Basic Credit Requirements
For successful completion of the PhD, the Graduate School requires a minimum of 51 credits, which includes coursework, independent study, and research credits. This requirement stipulates that at least 50 percent of these credits must be received in courses specifically designed for graduate work, which the Graduate School defines as: courses numbered 700 and above; courses numbered 300-699 that are specifically designed for graduate students in a graduate program; courses numbered 300-699 that assess graduate students separately from undergraduate students; courses numbered 300-699 that have a graduate student enrollment greater than 50 percent in a given semester. Credits taken towards the completion of a Master’s Degree in the Department of Communication Arts may count toward this requirement. Credits taken while enrolled as a graduate student outside of the Department and UW-Madison may count toward this requirement with the approval of the Graduate Committee.
Each area of graduate study within the Department, however, has further specific requirements for the completion of the PhD. The Department also requires that a minimum of 40 credits must be completed in residence. If you have any questions about these requirements, contact your advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, or the Graduate Coordinator.
- Basic Credit Requirements
- Coursework Requirements for Communication Science
- Coursework Requirements for Film
- Coursework Requirements for Media and Cultural Studies
- Coursework for Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture
- PhD Minor
- Process for Preliminary Examination
- Preliminary Examination for Communication Science
- Preliminary Examination for Film
- Preliminary Examination for Media and Cultural Studies
- Preliminary Examination for Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture
- Dissertator Phase in Communication Arts
Coursework Requirements for Communication Science
If a student did not complete their MA coursework in the department, the following coursework is required:
- CA 760: Advances in Communication Theory
- CA 762: Communication Research Methods
- Four additional Communication Science courses at the 500 level or above. One semester of thesis credits (CA 990) may count towards this requirement. Colloquium does not count towards this requirement.
The following coursework is required of all students:
- At least two courses in statistics (See the list in the MA requirements)
- At least one additional course in research methods from the following list
- C&E Soc 755, 960
- Comp Sci 770
- Coun Psy 788, 789
- Curric 788, 789
- Ed Pol 755, 788, 789, 955
- Ed Psych- 771, 788, 789, 827, 945, 963
- ELPA 788. 789, 827
- Journ 811, 812, 813
- LSC 811
- Poli Sci 817
- Psych 752, 755, 770
- RP & SE 788, 789
- Soc 735, 751, 752, 754, 755, 955, 960
- Soc Work 945
- At least four additional courses at the 700 level or above. At least one of these courses must be a seminar in Communication Science (CA 970). Only one of these courses may be an independent study (CA 799). Colloquium does not count towards this requirement.
- Completion of a 9-credit minor
- One credit of Communication Science Colloquium (CA 904) every semester
The choice of PhD minor option is made by the student in consultation with his or her advisor. Depending on their dissertation topic, students may need to fulfill a foreign language or tool requirement. The need for such a requirement is determined by the student’s advisor and doctoral committee. The mix of courses to be completed must reflect the following principles:
- Build a solid theoretical and methodological foundation in Communication Science
- Cover sufficiently broad areas in communication and related social science disciplines
- Have at least one area of specialization. This program should normally be developed before the start of the second semester in residence. The course work must be approved by the student’s advisor and must be completed with a minimum grade point average of 3.75
A recommended set of courses would include:
- CA 760
- CA 762
- One or two additional courses in research methods
- Five additional Communication Science courses at the 500 level or above. One semester of thesis credits (CA 990) may count towards this requirement. One of these courses may be an independent study (CA 799)
- Four additional courses related to one’s area of specialization at the 700 level or above (may count toward one’s minor)
- Four to five statistics courses, which may count toward one’s minor, including the most relevant of the following: multiple regression or ANOVA and ANCOVA; factor analysis or other multivariate analysis; structural equation modeling; hierarchical linear modeling; nonparametric statistics
- One colloquium credit per semester
Coursework Requirements for Film
In addition to completion of the M.A., the Ph.D. program in Film requires 40 credits of coursework, normally completed in four consecutive semesters, with three courses and a weekly Film Colloquium every semester. Each course earns 3-credits and Colloquium earns 1 credit per semester.
