Ph.D. in Mass Communications

The interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Mass Communications is offered jointly by the Department of Life Sciences Communication and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The Ph.D. degree in Mass Communications provides future academics and professionals with rigorous training in theory and research with highly individualized programs that students develop in consultation with their advisors. Our Ph.D. graduates become some of the most successful researchers and leaders in the field of mass communication.  We require our students to engage in a systematic search for answers to well-formulated and substantive questions. The research process culminates in the discovery and reporting of new knowledge to others.

A doctoral dissertation in Mass Communications demonstrates a student’s ability to examine in detail an important issue in the field, using original research. Faculty members expect the dissertation to be clearly presented while conveying the student’s close familiarity with his or her research area.

The program offers several internationally recognized areas of research and teaching excellence: civic and political communication; health and environmental communication; history of media institutions; information technologies, social networking and digital media; international, inter-cultural and intra-cultural communication; law and ethics of media; processes and effects of mediated communication; public opinion; science and risk communication; and, social marketing. Working closely with their major professor and committee, students draw from courses offered in departments across campus to develop a plan of study in preparation for independent and original research in their areas of specialization.


Applicants for this program are expected to have demonstrated an interest and background in communication research by having earned a thesis-based M.A. or M.S. degree in communication or other relevant disciplines. The admissions committee, however, may accept other evidence of suitable preparation.

Students must meet the minimum requirements for admission set by the Graduate School. Applicants must submit an online application, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, official transcripts of grades, a CV, and three letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation should come from people who can speak to the scholarly abilities of the applicant. International applicants are required to take and attain a satisfactory score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. Test scores must be furnished to the school before the application is considered complete.

Degree Requirements

In the Ph.D. in Mass Communications program, doctoral programs are unique to a student’s theoretical and research interests and are developed in consultation with the faculty advisor. Students must:

  • Maintain a 3.5 cumulative GPA.
  • Complete a 65-credit (minimum) curriculum assembled in consultation with a faculty adviser. Appropriate theory and methods courses from the master’s degree may be applied toward the 65-credit minimum if that work applies to the focus of the student’s doctoral program. At least 32 credits must be earned at UW Madison.
  • Acquire training in the responsible conduct of research.
  • Obtain Graduate Committee approval of Ph.D. program proposal.
  • Pass preliminary examinations. After completion of course work, command of the discipline is tested in a set of five preliminary examinations.
  • Write a dissertation proposal. After successful completion of preliminary exams, students must write a proposal outlining dissertation research. The dissertation committee must approve the proposal.
  • Successfully defend and deposit the dissertation.

Upon being admitted to the Ph.D. in Mass Communications program, students will be assigned a temporary advisor in their selected area of study.


Financial Aid and Employment Opportunities 

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Joint Ph.D. Handbook

Please review the Joint Ph.D. Handbook for specific policies and procedures.