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PhD in Communication Studies

Our communication studies PhD program prepares you for a successful career in both post-secondary teaching and research. No matter which concentration you choose, this program emphasizes the connections between sub-fields of communication.

Students may apply to the PhD program with a bachelor's degree or a masters. All accepted to the program receive five years of full funding support. We make every attempt to provide all of the support necessary for our students to enroll in a timely fashion, complete their degrees, and gain meaningful academic employment. Transfer credits for equivalent graduate-level work will be accepted.

An Overview of the Five-Year Program 

The integrative five-year plan allows for coordinated and staged development. However, students entering with an MA in communication studies might be able to truncate the program and finish in a total of four years, if they so choose. 

In your first year, you will join your cohort in taking an introductory seminar and all students attend the departmental Research Colloquium (COMM 8000). The First-Year Seminar (COMM 8101) introduces students to the discipline—including central concepts, theory, and debates that cross-tracks—and provides an introduction to essential aspects of graduate-level scholarship. In the first year, you develop the skills for specific milestone-oriented work to come, such as how to write a quality literature review, articulate a research question, and methodological design. 

In your second year, you will continue to take courses in the department and in affiliated departments related to your specific research interests. By the end of the year, you will write a publishable literature review that demonstrates a high level of competence in your field of interest. 

During the third year, you will complete remaining coursework and prepare three “field statements.” These take-home papers serve as written preliminary examinations and demonstrate advanced knowledge in:

  1. your major field of study (e.g., critical media studies, rhetoric, interpersonal communication)
  2. your chosen subfield (e.g., materialist rhetoric, family communication, environmental communication, etc.)
  3. and the final statement is a detailed syllabus that includes your pedagogical philosophy and orientation to teaching in your field or subfield. These are followed by an oral exam after which you are advanced to candidacy to write your dissertation.

After a funded summer producing your dissertation prospectus, your final two years are dedicated to dissertation research and writing. One of several benefits of having two years to complete the dissertation is the ability to apply for grants, fellowships, and jobs without having to do all of that in a single year.  

Areas of Research Specialization

Critical Media Studies

Critical media studies approaches mediated communication as a cultural phenomenon, emphasizing media that are socially influential, economically powerful, and politically significant. Drawing from multiple fields of inquiry, faculty offer courses where students can explore the dynamics of race and gender in representation, political economy of media, feminist criticism, environmental communication, poitical communication and popular culture. Students are encouraged to pursue studies of a wide range of media phenomena, from historical studies of media controversies to contemporary explorations of social media and other new technologies.

Rhetorical Studies

Rhetorical studies includes rhetorical criticism, rhetorical theory and public address, mass media criticism, and the history of public address. Faculty teach courses with a focus on social movements, crisis rhetoric, public policy and civic organizations, and feminist and critical theories. Students are encouraged to work across disciplines and methods as they pursue their intellectual interests. 

Interpersonal and Organizational Communication

Interpersonal communication focuses on social scientific research in communication studies. In addition to taking courses in communication theory, research methods, and statistics, students focus on relational communication, marriage and family communication, social support, mindfulness, small group communication, as well as power and communication within organizations. Students are expected to have a proclivity toward quantitative reasoning and statistical training upon entering the program and will advance their quantitative skills and statistical knowledge through coursework and directed research.


The following table lays out each year in terms of credit hour breakdowns and milestones:





At least 15 credits of coursework, including an Introductory Seminar (COMM 8101) for the entire entering cohort.

At the end of the spring semester, three faculty members review each student’s progress and discuss their achievements and goals in an informal meeting. This is not an exam, but rather exists for the sake of assisting student progress. 



18 credits of coursework. 

The student produces a journal-ready review manuscript that demonstrates competence in their main field of interest. Students may produce this as part of a course and instructors are encouraged to integrate this milestone option into their seminars.

Three, Semester 1

9 credits of coursework. One course is a “capstone” to help prepare students for writing field statements. This course may be chosen from a range of extant offerings either in COMM, or when needed to fill a gap in the student’s program or knowledge base, in an affiliated UMN program. It may also be fulfilled via directed study.



Three, Semester 2

12 thesis credits (COMM 8888).

Students will write the following field statements to fulfill their preliminary exam requirement: field, subfield, and syllabus. Rather than sit down “exams” these are complete scholarly works that demonstrate readiness and, as such, provide contextual and foundational material for the eventual dissertation. By virtue of passing this written prelim requirement and oral exam, the student is advanced to PhD candidacy. 

Three, Summer

Students prepare dissertation proposals.

Students receive funding to prepare and write dissertation proposals, and may use that funding for pilot studies as well. 


Enroll in Full-Time Equivalency (COMM 8444) each semester. 

Proposals reviewed in September, followed by dissertation & grant writing. 


Enroll in Full-Time Equivalency (COMM8444) each semester.

Complete disseration, pass oral defense, and apply for employment. 

View full requirements