Ph.D. Requirements

Overview

To graduate, each candidate must demonstrate a general understanding of the field of communications as a whole and acquire deep knowledge in an area of concentration through research and coursework in appropriate disciplines ranging from history, sociology or religion to business or international affairs.

Below are the specific requirements for successful completion of the program. The Communications Ph.D. program is administered by the Journalism School, but in most matters concerning requirements for the dissertation it follows the academic regulations of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which formally confers all doctoral degrees at Columbia.

The M.A. and M.Phil. degrees are awarded as part of the normal progress toward the Ph.D. The program does not accept candidates for terminal M.A. or M.Phil. degrees.

About the M.A. in Communications

Students who enter the program without an applicable master's degree or its equivalent must first earn a Master of Arts in Communications, which requires the completion of 30 graduate‐level points (usually 10 courses in two semesters, of which all but J9900 must be taken for standard A‐F letter‐grade credit), and the submission of an acceptable master's thesis. The thesis is a substantial research paper of about 25 to 30 pages, usually building on the student's work in a particular course and overseen by the professor of that course.

Students who enter with an advanced degree from another institution or a different department or school at Columbia may receive one or two semesters' worth of advanced standing (i.e. either 15 or 30 points) if the previous degree is judged to be the academic equivalent of the Columbia M.A. and to be such that it advances the student toward the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. Usually the program accepts work for advanced standing when 1) it has contributed directly and substantially to the fulfillment of the requirements for the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees and 2) it meets departmental standards. Courses deemed "professional" rather than academic, including most courses in the skills and techniques of journalism, are not acceptable toward a doctoral degree.

Final decisions about advanced standing are made by the doctoral subcommittee after the student has completed one semester at Columbia. Students who are granted only one semester of advanced standing must complete the remaining requirements for the Columbia M.A.

About the M.Phil.

To earn the M.Phil., which signifies that the student has completed all requirements for the doctorate except for the dissertation, the student must:

1. Complete 54 additional graduate‐level points in no fewer than four semesters, for a total of 84. At least 36 of those additional points must be for letter‐grade credit (or, in certain specific instances and with the approval of the program director, for P/F credit).

2. Over the course of his or her enrollment, complete the five core courses, all of them for letter‐grade credit:

  • Journalism J6030, Journalism and society
  • Journalism J8040, Proseminar in communications
  • Journalism J9042, Communication research problems (the dissertation research seminar)
  • a course on contemporary organizations that is relevant to the study of communications. Approved courses include: Business Economics B7217, Media & information management; or Sociology G8200, Economic sociology; or Sociology G8201, New directions in economic sociology; or Sociology G6810, Organization failure; or Journalism J8414, Communications, knowledge, and power II. Any other course submitted for this requirement must be approved by the program director. The course should address one or both of the following: 1) the internal dynamics of organizations; 2) the relationship between organizations and public policy.
  • a course on comparative politics that is relevant to the study of communications. This course, selected by the student with the approval of the program director, should address one or both of the following: 1) the political frameworks in which media systems or networks evolve; 2) the history, politics, and culture of a region outside of the United States. Note: If the course is not specifically focused on communications, the student is expected to write on a topic in communications. J8040 should be taken in the first or second year, J9042 in the second and/or third.

3. Pass a proficiency exam in a language other than English that is used in research. Proficiency exams are regularly administered by the various foreign language departments at Columbia; students should consult with the appropriate department to arrange their exams.

4. If necessary, complete a course or independent work in methodologies appropriate to the research, such as quantitative methods (including experimental or survey methods and social statistics), analytic methods for networks and systems, econometrics, qualitative and historical methods or other tool subjects.

5. Deliver an oral presentation outlining the proposed dissertation topic and plan of research. This is generally done during an informal gathering of classmates and advisers held during the spring term of the second year of coursework.

6. Pass a comprehensive examination. Students choose ONE of the following options: 1) a traditional set of exams that assesses the student’s mastery of the significant literature in his or her fields of concentration; or 2) a series of tasks that require the kind of research and teaching preparation normally carried out in an academic career. In either case, the program chair must approve an advisory committee of three faculty members, at least one and preferably two of whom must be members of the communications Ph.D. faculty subcommittee; if appropriate, the committee may include a member from outside Columbia. Students are strongly encouraged to finish this requirement no later than the end of the semester following the one in which they have finished all coursework, but they must finish the comps by the end of the second semester after coursework.

OPTION 1:

The goal of the examination is for the student to demonstrate that he or she has the necessary preparation, knowledge and understanding to proceed with the planned dissertation. The exam consists of a written portion of no more than one day's duration followed within one month by a two‐hour oral portion. Each committee member works individually with the student to define the area covered by the exam and to suggest the preparation she or he finds appropriate. During the written portion the student answers one question from each adviser; students must earn a grade of either Pass or Contingent for each question in order to proceed to the oral exam, but they may retake any part(s) of the written portion that received a failing grade. During the oral exam, committee members may ask students to clarify, expand on or defend any of their answers. In order for the student to pass the oral portion, the vote of the committee members must be unanimous in his or her favor. If the student fails the oral portion, he or she may retake the entire exam six months later.

OPTION 2:

Students must complete all of the following requirements. The chair of the student’s advisory committee certifies the completion of each element after meeting with the student.