Students in the Ph.D. program are expected to complete the following curriculum:
- CA 955: Media Historiography; or CA 958: Film Historiography (3 credits)
- One additional National Cinema or Modes and Practices or Power, Representation, and Identity course (See the lists in the MA requirements)(3 credits)
- At least one 900-level graduate seminar offered by program faculty or as approved by the student’s advisor (3 credits)
- Completion of a three-course PhD minor (9 credits)
- Six elective courses (18 credits)
- One credit of CA 902: Film Colloquium every semester (4 x 1 credit per semester).
It is customary for some elective credits to issue from Independent Studies with faculty geared toward research surrounding anticipated dissertation topics. Electives may also support acquisition of advanced language skills or specialized disciplinary knowledge essential for future dissertation research.
Graduate students who enter the program at the Ph.D. level (i.e., M.A. in hand from another Film/Media program) are expected to cover any parts of the M.A. core curriculum not already mastered in prior graduate studies. Students should work with their advisors directly upon arrival to determine course equivalency and map out an effective course of study.
Coursework Requirements for Media and Cultural Studies
The program requires 40 credits of coursework taken prior to taking prelims and advancing to dissertator status, as listed below:
- At least 12 credits at 900 level or above in MCS
- 4 credits of CA 903 MCS Colloquium (1 per semester)
- 24 credits at the 300 level or above, 6 of which should be in MCS, the other 18 in Communication Arts or other departments in consultation with advisor
- Of the above courses, 24 credits worth should be at the 600 level or above, not including MCS Colloquium (CA 903)
PhD students must complete a 9-credit minor. These may be taken as part of the 24 credits of 300-level or above requirements. Up to 6 credits of the minor requirement may be applied from MA coursework taken elsewhere, with approval of the advisor.
Following the completion of coursework for students with an MA from MCS or elsewhere, students must complete preliminary exams to advance to dissertator status. Then students must register for CA 903 (MCS Colloquium) and CA 990 (Research and Thesis) each remaining semester (for a total of 3 credits per semester).
Coursework for Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture
For students who receive an MA in the UW-Madison Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture program, the PhD program requires 2 additional semesters of academic credits (not including CA 990—Research and Thesis). The required coursework includes:
- 9 credits of electives
- Completion of a 9-credit PhD minor
- 1 credit of RPC Colloquium (CA 905) every semester
For students with an MA from another institution that is recognized by the Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture program as an equivalent to the MA in rhetoric at UW-Madison, the program requires 4 semesters of academic credits (not including CA 990—Research and Thesis). The program requires the following or equivalent classes that were satisfied during the MA to be completed for the PhD:
- CA 570: Classical Rhetorical Theory
- CA 571: Modern Rhetorical Theory; or CA 969: Contemporary Rhetorical Theory
- CA 976: Rhetorical Criticism
- Two Communication Arts courses at the 300 level or above
- One class with primary content focused on issues of race and ethnicity
Those entering with an equivalent MA from another institution must also complete a 9-credit PhD minor and enroll in 1 credit of RPC Colloquium (CA 905) every semester.
The 51 graduate-level credits required for the PhD include work in the doctoral minor. The minor requirement is designed to give breadth to the doctoral program and should expose the student to subjects and/or methodologies that expand upon and complement their primary area of study. The minor requirement can be fulfilled in one of three ways:
- Option A (external doctoral minor): 9 credits in a single department other than Communication Arts
- Option B (distributed doctoral minor): 9 credits forming a coherent topic, distributed across two or more departments other than Communication Arts, or, 9 credits forming a coherent topic among non-home area courses within Communication Arts
- Option C (Graduate/Professional certificate): Requires successful completion of a Graduate/Professional certificate in a program outside of Communication Arts.
