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 their supervisory committee. The program provides the student and their 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 on this page and the Graduate School’s portal is http://grad.uw.edu/.
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).
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
2 credits of COM 596 (Comm Pedagogy) may count toward total. Two credits are required for students with teaching 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.
Students who complete the M.A. in Communication at UW 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 earned a UW Comm M.A.).
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 Communication M.A.s).
Time to completion
It is expected that a student can earn a consecutive M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication at the University of Washington in a total of five years. A student entering the Communication Ph.D. program with an M.A. already 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.
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 the Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee Approval Form that is uploaded with the final dissertation after all revisions are completed.
Students who enter the UW Communication Ph.D. program with a M.A. from another university must select a committee chair by the end of the third quarter in the program. A full supervisory committee must be in place by the end of the fourth quarter (excluding summer).
Students who complete the M.A. in Communication at the UW, must select a doctoral committee chair by the end of the first quarter in the Ph.D. program, and establish a full supervisory committee by the end of the second quarter.
A student may change advisers and/or the membership of their supervisory committee any time prior to scheduling the general exam with the Graduate School, and/or after passing the general exam (i.e. both the written and oral components). After the general exam has been scheduled and before the student has passed it in full, changes in the committee membership may only be made with the adviser’s written approval. If an adviser is incapacitated during this period, the other internal committee member(s) may approve a change in advisership and/or committee membership.
Selecting and working with a thesis/dissertation adviser
Graduate students need to initiate conversations with faculty with whom they share scholarly interests about potential advising/committee relationships. In general, faculty welcome these conversations and want to help grad students identify an appropriate adviser and thesis/dissertation committee members. It is not unusual for a graduate student to change advisers and/or committee members when their scholarly interests develop in a different direction than originally anticipated. Talking with your adviser and/or the Graduate Program Coordinator might help you clarify the optimal (re)configuration of your committee.
Intellectual fit matters. As you develop a preliminary proposal for your thesis or dissertation, (re)consider the apparent fit between your research and a prospective adviser’s areas of expertise, and the expertise held by current or prospective members of your committee. If possible, find an adviser whose has expertise in the primary topic or literature on which you will be focused, and/or in the main method(s) you plan to employ in your research. As you determine the key domains in which you hope to develop expertise, your adviser can help you identify faculty with expertise in those areas for you to consider inviting to join the committee.
Personality fit also matters. As you consider who to ask to serve as your adviser, think about which faculty you feel comfortable working with, and which are likely to work well with you. When possible, it is best to take a graduate seminar with a prospective adviser or committee member before inviting them to join the committee.
Review program guidelines and requirements with your adviser. In addition, talking with your adviser about their expectations for your interactions, preferred modes of communication, and potential travel/leaves that might impact your own timetable will help foster a good working relationship.
Program of study
By the fourth quarter in the doctoral program (excluding summer), students are required to develop a Program of Study. If you completed your M.A. in Communication at the UW, then you must submit an approved Program of Study by the end of the second 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 in to 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 Advisor.
All Ph.D. students are required to develop their research experience by engaging in 5 credits of either a research apprenticeship with a faculty member (i.e., COM 592 Directed Research) 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. Registration for COM 591 and 592 credits requires the submission of a COM 590-593 Course Permission form and a learning contract. The form and learning contract templates are provided on the Department Intranet.
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 adviser, and with members of the Professional Development Committee.
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. Before beginning the General Exam process, students are expected to familiarize themselves with Graduate School and Department policies.
The General Exam has both written and oral components, sometimes referred to as the written exam and the oral exam or defense. In the Department of Communication, the supervisory committee assesses a student’s performance on both components at the conclusion of the student’s oral exam. The successful completion of the General Exam indicates that a doctoral student is ready to design and produce a doctoral dissertation, and advances the student to Ph.D. Candidacy. Failure to pass the exam ends a doctoral student’s enrollment at the University of Washington, as explained in more detail below.
Ph.D. students are expected to take the exam no later than their seventh quarter in the Ph.D. program (excluding summer). Those students with M.A.s in Communication from the UW are expected to take the exam no later than their 3rd quarter in the Ph.D. program. Students may take the exam once they have an approved Program of Study (with no outstanding incomplete grades) and have passed all degree-required courses, i.e. COM 500, COM 501, 5 credits of 591/592, 3 credits of COM 594, and two methods courses beyond 501. The 2 credits of COM 596 are exceptions to this rule; they are required to be taken during students’ initial TA assignment quarters if and when students receive TA assignments. The exam may not take place during a quarter in which the student is enrolled in any degree-required course except COM 596. A student’s supervisory committee must be in place at least four months prior to the exam.
