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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.

All PhD applicants must have previously completed an MA or its equivalent in communication studies; however, talented undergraduates entering the MA program may accelerate the MA/PhD program if all milestones are met. While requirements for the PhD can be completed within three years after the MA is completed, many students take four or even five years to finish. Students are currently guaranteed four full years of PhD funding past the MA (six years including the MA), and the department does everything possible to support students who require a full five years. We make every attempt to provide all of the support necessary for you to enroll in a timely fashion, complete your 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 Friday Research Colloquium (FRC). The First Year Seminar 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 your (1) major field of study (e.g., critical media studies, rhetoric, interpersonal communication), your chosen (2) subfield (e.g., materialist rhetoric, family communication, environmental communication, etc.) and the final statement is a detailed (3) 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.

Rhetorical Studies

Rhetorical studies includes rhetorical criticism, rhetorical theory and public address, mass media criticism, and the history of public address.

Interpersonal 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, intercultural communication, and gender and linguistics. 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:






17 credits, including 15 credits of coursework. That includes an Introductory Seminar for the entire entering cohort, plus a colloquium credit each semester for attending Friday Research Colloquium (FRC) events.

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.



20 credits: 18 credits of coursework plus a colloquium credit each semester for the Friday Research Colloquium (FRC).

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.


At the end of the spring semester, a faculty committee will review the student’s paper and progress. This is an evaluative event. If the student appears unready to advance to the Ph.D. program, they will be asked to exit (not common), but will exit with an MA based on having completed equivalent coursework.

Year Three, Semester 1

9 credits: final 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.



Year Three, Semester 2

6 credits: 6 thesis-writing credits.

Write field statements in fulfillment of the preliminary exam requirement and complete the oral exam by the end of the semester.

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 candidacy.

Year 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.


Proposals reviewed in September, followed by dissertation & grant writing. Student enrolls for 18 dissertation-writing credit hours (8888), 9 per semester.

Student signs up for thesis writing credits. There is an expectation that ABD students will engage in professional development activities as well, such as academic conferencing.


Complete dissertation, pass oral defense, and apply for positions. Student enrolls for 1 cr of Comm 8444 per semester.

Student signs up for thesis writing credits.


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