To pursue a minor in a single department other than Communication Arts, students should seek the approval of their advisor and consult with the outside department to learn about its requirements to receive a PhD minor.
To pursue a distributed minor, students should consult and seek the approval of their advisor in forming a coherent topic.
To pursue a distributed minor exclusively in Communication Science, students should consult with a faculty member from this area.
To pursue a distributed minor exclusively in Film, students may choose among the following courses:
- Students with no prior film studies background are encouraged to take CA 350: Introduction to Film before enrolling in more specialized courses, but CA 350 will not count as one of the three courses in the minor track.
- CA 454: Critical Film Analysis
- CA 455: French Cinema or CA 456: Russian and Soviet Film
- CA 463: Avant-Garde Film
- CA 556: The American Film Industry in the Era of the Studio System
- CA 664: Classical Film Theory
- CA 665: Contemporary Film Theory
- Special Topics and 900-level
- 900-level graduate seminars are regularly offered in a variety of advanced and specialized areas. A faculty member in the department can assist graduate students in selecting among these.
To pursue a distributed minor exclusively in Media and Cultural Studies, students should consult with a faculty member from this area.
To pursue a distributed minor exclusively in Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture, students should consult with a faculty member from this area.
All Graduate School students must utilize the Graduate Student Portal in MyUW to add, change, or discontinue any major/named option, doctoral minor, or graduate/professional certificate. To apply for a distributed minor in Communication Arts, an external minor in another department, or a certificate, please log in to MyUW, click on Graduate Student Portal, and then click on Add/Change Programs. The relevant coordinator will review your application for admittance and reach out to you if they have any further questions.
Process for Preliminary Examination
Preliminary examinations are administered three times a year: in late August, at end of the fall semester, and at the end of the spring semester. Generally, students take their preliminary examinations in May or August. In the semester before a potential preliminary exam date (e.g., spring semester for August examinations, fall semester for May examinations), students should confer with their advisor to see if they are ready to take this step.
In consultation with the advisor, the student must form a Prelim Committee early in the semester in which the student plans to take exams. The committee, usually formed of three or four faculty members, will write questions for the exam, read the answers, and sit on a Prelim defense committee. At the defense, the Prelim Committee may decide to pass the student’s exam answers with honors; to pass the student’s exam answers; to attach a contingency to the successful completion of the exam; or to fail the student’s exam answers.
Early in the semester or summer that the student plans to take preliminary examinations, the student should notify the Graduate Coordinator of the makeup of his or her Prelim Committee. Two months before the anticipated examination dates, the student should approach the Prelim Committee and, in consultation with their advisor, schedule a time for their Prelim Defense. Fall and spring semester exams generally occur during finals week, while August exams generally occur during Welcome Week. The student should also confer with the Graduate Coordinator as to when exams will take place.
The preliminary examination typically emphasizes the student’s ability to synthesize and apply creatively what they have learned. Factual knowledge is not the sole focus of the examination; nor does it suffice merely to know what others think or say. Likewise, the preliminary examination should not be regarded simply as a repetition of exams and materials encountered in the student’s courses, although the questions often relate to coursework. Rather, the preliminary exams should demonstrate the student’s competent mastery of relevant areas within a field of study, and indicate the ability to define and propose a unique plan of research for the dissertation.
To take preliminary examinations, students must have completed all of the PhD coursework requirements of their area and their minor coursework. Students must also be in Good Standing, (see section VI: SATISFACTORY ACADEMIC PROGRESS). An outstanding grade of incomplete will bar a student from taking exams.
The expectation for the preliminary exams defense is that it will take place in person in Vilas Hall, with at least the student and the advisor present. That said, when factoring in the timing of the defense, availability of the participants, etc., exceptions and accommodations for virtual defenses can be made at the area level.
Preliminary exam defenses may not be recorded, unless an exception has been approved in writing at an earlier date by each committee member.
