Ph.D. in Mass Communication

The Ph.D. program trains doctoral students for careers in teaching and conducting advanced and original research in law, history, cultural studies, sociology, political communication, and process and effects of mass communication. We strive to prepare doctoral students to be “stewards of the field” who understand their area’s history and its place within the broader intellectual landscape so they can effectively share research-based insights with constituents within and outside academics.

The doctoral program in Mass Communication provides future academics and professionals with rigorous training in theory and research with highly individualized programs that students develop in consultation with their advisers. Our Ph.D. graduates  become some of the most successful researchers and administrators in the field of mass communication.

The Ph.D. in Mass Communication requires 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. Doctoral study provides students with the opportunity to learn the discipline’s theoretical underpinnings, standards of evidence and research methods.

A doctoral dissertation in Mass Communication 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.

Degree Requirements

In the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, 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.
  • Defend the dissertation.

Suggested Timeline

  • Prelims within one year of completion of course work
  • Dissertation proposal submitted within 1–2 months of completing prelims
  • Proposal meeting held as soon as practical after committee has reviewed the dissertation proposal
  • Defense of dissertation within 12–18 months after attaining dissertator status

Program Proposal

Ph.D. program proposals have four parts:

  1. Cover letter from the faculty adviser including a description of the student’s research and how it fits within the academic discipline; a discussion of the appropriateness of the student’s methodological approach.
  2. Cover letter from the student including a brief description of educational background; a statement of overall research interests; an explanation of the dissertation research including the proposed methodological approach; the expected date of prelims; and a description of Ph.D. minor, if any. While doctoral students in mass communication are not required to complete a minor, students who elect to complete a minor should contact the department in the area of concentration as soon as practical. Doctoral programs should reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the Ph.D. in Mass Communication. In addition to communication courses, students must take classes in several outside departments and programs. Students must demonstrate that they have the theoretical background and methodological training necessary to write the dissertation and to conduct research in the field of study after graduation. The student must also include a list of the five committee members and their departments. The doctoral committee should reflect the conceptual and analytical interests of the student. At least two of the five committee members must be from outside Journalism and Mass Communication and Life Sciences Communication. The faculty advisor must be from the student’s major department. The committee members should have agreed to be on the doctoral committee prior to their inclusion on the list.
  3. Chronological list of proposed and completed course work.*
  4. Subject area list of proposed and completed course work.*

* List only the M.A. courses that are germane to the Ph.D. program; provide cumulative credits and grade point averages for each university. Indicate grading scale, if other than 4.0, for courses taken at other universities. Please note:

  • Including work taken at the master’s level, students must complete a minimum of 65 semester credits. Thesis credits do not count as part of the 65 credits. Courses taken on a quarter-hour basis count as 3/4 of one semester credit. (12 quarter hours = 9 semester credits.)
  • Doctoral students must maintain a 3.5 cumulative GPA on all graduate courses taken at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in order to meet satisfactory progress criteria.

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