

Rensselaer’s Department of the Arts is generally considered to be the first integrated electronic arts program within a research university in the United States. Continuing its leadership in the fields of electronic and multidisciplinary arts, Rensselaer is one of the first universities in the United States to offer a practice-based Ph.D. in the arts.

During the past 20 years, the character of graduate education in the arts has been changing. The most visible new features are the prominence of the electronic arts, the development of interdisciplinary approaches, and, related in part to the previous two factors, Ph.D.s in interdisciplinary arts. New professional standards and opportunities require Ph.D.s in several areas:
1) Many artists are now exploring new domains of creativity, which necessitate advanced research in a variety of fields—communication technologies, biology, and gaming—to name a few.
2) In the university teaching market, many art and interdisciplinary arts departments have expanded what were previously positions filled only by those individuals with M.F.A.s to candidates who hold Ph.D.s.
3) There are a number of institutions for advanced creative study that offer research positions for individuals with Ph.D.s in the creative arts.
4) Curatorial positions in museums and university galleries are another professional option for individuals with a practice-based Ph.D.

In addition to the standard transcripts, recommendations, and statement of background and goals, prospective students submit a portfolio of creative work, a research proposal, and a scholarly writing sample. Evaluation for admission to the program includes not only artistic merit, but also evidence of a creative orientation that is research-based and appropriate for the type of in-depth interdisciplinary scholarly study the Ph.D. program will provide.

The program is flexible in order to afford each student an opportunity to plan a course of study suited to his or her own creative and research objectives. To assure a coherent program, students maintain, with the adviser’s guidance, a Plan of Study that is established at the beginning of their first semester and amended as the student progresses through the program. The Plan of Study may include courses offered by the Arts Department as well as other Rensselaer departments and programs such as: video, computer music, science and technology studies, architecture, animation, cultural studies, Internet interventions, bio-technology, information technologies, genomic studies, musicology, cognitive science, mechanical engineering, acoustics, computer science, biomedical engineering, performance, and communication studies.

Outcomes of the Graduate Curriculum
Students who successfully complete this program will be able to:

  • demonstrate core knowledge of new media theory with emphasis on 20th and  21st century authors, key artists, movements, works of contemporary music, visual art, and electronic media. 
  • relate historical and theoretical learning to personal artistic practice.
  • employ library resources and other research methods to investigate and analyze historical and  theoretical trends, specific art works, and theories.
  • demonstrate capacity for written and oral expression through regular exercise in response papers, discussion, group work, oral presentations, peer critique, and formal research papers
  • demonstrate proficiency integrating technologies appropriate to a personal creative artistic practice.
  • conceptualize, research, plan, and implement the development of large-scale interdisciplinary creative projects.
  • create a professional artistic portfolio including writings, recordings, and documentation of performances and professional presentations.


  • A minimum of 48 credit hours beyond the Master’s degree, which is at least 72 credit hours beyond a Bachelor’s degree. (See footnote 1 below). At least two-thirds of the total credit hours, excluding dissertation credits, must contain the suffix numbers 6000-7990, with the further limitation that no more than 21 credit hours of 4000-4999 courses are taken. 
  • Research Methods (ARTS 6570) must be taken the first semester in the program, which integrates theoretical and historical research methods with arts practice. Students may also be directed by their adviser and committee members to take another research methods course in discipline appropriate for their research. 
  • Electronic Arts Overview (ARTS 6110) must be taken the first year of the program, which provides an overview of aesthetic, historical, and theoretical themes in the field of Electronic Arts.  
  • Arts Graduate Colloquium (ARTS 6900). Students are required to attend the Colloquium each semester until the semester they take their Qualifying Examination and enroll for dissertation credits. Their continued participation in the Colloquium is recommended, but not required, during the rest of their tenure while they are in residence. It is also recommended that after they pass their Qualifying Exam, they give at least one presentation of their research at the Colloquium. 
  • Students must take a minimum of 12 credits of Dissertation (ARTS 9990).
  • Arts Graduate Student Critiques (Crits) and Exhibition. Students are required to participate in Crits and Arts Graduate Student Exhibition, held at the end of each semester, with the exception of the semester in which students take their Qualifying or Candidacy Exams, and after they have passed their Candidacy Exam. Attendance at Crits is required for all students in residence. (See footnote 2 below).


Exams and Dissertation: There are three stages to degree completetion: the Qualifying Exam; the Candidacy Exam (Dissertation Proposal Defense); and the Dissertation Defense, which is the defense of the dissertation text and the public presentation of the dissertation arts practice, such as a performance or gallery show. 

The Qualifying Exam is an exam tailored to the student’s areas of creative practice and research and is intended to formally determine their ability to pursue research leading to a doctoral degree, which is developed and administered by the student’s doctoral committee and must be passed within two years of entry into the degree program. 

Completion of the Dissertation Proposal and the Defense of the Proposal to the student’s doctoral committe is the Candidacy Exam.  After completing this stage, the student is considered “all but dissertation” (ABD).

The Dissertation is composed of a public presentation of the dissertation arts practice and the dissertation text.

The Dissertation Defense: The candidate must defend the Dissertation in a public examination, the Dissertation Defense, conducted by the student’s doctoral committee.

In the normal four-year progress towards the degree, the Qualifying Exam is completed in the second year, advancement to candidacy is attained by the end of the second year or beginning of the third year and the Dissertation and Defense are completed in the fourth year.


  1. Individual requirements can be waived, in exceptional circumstances, by the department without decreasing the total number of credits for the degree.  No more than 6 credit hours of graduate work can be transferred toward the degree. 
  2. Students in residence may be excused from attendance at Crits and Exhibition due to special circumstances by the Department Head. 

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