Sample examination questions are available upon request from the Graduate Coordinator.
Preliminary Examination for Communication Science
Upon completion of coursework in Communication Science and the graduate minor, a PhD preliminary examination is administered in four areas.The writing component of the preliminary examination is followed by an oral defense.
Students are examined in the following areas:
- Communication processes and contexts: Two separate exams on two major topic areas in the field focusing on theories and major empirical findings
- Specialization: The student’s area of specialization; typically, the dissertation research dictates the area of specialization
- Quantitative research methodology and theory construction: This portion of the exam may include questions addressing statistics, research design, measurement, and the construction and evaluation of theory
Students have their choice of two options for each of the four areas. They may either take a four-hour closed-book exam, or an eight-hour open-book exam. If the latter option is chosen, the student is expected to provide more fully elaborated and well-sourced critical analysis and synthesis
The student needs to clearly communicate with each faculty member from whom they are taking a prelim question about format and expectations when developing their reading list. After completing consultation with all members of the prelim committees, the student should communicate in writing with their advisor and the Graduate Program Coordinator on the format of each of the four exams.
Preliminary Examination for Film
Upon completion of coursework in Film and the graduate minor, a PhD preliminary examination totaling 12 hours of writing is administered.
Students take 12 hours of written examinations. Nine of the hours are divided across the following three concentrations:
- Film theory
- Film history
- Film analysis and criticism
The student will also write three hours in an area of specialization determined in consultation with the student’s advisor.
Preliminary Examination for Media and Cultural Studies
Upon completion of coursework in Media and Cultural Studies and the graduate minor, a PhD preliminary examination totaling 24 hours of writing is administered (four open-book essay exams, six hours each, taken on separate days). The writing component of the preliminary examination is followed by an oral defense. The examination is typically administered in May or August; end of fall semester preliminary exams are administered only in the case of extenuating circumstances.
The examination covers a combination of general and specialized areas in relation to the planned dissertation project, to be chosen in a group consultation with the student’s advisor and major faculty. Although examiners are usually MCS faculty, with advisor approval a non-MCS faculty member may also be asked to serve as an examiner if their expertise is in a subject area central to the planned dissertation.
Preliminary Examination for Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture
Upon completion of coursework in Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture and the graduate minor, a PhD preliminary examination totaling 12 hours of writing is administered. The writing component of the preliminary examination is followed by a two-hour oral defense.
Students take 12 hours of written examinations divided across four concentrations:
- Rhetorical theory: students will assemble and engage a set of scholarly publications primarily on rhetorical theory as well as related theory.
- Rhetorical discourse: students will assemble a series of primary and related materials (e.g. speeches, archival documents, websites, images, places, monuments, fieldnotes, interview transcripts) that they will engage critically.
- Critical method: students will assemble and engage a set of scholarly publications on a rhetorical method (e.g. criticism, fieldwork, historiography, digital ethnography).
- Special topics: The student will also write three hours in an area of specialization determined in consultation with the student’s advisor and doctoral committee.
Students who enter Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture without an MA in a cognate program usually take preliminary examinations by the end of the spring semester or in late August of their third year in residence. Students who enter the program with an MA in a cognate program ordinarily take preliminary examinations by the end of the spring semester or in late August of their second year in residence.
Students should schedule at least 7 days between their last question date and the oral defense.
For all other defenses, students should plan for at least the following number of days between document delivery to the committee and the oral defense.
Thesis and Prospectus: 14 Days
Dissertation: 21 Days
Dissertator Phase in Communication Arts
Upon passing the preliminary examination, the student enters the dissertator phase. Dissertators must enroll in CA 990 each semester. In order to stay in Good Standing, students cannot receive a grade of U (Unsatisfactory) in successive semesters; it is thus imperative that students continue to make progress with their dissertation research and writing.
