Coursework Requirements for Communication Science
- CA 760: Advances in Communication Theory
- CA 762: Communication Research Methods
- At least one additional course in research methods
- At two courses in statistics
- 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.
- 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).
- Completion of a 9-credit minor (courses must be at the 400 level or above; statistics courses may count towards the minor)
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
The Film program requires 40 credits of coursework for the PhD, in addition to the MA, including:
- CA 951: Media Historiography; or CA 958: Film Historiography
- Two of the following courses: CA 357: History of Animation; CA 358: History of Documentary Film; CA 461: Global Art Cinema; CA 462: American Independent Cinema; or CA 463: Avant-Garde Film
- Completion of a 9-credit minor
Depending upon their dissertation topics, students also may have to complete a tool requirement. Typically, the tool requirement involves the acquisition or certification of advanced skills in a language other than English. Such fluency is expected of students working with documents and texts related to the study of particular national cinemas. The specific terms of the tool requirement are worked out in consultation with the student’s advisor.
Coursework Requirements for Media and Cultural Studies
The Media and Cultural Studies program requires 40 credits of coursework for the PhD, in addition to the MA, including:
- At least 12 credits at 900 level in MCS courses
- Completion of a 9-credit minor
Coursework for Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture
For students who receive an MA in the Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture program, the PhD program requires 2 additional semesters of academic credits (not including CA 990—Research and Thesis), including all of the courses listed below.
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
- Completion of a 9-credit minor
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 two ways:
- Option A: 9 credits in a single department other than Communication Arts
- Option B (distributed 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
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.
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.
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 totaling 16 hours of writing is administered (four exams, four hours each). The writing component of the preliminary examination is followed by an oral defense.
Students take 16 hours of examination in the following areas:
- Communication processes and contexts (8 hours): Four hours each in two major topic areas in the field focusing on theories and major empirical findings
- Specialization (4 hours): Four hours in the student’s area of specialization; typically, the dissertation research dictates the area of specialization
- Quantitative research methodology and theory construction (4 hours): This portion of the exam may include questions addressing statistics, research design, measurement, and the construction and evaluation of theory
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.
Dissertator Phase in Communication Arts
Upon passing the preliminary examination, the student enters the dissertator phase. The student begins 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.
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.
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.) A dissertation committee consists of the student’s advisor (who must be UW-Madison graduate faculty), and at least three other members (two of whom must be UW-Madison graduate faculty): ordinarily at least two additional members from the student’s primary area of concentration, and at least one member from outside the department, which may be someone on campus or from another institution. One member of the dissertation committee may be either emeritus faculty, a faculty member from another institution, or academic staff. 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.” (See https://grad.wisc.edu/documents/committees/)
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 Department’s four graduate programs be evaluated by faculty in those programs.
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 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 Department requires that the candidate and advisor be physically present at the defense. Exceptions to this rule can be made only with application to the Director of Graduate Studies, who will consult with the Graduate Committee; such applications must be made well in advance of the scheduled defense date. Should other committee members be attending virtually, 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 these committee members. This is allowable for up to two committee members (with the exception of the student’s advisor) without consultation with the Graduate Committee. In cases in which a committee member agrees to a defense date and fails to attend, the defense can and should proceed, with additional consultation between the student, advisor, and absent member at a later date. Students are responsible for booking the room for the defense. Graduate Committee policy is that students not bring food or drink for committee members. Students leaving the room at any time must bring their belongings with them. 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.