What is a master’s research proposal and what should it contain?

What is a master’s research proposal? What should it contain?

Before filling in your application form we strongly advise you to get an initial overview on terms such as artistic research and practice-based research. These are contested terms, and not always simple to grasp, but you will understand what is expected for a masters level programme such as ours at Catalyst, which is explicitly structured around a practice-based artistic research framework.

In terms of “framework”, the subject and contents of this framework are up to you to propose and determine, in negotiation with your MA supervisor.

To guide you in preparing your MA project proposal and application, below you will find some useful definitions and discussions to consider. Feel free to go as far as you like! The discussions get more complex as they go down, but we will discuss such ideas in more depth on the course itself, especially at the beginning, to help you get going, design and initiate your project.

Research is: ‘a process of investigation, leading to new insights, that are effectively shared’.

What is artistic research?

According to David Gauntlett, practice-based researchers explore their research questions through practice. They have to make things and experiment, and that is a necessary and essential part of the research process. They couldn’t do their research without doing this hands-on creative work. Read more about practice-based research from Gauntlett here.

In this short introductory video from artistic research specialist Ned McGowan, we dive deeper into the meaning of artistic research and what it means to be involved in this creative practice:

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What are creative research methods?

Here is a quite sophisticated discussion of the methods and approaches you may want to consider with Dr Helen Kara from the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM).

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Here are two more detailed discussions from peer-reviewed journals. Do you know what peer-reviewed means? If not, it is time to find out!

What is your inspiration?

When asked about your inspiration we don’t just want to know that you love music or film, that is all fine but it really doesn’t tell us very much about who you are.

We want to understand your motivation - what do you want to explore and communicate - how might this go further than your own work? 

You can engage with this how you like, but you might for example think of approaching this section as similar to a short Statement of Purpose. Here you will find some successful graduate school statement of purpose examples, expert tips, and strategies to help you create your own effective proposal.

“If you don’t know or understand yourself, your history, and your unique point of view, how can you possibly create work that is meant to explore these same themes in others?” -Jennifer Jo Stokka, Catalyst MA student.

Artistic, academic - or both?

We do want you to be creatively and practically engaged with music, sound, filmmaking or cinematography, but it is important that the project is not purely an artistic project; for example an album, film or a collection of songs. Pure artistic projects are great, but finishing a record is not the same as doing a master’s degree. Similarly, it should not be purely an academic or technical project. So what else should it contain?

  1. Ideally a question, or a clear point of initial focus. You can’t just say “emotion,” “film music,” "lighting" “finding my vision or sound,” "writing my story", “synaesthesia,” “improvisation”, or “using hardware for performance.'' You would need to tell us, for example, exactly what you mean by these terms, how they are useful to your project, what questions or problems you bring to the table and how you might address these questions via your artistic practice?
  2. A research aspect. Yes, your project may itself already be a kind of research, but you would need to tell us how and why, and how you intend to take it further? 
  3. Some idea of artistic context. E.g. what other artists or artistic currents might have explored similar ideas, can you locate your project in history? 
  4. A broader context, for example, social, technological, philosophical, political. Music is never just music. Film is never just film. How might your project interact with the wider world of ideas? 
  5. A proposed process of investigation - i.e. a method, a research process. Clue, don’t just say you will read a lot. What will you read? Why?
  6. Tell us why you want to do this as a master’s degree, rather than just something you are interested in. And why at Catalyst?

We hope that you have found these descriptions and ideas helpful! If you missed our project proposal workshops, you are welcome to request a recording by reaching out to our Admissions team. Once you submit your application along with your project proposal, you will receive feedback on whether your chosen direction is suitable for the framework we provide.