The Dissertation Proposal
The student begins the dissertator phase by writing a dissertation proposal. The aim of a dissertation proposal is to articulate a scholarly question or problem and a plan for addressing it. The proposal should:
- Identify and explain the significance of the dissertation topic
- Analyze the state of the scholarly literature on the topic
- Describe preliminary arguments or hypotheses the dissertation will investigate
- Identify the primary research sources for the dissertation
- Sketch out a research and writing schedule
Students should develop the proposal in consultation with their advisor. During this process, students must consult with their advisor and committee regarding the appropriate length of the dissertation and any area-specific guidelines for the structure and development of the dissertation. The department recognizes that a dissertation may take the form of a single book-length monograph or a series of publishable journal articles.
Before the student may proceed with writing the dissertation, the proposal must be approved by the student’s advisor and dissertation proposal committee, which consists of 3-4 Communication Arts faculty members. A student and advisor may choose to add outside members to the proposal committee, but this is not required. (For copies of past proposals, please see the Graduate Coordinator). While writing the dissertation, a student must obtain the approval of the advisor for modifications to the dissertation that depart significantly from the proposal.
The Dissertation Committee
Once the proposal has been approved by the proposal committee, the student must form a dissertation committee. Often, the members of the proposal committee serve on the dissertation committee, but the membership of the two committees may differ. The Graduate School sets the baseline rules for composition of the committee (See https://grad.wisc.edu/documents/committees/) and then graduate programs are expected to craft additional language to meet departmental requirements. For Comm Arts then, doctoral committees/final oral examination committees must meet the following criteria:
- The chair or one of the co-chairs of the committee must be graduate faculty from the student’s program.
- The committee must have at least 3 other members, with at least 2 members from at least two University of Wisconsin—Madison graduate programs (ours and another; affiliate faculty in our department can satisfy this requirement). Note that former UW-Madison graduate faculty can satisfy this latter requirement up to one year after resignation or retirement.
- At least one member of the committee must be a faculty member external to the Communication Arts department (i.e. another department or another institution; affiliate faculty in Communication Arts *do not* satisfy this requirement)
- One member of the dissertation committee may be emeritus faculty, or academic staff, but only those within 1 year of retirement will count to meet committee membership requirements.
- All members of a student’s dissertation committee must be designated as “readers.” According to the Graduate School, “Readers are committee members who commit themselves to closely reading and reviewing the entire dissertation.”
- All committee members have voting rights. To receive a doctoral degree, students cannot receive more than one dissenting vote from their committee on the final degree warrant.
A student must consult with their advisor in determining the composition of the dissertation committee. With advisor approval, those wishing to draw upon the expertise of faculty outside their area may add extra members to their committee. Or, in cases in which a faculty member outside the home area has highly relevant expertise, the advisor may approve the substitution of one Communication Arts faculty member from outside the student’s area for one of the three within the area. However, requests for a double substitution (i.e., for only one member of the committee to be from the home area) must be forwarded to the Graduate Committee. In written form, these requests must be supported by the advisor, and must clearly articulate the pressing intellectual grounds for the proposed committee constitution. Approval is rare, given concerns that graduates from each of the four areas be evaluated by faculty in those areas.
