Graduate Overview

The University Community

With over ten-thousand students enrolled in the Graduate School or one of the Professional Schools, UW-Madison is committed to excellence in advanced study. This commitment is reflected in UW-Madison’s extensive libraries, its facilities for research in the arts and sciences, and its distinguished faculty and professional staff. The Department of Communication Arts shares fully in that commitment, and is an active participant in the tireless sifting and winnowing of ideas that mark this vital campus.

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Areas of Study

The graduate programs in Communication Arts are designed to educate research scholars. Through intensive coursework within the Department and in other departments, and through close professional association with appropriate faculty, graduate students in Communication Arts gain proficiency and sophistication in their chosen areas of study. Their attainment of doctoral degrees signifies their readiness to work as independent scholars in their areas and to make original contributions to human knowledge.

Communication Arts offers four distinct areas of graduate study, each with specific curricula and requirements:

  • Communication Science
  • Film
  • Media & Cultural Studies
  • Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture

The four graduate areas are kept small and selective. The Department of Communication Arts does not offer graduate programs in performance or production. Students interested in journalism, advertising, or public relations should consult the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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Though terminal MA degrees may occasionally be awarded, the programs are designed with successful completion of the PhD as the goal. Our graduates go on to fill faculty positions in research and teaching institutions worldwide. Students frequently leave our program with several publications on their vitae, developed out of seminar work. We actively encourage graduates to participate in academic conference presentations, with some funding support available.

Research Resources

Madison is a lively and vital place for in-depth study and interdisciplinary scholarly exchange. UW-Madison’s strong programs in a host of areas actively complement the Communication Arts graduate program, and provide a diversity of options for the minor. The Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin supports cutting edge research in all fields of inquiry into human communication. Two prestigious research centers affiliated with the department expand the opportunities for faculty, graduate students, and other scholars.


The Center for Communication Research (CCR) hosts public presentations, lectures, colloquia, and research projects that focus on communication strategies, education, and the promotion of dialogue.


Associated with the Wisconsin Historical Society, The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (WCFTR) is the home of one of the oldest and most extensive collections of print, audio/visual, and graphic materials relating to film, theater, radio and television in the United States. Working with the UW Cinematheque and the Wisconsin Film Festival, the Center also provides free screenings of rare and important films from around the world.


One unique feature of the graduate program in Communication Arts is its weekly colloquia. Three Thursday afternoons per month, graduate students and faculty in each area gather for presentation of research, discussion of professional issues, or to hear an outside speaker. The lively question and answer sessions that follow help students to develop their own work and to pursue lines of inquiry on a productive informal basis. Occasional joint and department-wide colloquia bring the areas together to consider key issues in the field.

Outreach and Publications

Scholarly outreach and publication activities are hosted by the department to support the training of our graduate students:


Playback is a multi-media blog devoted to timely criticism and new perspectives on media and culture. It serves as a forum for scholarly analysis, exchange, and experiments in new media such as podcasting, video essays, interactive works, and games. Playback also aims to create a useful space for processing ongoing scholarship, welcoming reflections on research, writing, and publishing. Playback is run by an editorial board comprised of graduate students in Media & Cultural Studies and Film and welcomes contributions from scholars from all stages, disciplines, and departments.

The Velvet Light Trap

The Velvet Light Trap is a journal devoted to investigating historical questions that illuminate the understanding of film, television, and related media. It is edited entirely by graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at the University of Texas-Austin. Each group puts together one issue yearly, usually organized around a particular theme. It is published by the University of Texas Press. Articles by scholars at all levels and from around the world have appeared in its pages.

The Cinematheque

The Cinematheque, hosted by the Department of Communication Arts, is a coalition of UW-Madison academic departments and student film groups dedicated to showcasing archival and other rare prints from around the world. The Cinematheque screens films every Friday and Saturday night, and has one of the finest projection facilities in Madison. Admission is free and open to the UW and Madison community.

International Journal of Cultural Studies

International Journal of Cultural Studies is a journal, founded in 1998, committed to rethinking cultural practices, processes, texts and infrastructures beyond traditional national frameworks and regional biases. International Journal of Cultural Studies provides a critical space for theoretical and methodological innovation in global cultural research. Edited by Professors Jonathan Gray and Lori Kido Lopez, its Editorial Assistant is a graduate student PA position.