The Doctor of Philosophy program in mass communications requires a minimum of 72 s.h. of graduate credit. The program provides training in research methods, communication theory, and teaching skills. Students in this program prepare for careers as professors, teachers and industry researchers.

The program emphasizes interdisciplinary studies, with coursework and research tailored to each student’s interests under the guidance of faculty members. The school offers several areas of strength to support graduate student research in both traditional and digital media:

  • critical and cultural studies,
  • sports and media,
  • international/development studies,
  • health and science communication,
  • journalism studies, and
  • history of media and media institutions.

Students may elect one of three paths for their graduate studies:

  1. Enter the PhD program with a completed relevant master’s degree, transferring up to 30 hours of graduate credit from academic courses.
  2. Enter the PhD program directly without a master’s degree, complete the master’s curriculum with one additional course. Successfully pass a qualifying exam in the fourth semester. If the exam outcome is successful, the student continues in the PhD program. If not successful, the student is awarded a master’s degree and exits the program (provided that the student is in good academic standing).
  3. Alternatively, masters students wishing to apply to a PhD program—either our own or another—may choose to complete a thesis instead of a qualifying exam.  Students interested in this option must consult with the director of graduate studies, and apply to the PhD program in the thesis semester.

Listed below are the general categories of coursework required to earn the degree; for more specific information on courses, curriculum, and requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy in mass communication, visit the UI General Catalog.

Degree Requirements
Title Hours
Humanistic Approaches to Media Communication 3
Social Scientific Approaches to Media Communication 3
Practicum: College Teaching and Professional Development for Teaching Assistants 1
Methods Area courses 3
Theory Area courses 3
Concentration courses 6
Additional Upper-Level Electives 6
Ph.D. Seminar 8
Professionalization 2
Guided Reading 3
Dissertation (see below) 4
Credit from master's degree and/or additional Ph.D. courses 30
Total Hours 72

Important Deadlines

Application Deadline: January 10th (for Fall admission)


Admission decisions are based on prior academic performance, letters of reference, and the applicant's statement about background and purpose. Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College on the Graduate College website. For more information, see the Graduate Admissions Process page.

Comprehensive Examination

During the other semester of the comprehensive exam/advancement to candidacy year, the student will prepare two comprehensive essays: one in the geographical area of specialization and the other in the primary topical area of specialization. In some subfields and for some projects, a geographical area may not be relevant and the student will focus on two topical areas. Each paper will address a question posed by the committee in consultation with the student. The
department recommends that each student and committee chair compile feedback from all committee members on proposed reading lists for each question, prior to the student beginning the writing process.

Comprehensive exam essays should combine factual knowledge and comprehension with analysis, evaluation and synthesis. In other words, they should: demonstrate control of a body of information (knowledge and comprehension), critique a major problem or debate (application and analysis), develop a position on an issue and provide an explanation or theoretical justification for the position (evaluation and synthesis). Essays therefore document the student’s ability not only to characterize key lines of academic inquiry in a given area, but also to identify points where new research questions might constructively enter into these conversations.


Students who are enrolled in the Ph.D. Program are required to complete a scholarly dissertation. The dissertation committee is composed of five (5) UI tenure track faculty. At least four of the five faculty members for each committee must be members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty, and at least three must be members of SJMC (which may include faculty with 0% appointments). By special request, the program may request permission from the Graduate College to replace one of the five members of the Graduate Faculty by a recognized scholar of professorial rank from another academic institution. Changes to committee membership are often necessary, and can be made at various stages in a student’s program, but should always be done in close consultation with their advisor and/or the Director of Graduate Studies.

NOTE:  Any research which involves "human subjects" must be reviewed by the University of Iowa Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to the initiation of the project.  Proof of the determination/review process must also be submitted to the International Studies Program before the international experience proposal can be approved. For all questions contact the IRB at (319) 335-6465; or complete the IRB Determination Form to find out if your research meets the definition of human subjects research.