Ph.D. Requirements and Policies

The Ph.D. program is designed to balance the need for a broad foundation in communication scholarship with the need to specialize in a field of interest for the dissertation. Program requirements facilitate the achievement of these two goals, but the primary responsibility for program development lies with the graduate student and his or her supervisory committee. The program provides the student and his or her committee with the flexibility necessary to tailor the program to the student’s needs and interests.

Although the Graduate Program Advisor provides routine information updates regarding deadlines, university and department policies, and campus resources, students are responsible to find and act on the information that is relevant for them. Departmental policies are found here and the Graduate School’s portal is www.grad.washington.edu.

Program Requirements

1. Completion of a minimum of 45 post-master credits, including the following:

  • 2-course core during the first year of study (COM 500, 501) Click here to see a note on substitutions.
  • 3 credits of COM 594 professional development proseminars in three different topics, to be taken before the general exams (up to 5 credits in five different topics may be taken).
  • 2 additional methods courses beyond COM 501
  • 5 credits of COM 591 or COM 592
  • 3 credits of COM 596 (Comm Pedagogy) may count toward total. These credits are required for students with assistantships and optional for all others.

At least 25 of these credits (not including COM 600 or COM 800) must be 500-level or above.

If you completed your M.A. in Communication at the University of Washington, you do not repeat the core courses, and need only 30 post-master credits, which can include COM 600 credits, and 3 credits of COM 594 in three different topics. You must take two methods courses beyond the minimum methods course requirements for the M.A. degree. COM 594 credits and additional methods courses beyond the minimum M.A. requirements that were taken during your M.A. work may be used to fulfill the 594 and methods requirements for the doctoral program, but may not be applied to the 30 post-master credits.

2. Completion of the General Examination (see description below). Com 600 (General Exam Preparation) credits do not count toward the 45 required post-master credits (unless you are a UW Com MA).

3. Completion of the dissertation (a minimum of 27 credits in COM 800 over at least 3 quarters) and Final Examination (see description below). These 27 credits do not count toward the 45 required post-master credits (or 30 required post-master credits for UW Com MAs).

Time to Completion

It is expected that a student can earn a consecutive M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Washington in a total of five years. A student entering the program with an M.A. typically completes the Ph.D. in four years. In accordance with University rules, there is a 10-year time limit for students completing both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in the Department of Communication.

Supervisory Committee

A doctoral supervisory committee must have at least four members, including at least one member from outside the Department of Communication to serve as Graduate School Representative (GSR). The committee chair must be from the Department of Communication. The GSR must be a member of the graduate faculty who is endorsed to chair doctoral committees. The GSR has full voting responsibilities on the committee, and can serve on the reading committee and write general exam questions. If the non-Communication faculty member chosen by the student does not qualify or wish to serve as GSR, then the student will need to choose an additional faculty member from outside the department to serve as GSR.

The reading committee includes the chair and two other graduate faculty; at least two reading committee members (including the chair) must be primary or adjunct faculty in the Department of Communication. The reading committee should be appointed at the time of the dissertation proposal.  The Reading Committee is appointed to read and approve the dissertation. It is the responsibility of a reading committee to (a) ensure that the dissertation is a significant contribution to knowledge and is an acceptable piece of scholarly writing; (b) determine the appropriateness of a candidate’s dissertation as a basis for issuing a warrant for a Final Examination; (c) approve a candidate’s dissertation and; (d) sign two original Signature Pages that are placed within a dissertation after all revisions are completed.

A student must select a committee chair by the end of the 3rd quarter in the program. A full supervisory committee must be in place by the end of the 4th quarter (excluding summer).

If you completed your MA in Communication at the UW, then you must select a committee chair by the end of the 1st quarter in the program, and establish a full supervisory committee by the end of the 2nd quarter.

For advice on selecting and working with a dissertation advisor, click here (Microsoft Word Document).

Program of Study

By the 4th quarter in the doctoral program (excluding summer), students are required to develop a Program of Study. If you completed your MA in Communication at the UW, then you must submit an approved program of study by the end of the 2nd quarter. This document requires the signed approval of all members of the supervisory committee, as does approval of any course waiver requests. The Program of Study must also be reviewed by the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) on behalf of the Graduate Committee to ensure compliance with program requirements. The GPC may bring questions, concerns, or waiver requests to the Graduate Committee for consultation. Once approved, the program of study should be turned into the Graduate Program Advisor.