  1. Submit an article for blind review by a refereed scholarly journal in an appropriate field. Since academic journals often take many months to respond, notice of the acceptance of the piece is not required, but all three committee members must approve the choice of journal and agree that the article is ready to be sent; they should be able to say that if they were the editors they would be willing to publish the piece. Neither co‐authored works nor articles that have been commissioned or solicited are acceptable for this requirement.
  2. Present a paper (an entirely distinct work from the journal article) at an appropriate scholarly conference for which the submission was accepted in competitive judging. The committee members must agree that a given conference is acceptable i.e. that it is sufficiently rigorous, competitive and relevant. Neither co‐authored presentations, presentations at poster sessions nor presentations at conferences devoted entirely to graduate‐student work are acceptable for this requirement. (A student whose work has been accepted for presentation at a relevant academic conference may apply for a grant of up to $400 towards his or her properly documented plane/train/bus and lodging expenses no more than once each academic year. Funds are limited and preference may be given to people who did not receive conference money in the previous year or who are not past their fourth post‐coursework year.)
  3. Prepare a syllabus for a semester‐long course suitable for advanced undergraduates or master’s‐level students on a broad and significant topic in communications. The syllabus should include appropriate readings and assignments as well as a statement of the purpose, goals and scope of the course. Students should conceive of this not as a specialized upper‐level seminar but rather as a wide‐ranging exploration of an interesting and clearly defined subject or theme something along the lines of, say, “Broadcast Regulation,” which would consist of a historical, comparative, social, legal, economic and political survey of regulatory policy in the U.S. and one or two other countries. Committee members should approve the topic before the project is begun. Students will also be expected to present an abbreviated version of the introductory lecture for their proposed class (at least 30 minutes) to their committee and any interested classmates, and to be prepared to defend the organization of the course, the choices of readings and other matters.

About the Ph.D.

A dissertation embodying original research and its defense before an appropriate committee constitute the major requirement of the Ph.D. During the research and writing stage each student must have three approved faculty advisers, including one who serves as the sponsor or primary adviser. The dissertation proposal must be approved by the three advisers by the end of the semester that follows the term in which the comprehensive examinations were taken. The proposal, at least 20 pages, should include:

  • A clear statement of the argument or thesis and how it will be developed
  • A brief review of the relevant literature, describing the contributions this work will make to the field
  • A description of the sources (whether published or human) and research methodologies to be employed
  • A work plan indicating what's already been done, what's expected and any research travel, surveys or other tasks to be carried out, with an estimated schedule
  • Any additional matter the advisers may require

University and federal regulations require that any project that involves research with human subjects be approved beforehand by the Institutional Review Board. The regulations generally apply to research methods such as focus groups, surveys, or polls. While one‐on‐one interviews with scholars or experts discussing their specialties probably do not require approval, students are urged to consult with the board if they have any doubt.

When both the student's sponsor and the chair of his or her defense committee have approved the draft as acceptable for defense, it may be distributed to the rest of the committee.

Both logistics and courtesy dictate that the defense be scheduled at least four weeks after the date of the distribution so that committee members have ample time to read the dissertation. The semester in which the student distributes the dissertation is the last term in which she or he must register and pay the m&f fees, even if the defense takes place in the succeeding semester. The last day of the fall semester is the Friday before the beginning of spring term, generally the Friday before the Martin Luther King holiday; the last day of the spring semester is the Friday before the beginning of the fall term, generally the Friday before Labor Day. (There is no summer term or summer registration in the Communications program.)

The Application for the Dissertation Defense form will be submitted to the GSAS Dissertation Office by the program director, not by the student, as soon as the five proposed examiners have been finalized. This form must be reviewed and approved by GSAS before the defense may take place. It is best practice to submit this form as soon as the five examiners are chosen, even if the defense has not yet been scheduled. The Dissertation Office must receive this form from the program office at least four weeks before a defense takes place.

The doctoral defense will be conducted by a committee composed of exactly five members. It is the responsibility of the student's sponsor and/or defense chair, not the student, to choose and invite the final two members of the defense committee. GSAS policy states that students should NOT be put in the position of approaching faculty members about serving on their committee.

In recognition of the increasing interdisciplinarity of work being done in many doctoral programs, as of the 2010/2011 academic year, GSAS has broadened the definition of "insider" and "outsider" as applied to defense committees. For the Communications program it will allow a committee that has either one or two outsiders and at least two faculty advisers from the Communications subcommittee. The composition of the final defense committee must therefore fulfill all of the following conditions:

  • at least three of the five members, the "insiders," must be from GSAS's list of approved Ph.D. sponsors, AND
  • at least two of those insiders must be members of the Communications program subcommittee of core faculty advisers, AND
  • at least one of the five, the "outsider(s)," must be either 1) a faculty member, clinician or practitioner who holds a position at another university or research institution; or 2) a full‐time faculty member at Columbia University outside the student's own department or program; or 3) a research scientist at Columbia University outside the student's own department or program; or 4) an adjunct professor at Columbia University outside the student's own department or program; or 5) a full‐time faculty member whose appointment is at Barnard College, Jewish Theological Seminary or Union Theological Seminary; or 6) a full‐time faculty member in the student's interdisciplinary program whose field is outside of the student's dissertation field.

If the student's sponsor/primary adviser is not a member of the Communications subcommittee, he or she will be named a co‐sponsor along with an approved sponsor from the Communications program.

For both practical and financial reasons, no committee may include more than one member who will be traveling from outside the Greater New York area, and any travelers must be coming from within the Boston‐Washington corridor. Although all five members of the committee will ideally be physically present at the defense, the Dissertation Office will permit up to two members to participate remotely by audio or video conferencing as long as both the sponsor and the chair are present.

More information about the defense process, including how to format and deposit the dissertation, is available on the website of the Dissertation Office.