Some possible sample committee compositions might include:
Sample Committee #1 – 4-person committee
- Reader 1 – Committee Chair who is a faculty member from student’s home area
- Reader 2 – Faculty member from student’s home area
- Reader 3 –Comm Arts faculty member who is an affiliate faculty in another UW graduate program
- Reader 4 – Faculty member from a different institution
Sample Committee #2 – 4-person committee
- Reader 1 – Committee Chair who is a faculty member from student’s home area
- Reader 2 – Faculty member from student’s home area
- Reader 3 – Emeritus professor from student’s home area or another area in Comm Arts
- Reader 4 – Another faculty member from another UW grad program
Sample Committee #3 – 5-person committee
- Reader 1 – Committee Chair who is a faculty member from student’s home area
- Reader 2 – Faculty member from student’s home area
- Reader 3 – Academic staff member from Comm Arts
- Reader 4 – Faculty member from another UW grad program
- Reader 5 – Faculty member from student’s home area or another institution
In exceptional circumstances, the student may seek a formal co-advisor for their dissertation committee. The Department recognizes two situations in which this may be appropriate: (1) the student’s dissertation project genuinely pursues an interdisciplinary topic that requires the equal involvement of a faculty member in Communication Arts and a faculty member in another department at UW-Madison; (2) the student’s advisor retires or resigns from the University, and the student cannot complete the dissertation within one year of the retirement or resignation, which requires the student to seek a new advisor in the Department. In both cases, the student must first obtain the approval of their advisor in Communication Arts (for situation 2, this person is the newly selected advisor). If the student’s advisor agrees to a co-chair arrangement, the student must submit a written request to the graduate committee and receive its approval.
The Dissertation Defense
The dissertation committee serves as the Final Oral Committee, before whom the student must defend the completed dissertation manuscript. As the student nears completion of the dissertation manuscript, the student, in consultation with the advisor, should check the Graduate School degree deadlines and consult with the committee to determine a date for the defense of the dissertation. Students should consult individually with each committee member to determine how far in advance of a defense date they wish to receive a copy of the final draft of the dissertation: committee members may require a final copy at least one month beforehand. Students should also be mindful, in planning a defense date, of committee member travel plans. Moreover, since the meeting with the committee often generates required revisions to the dissertation, defenses should be scheduled well in advance of the Graduate School’s deposit deadlines as well as a candidate’s personal deadlines for completion, so that the revisions can be made properly.
Once a date has been determined, the student should convey this information—along with the names of the committee members—to the Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks before the scheduled date. This is necessary so that the Graduate Coordinator may order a Final Dissertation Warrant from the Graduate School. The Final Dissertation Warrant is the official document that is signed by the student’s committee and submitted to the Graduate School to indicate that the student has received their PhD.
The Department considers the physical presence of all committee members during the defense to be in the best interests of the student, since this allows for full scholarly interchange and the most conscientious and rigorous advising of dissertators. The expectation for the dissertation defense is that it will take place in person in Vilas Hall, with at least the student and the advisor present. That said, when factoring in the timing of the defense, availability of the participants, etc., exceptions and accommodations for virtual defenses can be made at the area level. It is the student’s responsibility to work with the staff of the Instructional Media Center to arrange a secure, reliable means of real-time participation for any virtual/remote committee members. Students are responsible for booking the room for the defense. Graduate Committee policy is that students not bring food or drink for committee members. Dissertation defenses may not be recorded, unless an exception has been approved in writing at an earlier date by each committee member.
Defense meetings typically last two hours, but they may take longer. Sometimes, at the beginning of the meeting, the committee may request the candidate to leave the room while it discusses the dissertation manuscript. The committee also may ask the candidate to begin the meeting with a brief oral presentation that provides an overview of the project. At the end of the meeting, the committee will ask the candidate to leave the room while it confers on a decision. The committee may decide to pass the dissertation without revision; to pass the dissertation pending revisions, which may be supervised by the advisor or the full committee; or to fail the dissertation. In some cases, a second meeting with the committee may be required following revisions.
For information about formatting and depositing the dissertation, see:
In accordance with Graduate School policy, doctoral students must orally defend and deposit the dissertation within five years of passing the preliminary examination. In rare instances, a student may appeal this time limit by requesting that their advisor submit a written request to the Graduate Committee and the Graduate School Degree Coordinator.
Note that students will be expected to pay tuition fees for the semester in which they deposit their dissertation (including Summer), unless they are employed as a TA, PA, RA, or lecturer. Students who are on fellowship and deposit their dissertation during the academic year will not be responsible for tuition fees; students who are on fellowship and deposit their dissertation during the summer will be responsible for tuition fees. Considering these variations, students should consult the Graduate School’s cut-off dates for semesters.