Students should develop their Program of Study in consultation with the chair of their supervisory committee. The chair will forward the Program to the other committee members once the chair believes it is ready. Once the document is approved by the full supervisory committee, the chair then forwards the Program of Study to the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Please click here to access the Ph.D. program of study form in Microsoft Word format.

To see an example of a completed program of study, click here.

Research and Teaching

All Ph.D. students are required to develop their research experience by engaging in 5 credits of either a research apprenticeship (i.e., COM 592 Directed Research) with a faculty member or their own research project  (i.e., COM 591 Independent Research). Your supervisory committee chair, the Graduate Program Coordinator and/or the Professional Development Committee Chair can help you identify a faculty member with whom you may find an apprenticeship useful or who could supervise your independent research. This experience is most useful after taking COM 501 and at least one other methods course.

Teaching is valued in this department. But if research is part of your career goals, you should consider the trade-offs between devoting discretionary time to instructional activities (e.g., tutoring or volunteering in an undergraduate program) versus advancing your own research (e.g., by developing a seminar paper for publication). Discuss these kinds of choices and trade-offs with your advisor, and with members of the Professional Development Committee.

General Examination

(As of Autumn, 2013)

The purpose of the General Examination is to test a Ph.D. student’s mastery of foundational communication subjects and theory, research, and methods relevant to the student’s main areas of study. The successful completion of this exam indicates that a student is ready to design and produce a doctoral dissertation.

The General Exam has both written and oral components. Students generally take the exam during their 5th, 6th, or 7th quarter in the Ph.D. program (excluding summer). Those students with M.A.s in Communication from the UW are encouraged to take the exam earlier than this to expedite their progress through the program. Students may take the exam once they have an approved Program of Study (with no outstanding incomplete grades). A student’s supervisory committee should be in place at least four months prior to the exam.

Students prepare for exams in four question areas, one of which represents the foundational courses (COM 500 and 501). The other areas are developed between the student and his/her advisor, with the approval of the supervisory committee. It is strongly recommended that (1) at least one exam question have a methodological focus to help with preparation for the dissertation, and (2) each committee member prepares one of the exam questions, though this is not always possible.

The core area question is composed typically by the student’s advisor and should prompt the student to revisit issues raised in COM 500 and/or 501 while reflecting on his or her own epistemological and methodological perspective vis-a-vis the field of communication. In answering the “core question,” students are expected both to demonstrate their understanding of debates, concepts, and vocabularies that animate the broader discipline and articulate how they situate and justify their own scholarship in relationship to the field.  In this way, the core question serves as a pedagogical “book end” to the foundational courses (500, 501), in that it provides students the opportunity to synthesize their coursework and to outline their own disciplinary identity explicitly as they move forward in their career.

For the remaining written questions, each committee member will work with the student on a set of relevant readings for each exam area, but the committee will not specify the questions in advance.

As proctor, the Graduate Program Advisor will collect exam questions from the committee members.

There is one exception to this exam structure. A student’s supervisory committee may consider a student’s request to substitute a publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly article or book chapter for one of the four exams, not including the “core” question. If this option is selected and approved, then the remaining exams will be written in the traditional open-book style described below. The supervisory committee influences and approves the topics for the student’s publishable paper substitution, under the direction of the student’s chair. A substituted publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly article or book chapter should be completed before the written exams begin, and must be submitted no later than 4 p.m. on the final day of the written exam. The oral exam in this case will review jointly the student’s written take-home answers and substituted scholarly article/book chapter submitted to the committee. Work turned in for completion of the master’s thesis cannot be used for this substitution.

Up to 15 credits of COM 600 (General Exam Preparation) may be taken leading up to and/or during the quarter of the exam. These are taken for credit/no credit only. No COM 800 (Dissertation Research) credits may be taken before or during the quarter of the exam.