Students prepare for exams in four question areas, one of which represents the core courses (COM 500 and/or 501). The other three areas are developed between the student and their adviser, with the approval of the supervisory committee. It is strongly recommended that (1) at least one exam question area have a methodological focus to help with preparation for the dissertation, and (2) committee members develop exam questions collaboratively, or each committee member prepares one of the exam questions and the chair reviews all the questions. The committee will not specify any of the exam questions to the student in advance of the exam.
The “core question” is composed typically by the student’s adviser and should prompt the student to revisit readings from and issues raised in COM 500 and/or 501 while reflecting on their 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 three other exam areas, each committee member will work with the student to develop a set of relevant readings for each exam area that will comprise the student’s “reading list” for that area.
Reading lists must be reviewed and approved by all committee members, and the approved versions must be sent to the Graduate Program Advisor as soon as they have been approved and at least two business days prior to the start of the exam. Once exam areas and readings lists have been approved by the adviser and committee members, the student may change exam areas and/or modify reading lists only with written approval from the adviser, and with email notification from the adviser of any changes sent to the full committee. Any such modifications must be made prior to beginning of the general exam. If a student fails part or all of the exam, any retake exam that the committee offers the student must be based on the same exam areas and reading lists. In other words, the exam areas and reading lists are to remain stable through the completion of the exam process.
As proctor, the Graduate Program Advisor will collect exam questions from the committee members and administer the written portion of the exam. All exam questions are due to the Graduate Program Advisor a minimum of two business days before the start of the exam.
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 9 a.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.
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.
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.
The written exam is open book, taking place over four consecutive 24-hour days, starting at 9 a.m. on Day 1 and ending at 9 a.m. on Day 5. 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 a publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly articles/book chapters is to be substituted for one 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). This is because the substituted paper should be completed before the written exams begin. The first day of the written exam should be a weekday that is not a university holiday, and the exam begins at 9 a.m. on the first day and ends at 9 a.m. on the last day.
The exam is administered via Canvas, and the Graduate Program Advisor will email the student a link to Canvas the day before the exam is to begin. At 9 a.m. on the first day, the assignment with the exam questions will open for viewing. The exam proctor (the Graduate Program Advisor) must always receive electronic versions of all documents (including the substituted publishable paper, if applicable) via Canvas and email by 9 a.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 works cited list, which students should attach to each answer. This list should include all the works cited in the student’s answer, both from the reading list used to prepare for the exam or , 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 employ relevant literatures appropriately, 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.
At the end of the written exam, the GPA will distribute copies of the written answers and, if applicable, substituted paper to the supervisory committee, including the Graduate School Representative (GSR).
The oral exam or defense must take place 5-14 working days after the completion of the written exam and typically lasts for 1.5–2 hours. The student should bring copies of their written answers to the oral exam, and these may have brief margin notes in them. If the student has been allowed to substitute one publishable sole-authored or first-authored scholarly article/book chapter for one of the written exams, a copy of this 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.
During the oral exam, students may be asked about reading list topics not covered in the written exam questions, because 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 four supervisory committee members must be present at the oral exam, including the 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 in Place.” The room for the exam can be scheduled through the Department Intranet.
In a closed-door session at the end of the oral component of a student’s exam, the supervisory committee discusses the student’s performance on both the written and oral parts of the exam.
General criteria for passing the general exam:
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.
After arriving at a collective assessment, the committee selects one of the three outcome options listed on the UW Graduate School’s warrant for General Examinations and all members including the Graduate School Representative sign the warrant.
The three outcome options on the warrant are:
The candidate be encouraged to proceed with studies leading to the doctoral degree.
The candidate must be reexamined after a further period of study. Requires resubmission of a Request for General Examination to the Graduate School. The Dean will approve at most two reexaminations except under extraordinary circumstances.
The candidate is not recommended for further work towards the doctoral degree. The effect of this recommendation is termination of the student’s enrollment in the doctoral program.
To elaborate outcome option #2, the UW Graduate School allows supervisory committees to recommend the Dean of the Graduate School approve reexamination of a student one or two times, when the supervisory committee deems that appropriate.
At the end of the oral exam, after the committee has made its assessment and completed the warrant, the doctoral student being examined receives oral feedback from the supervisory committee.
The intention of the Department of Communication Graduate Faculty is to prepare doctoral students for successful completion of the general exam the first time they take it. Passing the full exam requires successful written and oral examination for all four of the responses provided by the student. If a student does not pass the full exam, the committee may decide to recommend that the Graduate School offer the student a second or third opportunity to retake part or all of the exam. It is the prerogative of the supervisory committee to determine whether it will recommend any retake option for a student; students are not entitled to retake the exam a second or third time. Exam retake opportunities, if offered to a student, will follow the same process as the original exam, including both written and oral components unless the committee determines that some or all of the original written responses are satisfactory. Based on the original reading lists, the committee will collaboratively prepare and pose a new set of questions to the student, which will not be disclosed to the student in advance of the retake.
To elaborate, in cases where one or more written responses on the original exam are determined not to be acceptable, the student fails the exam, and the student’s committee will determine whether or not to recommend to the Graduate School that the student be given the option to write answers to new questions in those areas and defend them in another oral exam. If the student is considered to have acceptable written answers but did not pass the oral portion of one or more areas, the student fails the exam and the committee will determine whether or not to recommend to the Graduate School to provide another oral examination of those areas/the full set of areas.
Doctoral students who do not pass the exam receive oral feedback from the supervisory committee at the end of the oral component of the exam after a committee has rendered a failing evaluation, regarding their reasons for that assessment. This ensures that everyone including the GSR hears the reasons for the failed exam. The committee chair also emails a brief summary of the reasons for the committee’s failing assessment to the student within 48 hours of the exam. A student who fails the exam may also follow up to meet individually with committee members after the exam to get further oral feedback.
Retaking the exam is unusual, and opportunities for taking the exam a third time are only offered in extraordinary circumstances. The determination by the committee of whether a student will be offered a retake opportunity is based primarily on the committee’s assessment of whether the student is likely to be able to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the exam material within the time periods specified below. The kinds of contingencies that could warrant a retake opportunity include but are not limited to: 1) The misunderstanding or misinterpreting of an exam question by the student; 2) Exam responses that are unsatisfactory but indicate that a student has the potential for demonstrating mastery of the literature within the time periods specified below; or 3) Extenuating circumstances beyond the student’s control that negatively impacted the student’s performance on the original exam.
A first retake of the exam, if offered, should be completed as soon as possible but with ample time for the student’s preparation; the department strongly recommends completion within 90 days of the original exam. A second exam retake opportunity, if offered, should be completed within 60 days of the second retake. All members of the supervisory committee and the student must agree in writing on the timeframe for preparation and date of a retake exam (pending approval from the Dean of the Graduate School), within four business days of a failed exam. If serious extenuating circumstances prompt a request by the student and/or recommendation by the supervisory committee for an extended timeframe before a retake, that request or recommendation must be sent to the department’s Graduate Program Committee within four business days of a failed exam, accompanied by an explanation of the extenuating circumstances and rationale for the request for an extended timeframe.
Prior to taking the General Exam, students are expected to familiarize themselves with the Graduate School policies related to termination of enrollment in the doctoral program, such as access to office space, email, library resources, student housing, and potential visa implications as well as policies related to the termination of ASE appointments and associated benefits.
Failing the exam ends the student’s appointment as an ASE and any funding from the Department of Communication at the end of the quarter in which the exam was taken. Students who are ASEs during the quarter in which they take but do not pass the exam are encouraged to complete their ASE contract for that quarter. If the supervisory committee recommends that a student may retake the exam in the subsequent quarter and the Graduate School approves the retake, the student’s existing ASE contract will be honored through that subsequent quarter. Students who pass a retake exam will resume their existing ASE contract for the quarters remaining in it.
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.
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 M.A. 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 their 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.
Detailed guidelines for writing the Ph.D. dissertation proposal as well as the dissertation proposal approval form can be accessed on the Department Intranet. The 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.
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.
After the dissertation is written, a Final Examination (oral defense of the dissertation) is required. Typically, these oral exams last 1.5–2 hours. To earn the Ph.D., a student must pass this final examination and 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 four 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 in Place.” The room for the exam can be scheduled through the Department Intranet.
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