Generally, students are ready to take their general exams when they have:

  • Read all the readings on each list.
  • Crafted a conceptual framework or mental map of the various lines of thought represented in the readings.
  • Discussed key concepts and the relationships between them with the committee member(s) responsible for each reading list.

For a sample general exam question and reading list, please click here.

Other details are as follows:

1. Written Exam

The written exam is open book, taking place over four consecutive days, starting at 9 a.m. on Day 1 and ending at 4 p.m. on Day 4. In advance of taking the exam, students are encouraged to develop a clear plan for how they will manage their time during those four days. If one or two publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly articles/book chapters are to be substituted for one or two of the written exams, then the number of days for the remaining exams is reduced accordingly (i.e., 3 consecutive days of exams if one written exam is being substituted with a publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly paper, and 2 consecutive days of exams if two written exams are being substituted with publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly papers). This is because the substituted papers should be completed before the written exams begin. In all cases, the first and final days of the written exam must be weekdays that are not university holidays, and the exam begins at 9 a.m. on the first day and ends at 4 p.m. on the last day.

At 9 a.m. on the first day, the student will have the exam questions e-mailed to him/her by the GPA; however, the student assumes all responsibility for any delay or failure to receive questions via email. The exam proctor (the Graduate Program Advisor) must always receive printed versions and electronic versions of all documents (including substituted publishable papers, if applicable) by 4 p.m. on the final day of the written exam.

Students’ answers for each question must be typed on double-spaced pages (12-point Times New Roman with 1 inch margins). Each answer must not exceed 4,500 words. (This is roughly 15 pages per answer.) The committee will not read written exam answers longer than 4,500 words. Given these strict page limits, students are advised to use lengthy quotes sparingly and avoid unnecessary repetition.

The 4,500 word limit does not include a reference list, which students should attach to each answer. This list should include the reading list used to prepare for the question, as well as any additional sources incorporated in the student’s answer.

Students taking the exam must observe the University of Washington student conduct code, which strictly forbids plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct. The written exam is “open book” in the sense that the student may refer to articles, books, and other materials while preparing exam answers. The exam should test the student’s ability to understand and use the relevant literatures, not memorize them. It is important that while the student is writing, he/she does NOT discuss the exam questions with other students, faculty, family, or anyone else. The written answers will cite relevant academic sources, but the writing and ideas expressed should be the student’s own.

Students are permitted to use their own original notes and writings in developing exam answers, but any use of other people’s work–even unpublished manuscripts or work the student co-authored with other students or faculty–must include appropriate quotation and full citation. It is crucial that the written answers directly reflect the substance and organization of the questions posed. Generic answers that review related literature but fail to address exam questions directly will not receive favorable reviews.

2. Oral Exam

The oral exam must take place 5-14 working days after the completion of the written exam and typically lasts for 1½ hours. The student should bring copies of his/her written answers to the oral exam, and these may have brief margin notes in them. If the student has been allowed to substitute one or two publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly articles/book chapters for one or two of the written exams, copies of these too should be brought to the oral exam for the student to reference. It is also recommended that the student bring a blank pad. No other reference materials are allowed at the oral. At the end of the written exam, the GPA will distribute copies of the written answers and, if applicable, substituted papers to the supervisory committee, including the Graduate School Representative (GSR).

At the oral exam, students may be asked about reading list topics not covered in the written exam question. It is rare that an exam question can adequately address all the issues encompassed by the works in the reading list.

The oral exam must be scheduled with the Graduate School by the student and confirmed with the Graduate School by the GPA. The student should log into MyGrad and electronically schedule the “doctoral general” exam. At least 4 supervisory committee members must be present at the oral exam, including Chair, GSR, and one additional graduate faculty member. All of the committee members (including GSR) required to attend the oral exam must confirm with the GPA that they will do so before the GPA can confirm the exam date. The student should secure this confirmation by collecting e-mail signatures that are cc’d to the GPA; these e-mails should be very specific, such as “I agree to attend Student’s General Exam on Date at Time and Place.” The place for the exam can be scheduled through the GPA.

General criteria for passing the general exams:

  • Demonstration of comprehension of the literature on which the student has chosen to develop expertise.
  • Evidence of a conceptual framework or mental map that connects the various lines of thought represented in the readings.
  • Coherence within and across the students’ written texts and oral answers to exam questions.
  • Demonstration of ability to make a well-substantiated  argument.
  • Appropriate use of the assigned literature, including correct citations.
  • Ability to situate one’s own ideas in relation to those in the literature.
  • Ability to ‘add value’ to the literature by exposing gaps, offering critiques, or organizing the ideas in creative or insightful ways.

Completion of the Dissertation

The successful completion of the General Examination indicates that a student is deemed adequately prepared to complete a dissertation. As such, doctoral candidates may begin to take COM 800 (Dissertation Research) credits the quarter after they pass the exam.

1. Dissertation Proposal

A formal dissertation proposal is required by the end of the second quarter (excluding summer) following the General Exam. It is recommended that a student with an MA in Communication from the UW submit the proposal the quarter after the general exam (excluding summer). Often building on the general exams, and certainly reflecting the mastery required by the general exams, the dissertation proposal should address one or more questions of scholarly significance and propose a study to answer those questions. The proposal should identify critical gaps in the literature and offer a study that attempts to fill these. In addition, the proposal should reflect mastery of the methods to be deployed in the study. For many students, a high-quality proposal can develop into one or more of the chapters in the dissertation. By writing a formal proposal and earning committee approval, a student ensures that both the student and his or her full committee clearly understand the nature of the work the student is about to perform.

The reading committee, a subset of the supervisory committee that includes the chair plus two other members of the graduate faculty (with at least one of those additional two members being primary or adjunct in the department), should be appointed at the time of the dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal requires the signed approval of the reading committee, although it is strongly recommended that all committee members be involved in its review. The reading committee needs at least two weeks to review the dissertation proposal before deciding whether or not to approve it, so students should plan accordingly. Committee chairs are strongly encouraged to convene a meeting of the full supervisory committee to discuss the dissertation proposal.

For a detailed set of guidelines for writing the Ph.D. dissertation proposal, click here (Microsoft Word Document).

Click here to access the Ph.D. dissertation proposal approval form in Microsoft Word format. This approval form should be signed by the Ph.D. reading committee and attached to the front of the proposal. After all signatures have been secured, the student should turn in a copy of the cover sheet and proposal to the Graduate Program Advisor.

Graduate School guidelines for dissertation formatting and submission can be found on their web site.

2. Dissertation Credits

The minimum number of dissertation credits a student may take is 27 over at least three quarters. In compliance with University rules, candidates may not take more than 10 credits of COM 800 in any given quarter (summer is an exception). Satisfactory progress, as determined by the supervisory chair, is required for renewal of COM 800 credits. Students begin taking dissertation credits in the quarter following the completion of the General Examination, and it is common for students to take only dissertation credits (i.e., no other coursework) until completing their degree.

3. Final Examination

After the dissertation is written, a Final Examination (oral defense of the dissertation) is required. Typically, these oral exams last 1½ hours. To earn the Ph.D., a student must pass this final examination or make revisions required by the committee as a result of this exam.

The final exam must be scheduled electronically with the Graduate School by the student and confirmed electronically with the Graduate School by the GPA. The student must log into MyGrad to schedule the “doctoral final” exam. This scheduling of the final exam will only be confirmed by the GPA after the reading committee has read a draft of the entire dissertation and all members of the doctoral supervisory committee agree that the candidate is prepared to take the final examination and that they can make it to the day and time selected.

At least 4 supervisory committee members must be present at the final exam, including Chair, the GSR, and one additional graduate faculty member. So before scheduling the exam electronically with the Graduate School, the student must find a day and time that all will be able to attend. The reading committee will need a minimum of three weeks to read the dissertation before they can agree that the exam is ready to proceed to a defense, so the date selected for the exam must be at least three weeks and a day after the reading committee has been given a complete draft of the dissertation. Confirmation of this final exam date by the GPA can only happen after two things have been done. First, all of the committee members required to attend the final exam (including GSR) must confirm with the GPA that they can attend the exam at the scheduled day and time. The student should secure confirmation that the day and time will work by collecting email signatures that are cc’d to the GPA; these emails should be very specific, such as “I can attend Student’s Final Exam on Date at Time and Place.” The place for the exam can be scheduled through the GPA. Second, the supervisory committee chair should collect confirmations from committee members that they believe the student is ready to proceed with the final exam. This must include confirmation from reading committee members that they have read the complete draft of the dissertation and believe it is ready to be defended. This confirmation must be forwarded to the GPA at least one working day prior to the scheduled defense, so that the GPA can confirm the student’s electronic scheduling of the final exam with the Graduate School and print out the warrant that will be signed at the exam.

The final stages of the dissertation process are very time-consuming when one considers multiple reviews, turnaround times on the part of committee members, revisions, and requirements of the Graduate School. Work with your supervisory chair on developing a realistic calendar. For example, it is rare that a spring quarter defense could occur without a completed manuscript to your supervisory chair by early April.

General criteria for passing dissertation defense:

  • Completion of the scholarship proposed in the dissertation proposal
  • Dissertation demonstrates an appropriately substantiated argument that includes:
  • a clear conceptual/theoretical framework
  • defensible implementation of methods appropriate to the study
  • sufficient substantiation/evidence, presented well/accurately
  • claims/conclusions commensurate with and corresponding to the substantiation/evidence employed
  • innovation: the contribution of new knowledge and/or new ways of thinking about a communication problem or issue
  • Articulation of how the dissertation employs and advances communication scholarship

Summary of Key Ph.D. Deadlines

  • Select supervisory chair by end of 3rd quarter in program.
  • Select full supervisory committee by end of 4th quarter in program (excluding summer).
  • Program of Study approved by the end of the 4th quarter (excluding summer).
  • Take General Examination between the 5th and 7th quarter in program.
  • Dissertation proposal is due no later than the second quarter (excluding summer) following completion of the General Exam.

A student meeting these deadlines and meeting all other requirements might have a program of study like the one shown below.

Quarter

AUT Year 1

WIN Year 1

SPR Year 1

AUT Year 2

WIN Year 2

SPR Year 2

AUT Year 3

WIN Year 3- WIN Year 4

SPR Year 4

Course #1

COM 500

COM 501*

Topic Course

Topic Course

COM 591 or COM 592

COM 600

COM 800

COM 800

COM 800

Course #2

Topic Course

Topic Course

Method Course

Method Course

COM 600

Program Milestones

Chair Designated

Committee Formed, Program of Study Approved

General Exam Readings Set

General Exam Passed

Diss Proposal Approved

Research & Write Diss Chapters

Diss Defended

* See the Note on Substitutions below for courses that can be taken in place of 501.

Note: “Topic Course” designates any of a wide range of seminars on relevant topics taught within and outside the Department of Communication. “Method Course” refers to courses in research methods.

Summary of Key Ph.D. Deadlines for UW Com M.A.s

  • Select supervisory committee chair by end of 1st quarter in program.
  • Select full supervisory committee by end of 2nd quarter in program.
  • Program of Study approved by the end of the 2nd quarter.
  • Take General Examination the 4th quarter in program.
  • Dissertation proposal should be done the quarter (excluding summer) following completion of the General Exam.

A student meeting these deadlines and meeting all other requirements might have a program of study like the one shown below.

Quarter

AUT Year 1

WIN Year 1

SPR Year 1

AUT Year 2

WIN Year 2

SPR Year 2

AUT –WIN Year 3

SPR Year 3

Course #1

Topic Course

Topic Course

Topic Course or COM 600

COM 600

COM 800

COM 800

COM 800

COM 800

Course #2

Method Course

Method Course

COM 591 or COM 592

Program Milestones

Chair Designated

Committee Formed, Program of Study Approved

General Exam Readings Set

General Exam Passed

Diss Proposal Approved

Research & Write Diss Chapters

Research & Write Diss Chapters

Diss Defended

Note on Substitutions

Allowable substitution for COM 501: In rare instances, students entering with prior graduate study at another institution may have taken a course comparable to COM 501. Because this course covers a broad range of methods, it is unlikely that many students will have taken an equivalent course. Those students who have taken such a course can petition to take an advanced methods course in its place.